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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Volcán Tungurahua!

Very unfortunately, our Internet connection right now will not allow us to upload pictures.  However, we need to tell you that we were indeed in Baños while the Tungurahua Volcano began erupting on Sunday night.  We watched the eruption all night and into Monday, and then decided to leave town for a couple days, since we are wusses.  Although the volcano is still erupting, we may head back to Baños tomorrow. But know that we are safe and pictures are forthcoming!

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Parque Arqueológico, San Agustín, Colombia

One day in San Agustín, we walked from the Maya Hostal 2.5 kilometers to the Parque Arqueológico just outside of town.  After being in the town for almost a week it was strange to actually find the restaurants listed in our Lonely Planet guidebook.  They are the over priced places selling the same rice and fried plantains that are all over town, they are just on the tourist path to the park.  After reaching the park, we entered for about $5 each for the basic package–walk around and explain it to yourself.  Famous ancient statues are layed out over a series of trails through some thick forest.  There are about 50 different statues of various heights and depictions.  Some have angry faces with crazy hats and most of them with different things in their hands.

The statues are in very good shape for being between one and two thousand years old.  There is also lots of awesome plantlife along the way.

The path was actually not that easy.  We broke a hard sweat climbing up hill in the humid weather and were soon wondering why we decided to walk the long way around.  But we had to see everything of course.  Eventually there was even a dog that followed us for part of the trail, posing for Carrie’s pictures.  Once the rain started to come in we hurried home.  We were ready to hit the streets in town for some cheap emanadas and maybe a Poker (the best Colombian beer) or two.

WWOOFing at Finca Campo Bello

Playing with the awesome kids.

Our first WWOOF experience at Finca Campo Bello outside San Agustín, Colombia, was pretty easy sailing.  And by easy, I mean, we really hardly did any work!  We stayed with a large Colombian family on their big coffee farm.  The house was rustic and largely open air, although it did have power (which went out frequently) and water (pumped from the nearby stream).   The farm also had pigs, guinea pigs, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, various dogs cats, and parrots, a fish pond, and a couple horses.  You´d think  with all that there would be plenty of work, but with such a large family and many hired hands, we actually weren´t needed for too much.  So we had a great time playing with the kids and puppies, hiking in the area, learning Spanish, and getting fed 3 huge meals per day!  In the end though, we did get a litle bored with not enough to do, so we left after one week.

And more kid fun on top of a mountain of bagged coffee.

Thomas the puppy!

Maya Hostal, San Agustin, Colombia

The Maya Hostal in San Agustín, Colombia, was a pleasure to stumble into late one night after a long day of buses.  When our taxi dropped us off at the door, we were greeted by a chubby and animated man named Mario.  “Super Mario”, we later learned, is his preferred nickname.  He and his wife Yaneth run the hostel with some help from their young-adult daughters.  We ended up staying at the Maya Hostal for one night before going to our WWOOF farm and then for two more nights at the end of our time in San Agustín.

Spacious, airy dormitory

The hostel is reasonably priced, with private rooms with shared bathrooms for about 15,000 COP per person per night, or dormitories for 10,000 COP per person per night.  Mario will also give you a increasingly better price the longer you stay.  The dormitories are spacious and the beds are comfortable.  We actually had a whole dorm room to ourselves!  The bathrooms are clean and modern.  The whole hostel is really interesting looking, as it’s built into the side of a hill so the giant rocks which form the hillside protrude into some of the rooms and are painted vibrant colors to fit in with the decor.  The hostel spans about 4 stories with all the common rooms exposed to open air.  There’s a kitchen available for guest use, 2 dining areas, laundry, and an awesome rooftop lounge with hammocks and a great view over the town.

Rooftop chill space

As we entered the hostel for the first time, Mario described the amenities in slow, easy-to-understand Spanish.  Free coffee, free juice, free hot water, free Wifi, free use of the kitchen, cheap meals available, and information on local tours.  We had a great time at Maya Hostal, as there is always an energetic young crowd of travelers hanging out in the hammocks, as well as the charming and hilarious Super Mario and family.  I would highly recommend the Maya Hostal to anyone passing through San Agustín!

Disclaimer:  I didn’t receive anything from Maya Hostal for writing this post.  I just like to give credit where credit is due!

Colombia: Financial Summary

How Much $$$ Did We Spend in Colombia?

Here’s a little summary of our time in Colombia to help you see how much $ we spent on our extremely budget style of travel.

Days in Colombia: 21

Total Money Spent: $629

So we spent an average of $14.98 per person per day, pretty much exactly on target with our overall budget for the trip!

Here’s a pretty pie chart breakdown for you!

Sorry that some of the slices are the same color...we´re not very good at Excel but we´re working on it!

And some more details for the curious:

Transportation:  This is by far the biggest since we moved around a lot and buses are on the more expensive side in Colombia.  (Average about $2-3 per hour of travel.)  You can bargain for long-distance bus tickets, so never settle for the original quoted price!  This is mostly for long-distance buses, although we did take taxis frequently, especially to get to our accomodations when we were just arriving in a place and loaded down with luggage.

Food: What can I say, you gotta eat!  We mostly stuck to cheaper local food though, and only splurged a handful of times.  We were also generously fed by Couchsurfing hosts and at the farm where we stayed.

