A stroll through Chateau de Versailles

We took a taxi (c.€50) from Paris to Versailles because we just could not be faffed getting on public transport PLUS it was before 9am AND we were on honeymoon. Easy decision!

Tickets (Versailles is not open on Mondays)

We didn’t purchase a ticket in advance as visiting was a last minute decisions for us; even though we arrived quite early we still had to queue for a good hour. I’d definitely recommend picking up a ticket in advance. It was worth the queue though!

On admission we high-tailed it upstairs to get a hot chocolate from Angelina, sustenance for the hours we knew we’d be walking around the gardens! We checked out the Hall of Mirrors first, actually we ended up inadvertently skipping the queue (which starts outside in the main entrance courtyard – to your right if you’re looking in the entrance gate), by going in the opposite direction to everyone else! After we checked out bedrooms, hallways, ceilings and floors we wandered out to the stunning gardens and spent most of our visit out there. During the summer months, there are musical fountain shows; basically there’s classical music playing and the fountains are ‘dancing’ to the rhythm. We meandered through the gardens for a couple of hours and after we exited the Chateau de Versailles we crossed the road and visited the Coach Gallery. It only opens in the afternoon and is quite small but houses the most ornate horsey paraphernalia you could possibly imagine! It’s free so worth a little trip in. We caught the train back (RER C) in to Paris after lunch in a local spot. Such a lovely morning and afternoon!

Kind of an ornate entrance

What an entrance gate!

Queuing…

I could wake up here!

Beautiful ceiling

You know what this place needs more of? Gold.

A bust at Versailles

And another…

Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

Pretty epic first impression!!

Garden Arches

Those colours!!

Latona Fountain

The Coach Gallery

The Coach Gallery

Sleds!

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Monaco, Èze and Avignon, the French Riviera

Monaco

We left Genoa/Genova in Italy for the 2 hour jaunt across the French border in to the stunning French Riveria, stopping off at Monaco for a quick coffee on the way. I had been to Monaco on a girls trip a few years ago so had done the Prince’s Palace and seen all about Princess Grace, not exactly something John was too into visiting but from last trip, I recommend taking a tour of the palace if you can fit it in. As we wandered Monaco’s waterside, I thought I’d give a cappuccino a go, randomly at the Wine Palace Monte-Carlo, it was AMAZING. John just goes for a long black but that was apparently awesome too. At a wine shop.Who knew?!

Prince's Palace of Monaco up on the hill

Prince’s Palace of Monaco up on the hill

Views for everyone!

Views for everyone!

Yep, that's a yacht in a yacht

Yep, that’s a yacht in a yacht

Back of the Casino Monte Carlo

Back of the Casino Monte Carlo

Botero's Adam et Eve

Botero’s Adam et Eve

Èze, France

If you’re looking for the most beautiful village in the universe, get yourself to Èze. It’s just a 15 minute drive uphill from Monaco. We spent a few hours meandering this little medieval spot (mostly looking for a parking spot – haha – this is like 40% accurate – it did take us ages and we ended up parking quite a bit away and walking in to the village – or you could just park at the Fragonard factory/perfumerie right at the base of the village). There are lots of little cafes, shops and art galleries to check out in Èze. The scent of lavender emanates from even the stones here – you can pick up soaps, pillows, post-cards, lotions, candles…whatever you can think of that you could possibly put a drop of lavender in here. We stopped for lunch at Deli’ and it was delicious. The staff were very helpful too. We brought home some flavoured olive oils here from A L’Olivier and I’m now planning our next trip to Èze…which is looking likely to revolve around olive oil. Rightly so.

Village map

Village map

Èze

Èze

Taking in the surroundings

Taking in the surroundings

Bougainvillea, gets me every time

Bougainvillea, gets me every time

Craving the ancient

Craving the ancient

Lavande

Lavande

Inspo!

Inspo!

Who wouldn't like a French escape pad?

Who wouldn’t like a French escape pad?

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

The Church of Èze

The Church of Èze

Garden of Èze

Garden of Èze

I'll take them all!

I’ll take them all!

Teas, herbs and spices

Teas, herbs and spices

 

Avignon, France

We continued on our journey for about another 3 hours from Èze to Avignon, and spent the night at La Mirande. You really need to follow the hotel’s directions to find yourself at their door – it’s not easy to drive around Avignon; all one-way and closed off minuscule streets. We just had an evening in Avignon, a UNESCO listed site, so took a wander around and had dinner at the hotel’s garden restaurant and a morning courtyard breakfast before leaving for the drive to PARIS!! Avignon is a lovely town to spend some time. There are lots of shops here for souvenir hunting but also plenty of history. The Palace of the Popes/Palais des Papes was built in the 14th century as Avignon was the seat of the papacy back then. It sits right in front of La Mirande; there’s even a passageway from the downstairs kitchen/cooking school across to the palace.

The Pont Saint-Bénézet/Pont d’Avignon bridge houses the church of St. Nicholas and is a must visit on a trip to Avignon.  Four of the original 22 arches still stand.

Le Mirande

La Mirande

Cosy rooms at La Mirande

Cosy rooms at La Mirande

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

Palais des Papes

Pont Saint-Bénézet/Pont d'Avignon

Pont Saint-Bénézet/Pont d’Avignon

Options, options!!

Options, options!!

Opera Theatre d'Avignon

Opera Theatre d’Avignon

Strolling in Avignon

Strolling in Avignon

Soaps all around

Soaps all around

Mmm tea!

Mmm tea!

Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland

The most colourful shop in the land!

The most colourful shop in the land!

Ah the good ol home town. I suppose I should write something about Ireland’s prettiest town! So obviously it rains a lot but when the sun shines you just can’t beat Ireland. It’s gorgeous and we’re a pretty friendly bunch 🙂

St. Mary's Cathedral

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Hotels and Food

I haven’t had to stay in any of Killarney’s hotels but there’s a fantastic selection. One of my favourite places for afternoon tea is the small Royal Hotel in the centre of town. It’s where my parents had their wedding reception and we’ve had a fair few more family occasions here so it definitely holds a special place in my heart. Sitting by the open fireplace on a rainy day with a pot of tea is just bliss! Don’t get me started on their crab and avocado sandwich. Delish. The Killarney Park Hotel also holds a prime location, pretty much in the middle of town but set back from the road so you won’t have noise at night. It’s olde-worldly and the food is pretty good but their spa is probably the selling point for me – their Elemis and Eve Lom facials are divine. The relaxation suite is great and comes complete with a starlit ceiling and huge fish-tank. Proper relaxation. The Brehon Hotel is home to Europe’s only Angsana Spa. The place to come for a massage. Although the spa is in the basement of the hotel you might be lucky and be taken to one of the treatment suites on the top floor overlooking the Lakes of Killarney. The Europe is undoubtedly Killarney’s most lavish (albeit not the prettiest architecturally) hotel. It’s built lakeside with beautifully manicured gardens and the absolutely stunning ESPA. You can relax in their outdoor heated vitality pool or lunch (although the food isn’t overly impressive for what you’re paying) overlooking the lakes. Yes please! They’ve got hands down the best vitality suite facilities in town. Well, outside of town. You’ll need a car here. The Aghadoe Heights Hotel is built overlooking Killarney, and therefore has spectacular views over the Lakes. The staff here are really lovely and they do a ridiculously filling afternoon tea.

John relaxing on the Europe's dock

John relaxing on the Europe’s dock

We’ve recently gone all cosmopolitan and recently acquired a Starbucks. Well, half a Starbucks, it’s basically just a Starbucks counter at the back of a pub. HA! Quinlan’s Seafood Bar is a huge hit in Killarney – for all your fish and chip needs! You could feed a family of four with one plate from here. Expect queues out the door. Lir Café does a pretty good hot chocolate. It’s located across from the cinema. Noelle’s is one of my favourite little spots in town. The staff are lovely, the quiches are tasty and the cakes are worth trying too 🙂 Jam is up the street from Noelle’s; it’s always busy and it’s not a bad spot for a scone or soup. DYNE is a great spot – they’ve got a fabulous soup and sandwich deal every lunch (like €8) and really nice thin crust pizzas in the evenings. Gaby’s Seafood Restaurant has been around forever and is a pretty solid choice for a relaxed evening meal. Ain’t cheap though. Outside of town, Avoca at Moll’s Gap (a beautiful viewpoint on the Ring of Kerry – a drive you absolutely positively HAVE to do!) is a great spot for homemade soups and lovely gifts too. Actually, if you’re looking for goodies to bring home then the Kilkenny Shop is a good spot to check out. You’ll find pottery, jewellery, glassware and aran sweaters and scarves here. Keane’s is a great local jewellery shop. There’s also an excellent Penneys/Primark in the town centre. Did you know that Primark was established in Dublin back in 1969? Claim to fame!! For cocktail-time you’ll want to try the Lane Bar in the Ross Hotel.

Market Cross

Market Cross – AKA the epicentre!

If you find yourself wandering around down by St. Mary’s Cathedral then pop across the road and you’ll find yourself in Killarney National Park – hands down one of Ireland’s most beautiful places. Below is Deenagh Lodge, a café run by the wonderful folk at the Kerry branch of Down Syndrome Ireland.

Deenagh Lodge

Deenagh Lodge

Strolling around the National Park with the parents

Strolling around the National Park with the parents

Moll's Gap

Moll’s Gap

On the Ring of Kerry

On the Ring of Kerry

More of the Ring

More of the Ring

Back to Killarney’s and the jewel is without a doubt Muckross House and Gardens. 6km from the town centre and completed in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert, the Chief Secretary for Ireland in the UK Parliament, you could walk or cycle out here (there are paths) or hop on a jaunting car for the princely sum of €10 per person. You can wander around the gardens and lakes for free but if you want to take a tour of the house you’ll need to pay €9. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

Muckross House in all its glory

Muckross House in all its glory

Relaxing with my Dad

Relaxing with my Dad

Side view

Side view

View of the Lakes from the house

View of the Lakes from the house

Gigantic, eh?