Lodging:  I’m really proud of how little we spent on lodging.  We only stayed in 3 hostels for a total of 6 nights in our entire time in Colombia.  We Couchsurfed twice and WWOOFed for an entire week, which saved us a lot!

Activities:  We saved a lot here by being picky about what touristy things we did.  Most of our fun comes from cheaper things like hiking, walking around a new city, and just chatting with locals.  We can’t do very many expensive tourist activities on our budget, but that’s okay!

Shopping:  We didn’t buy anything, basically.  We’re waiting for cheaper countries like Peru and Bolivia to pick up souvenirs.

Hygeine/Medical:  You have to pay for most public bathrooms in Colombia.  It´s usually less that $.50, but I have a really small bladder.  When you gotta go, you gotta go!

1 USD=approximately 1850 COP (Colombian pesos).  Just in case you cared.

Coffee Contemplations

Edit: Thanks Scott, for checking our math and looking into this further!

You drink it everyday, but what do you really know about it? After spending time on the
farm in San Agustín, I wanted to take a second to write about coffee. Coffee comes
from a short tree, you might called it a bush. A mature plant is about as tall as me and
has green leaves and berries on the limbs. Once the berries are ripe they turn red and
are picked. These red berries are put through a machine that separates the red and
sweet outside from the seed in the middle. This seed in the middle is washed several
times then spread out to dry for 4 days in a greenhouse-like structure. After the coffee
is dried it is put into huge sacks and sold to the local coffee buying conglomerate. In Colombia, the buyer ships all the coffee to either Buenaventura on the Pacific coast, or to Cartagena on the Atlantic coast. From each of these seaports all the coffee then goes to the west and east coasts of the United States.

The most interesting thing we learned was how little the farmers actually make for the coffee they grow.  Lets say you go to Starbucks and get a $1.50 for an 8 oz coffee.  How about we say that for every pound of coffee beans Starbucks can make 30 cups .  That means Starbucks sells coffee for $45 per pound.  The Colombian coffee farmer sells his unroasted beans for about $40 for a 120 pound sack.  So with these numbers the farmer makes approximately 30 cents per pound, or less than 1% of the Starbucks price.

This doesn’t really make much sense to us.  We definitely want to investigate this issue further, and delve into how the fair trade certification process works, and how much more fair trade farmers make.  Anyone else have any knowledge on the subject of coffee?

Dealing with Sickness While Traveling

WARNING:  This post is probably TMI.  Read at your own discretion.

Getting sick:  it’s an inevitable part of the adventure for most budget travelers.  You never quite know what did it–street food, allegedly potable (but later you find out the pigs live upstream) water, or just weird and new germs in a new country.  It’s really hard to avoid occasional illness if street food and living with locals are things you consider integral parts of the experience.  So let’s sympathize.

My first real problems on this trip just popped up out of nowhere on Monday night.  One hour and 4 bathroom trips later, I knew something had caught up with me.  I spent the night tossing and turning, stuck with that horrible nausea where you can never ACTUALLY just get it over with and throw up.  The next morning I felt a bit better.  It was to be a long travel day involving three different vehicles.  I decided I could eat some breakfast before beginning the trek–BAD IDEA!  As soon as I ate I realized my error.  I had to do what every poor sick bus-rider does in this situation:  gobble Immodium!  That little pill essentially turns your insides into concrete, thus working miracles for bus ride survival.  I’ve heard that it’s actually really bad for you, though, and should only be taken when absolutely necessary.  Soon enough I found myself perched in the back of a covered pickup truck, and of course this drive involved the craziest, curviest road ever, which the driver sped down without any regard for my troubled stomach.  Hanging out the window for fresh air and making sure to drink lots of water to at least stay hydrated are my best ideas for surviving this situation.  At least this road was paved.

The next minibus grumbled over a narrow dirt road up and over the Andes for hours.  Zone out, iPod on, try to enjoy the scenery and forget about my warring intestines was what I tried to do, with mediocre results.  Of course by the time the Immodium was wearing off and we were within an hour of Pasto (our final destination), the driver had to stop for dinner.  I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, but I could still feel my rebel intestines growling angry threats of mutiny.  Finally, finally, we got to a hostel and I flopped into bed in misery for another nauseous night.

This morning what I mostly felt was the shaky, low blood pressure feeling from barely eating in the past 24 hours.  (At least being sick saves you food $$!)  I sent Zach out for bread and juice (what a good guy I have!) and the ultimate test began.  Was I on the road to recovery?  Would said food be accepted or rejected?  Almost as soon as I ate I began to perk up and it seemed my rebellious digestive tract was behaving once again.  A true hurrah indeed, since having the travel sickness for more than 24 hours is usually a warning sign that something more major is wrong (think: critters).  We decided a rest day was called for which sucks because we wanted to take a boat out on a beautiful nearby lake today.  But when energy is not up to snuff as you’re recovering from a nasty bug, sometimes a “stay in PJs” day is just necessary.  This hostel, The Koala Inn in Pasto, is actually the perfect place for a lazy-bum due to it’s comfy beds, fast WiFi, and cable TV!  There are even English channels and I’ve gotten to watch some No Reservations, Project Runway, Scrubs, and new It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia online.  So we’re spending my recovery day vegging and working on the website.  (What do you think of the changes?)  And now I must torture Zach by holding the computer hostage as I catch up on Grey’s Anatomy (my guilty obsession).

What are your tips for getting through those problematic little stomach bugs while traveling?