Gigantic, eh?

Some secret gardens

Some secret gardens

Pretty well manicured

Pretty well manicured

What a glasshouse!

What a glasshouse!

Inside this behemoth

Inside this behemoth

A beautiful edged lily

A beautiful edged lily

A bit more prettiness

A bit more prettiness

Dripping with wisteria

Dripping with wisteria

Possibly the oldest glasshouse in the world

Possibly the oldest glasshouse in the world

Another fabulous piece of Irish history is 15th century Ross Castle. You can walk to Ross Castle from Muckross or vice versa. It’s 2km from the centre of town but it’s also a lovely walk within the National Park (€4 entrance). You can take boat trips around Lough Leane from here.  I won’t share a photo because this aerial footage of Ross Castle by Killarney cameraman Marek Hajdasz gives you an idea of how amazing this place is. Also, I have no photo. Haha!

You can see news from Killarney at KillarneyToday.com or try to get your hands on a Killarney Advertiser or Killarney Outlook free publication to see what’s going on.

Bordeaux, France

We stayed in a lovely apartment we rented on Airbnb about a 15 minute stroll from the centre of the city. Airbnb really is awesome – you definitely feel like you’re living in the place you’re visiting. We had 2 days here and honestly one of them was pretty much dedicated to perusing the ol’ shops. The streets of Bordeaux are perfect for ambling around, stalling for a vino and photographing doors…haha I can’t stop taking pictures of doors and windows. They’re just so bloody awesome sometimes!

Chateau en route to Bordeaux

Chateau en route to Bordeaux

Our street

Our street

One of the most beautiful places we saw in Bordeaux was the St. André Cathedral at night. It has been here since 1096 (yep! ok, only one wall is around since then, the rest since the 13th and 14th centuries) and is an absolutely stunning building (currently undergoing some renovations). It’s absolutely worth strolling in here – it’s a behemoth of a building and the internal architecture is amazing. The 66 metre high Pey Berland Tower adjacent to the cathedral is a tourist attraction all on its own; you can climb 200-odd steps to get a view over the city. Randomly, the tower was home to residences and a lead factory prior to getting its bells. It was built separate from the cathedral so the (eventual!) bell vibrations wouldn’t damage the cathedral. Just next door is the beautiful Hôtel de Ville or Town Hall.

There seems to be a hell of a lot of places to eat in Bordeaux – plenty of cafés with outdoor seating for people-watching. We stopped in at a few cafés but none of major noteworthiness – we did have cocktails one evening in Cafe Brun, a pretty cool music bar on Rue Saint-Rémi. The main shopping street here is Rue Sainte-Catherine. Bring your flats – it’s suuuper long. There are plenty of high street stores here;  Galeries Lafayette is pretty large, Sephora is here (yay!), Mango, 7000 or so shoe stores, Zara, H&M etc. etc. – it’s not a bad weekend shopping destination.

One place I couldn’t find in Bordeaux was Ladurée. Can’t a girl get a damn macaron?

St. Ándre Cathedral

St. Ándre Cathedral

Little sculpture outside the Cathedral

Little sculpture outside the Cathedral

By moonlight

By moonlight

Hôtel de Ville

Hôtel de Ville

There are lots of little windy streets in Bordeaux and a wealth of architectural surprises at every corner. The French know how to pretty concrete up you know! The 18th century Place de la Bourse is probably Bordeaux’s most beautiful spot. Designed by Jacques Gabriel and his son, Ange-Jacques for King Louis XV and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a glorious square with a stunning water mirror across the street which reflects the image of the building…not that we got a picture of that. Pat on the back for that one…

Pont de Pierre

Pont de Pierre

Place de la Bourse

Place de la Bourse

Fountain of the Three Graces

Fountain of the Three Graces

Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux

Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux

Bordeaux's adorable carousel

Bordeaux’s adorable carousel

Honestly, such a random sculpture - it's completely flat

Honestly, such a random sculpture – it’s completely flat

Oh the loveliness!

Oh the loveliness!

You're coming with me!

You’re coming with me!

Typical Bordeaux buildings

Typical Bordeaux buildings

Street scene

Street scene

Pretty details everywhere

Pretty details everywhere

Just delightful

Just delightful

Lovely streets

Lovely streets

Cocktail hour?!

Cocktail hour?!

Little glimpses :-)

Little glimpses 🙂

Colour in the city

Colour in the city

Rustic :-)

Rustic 🙂

 Porte Dijeaux - the gate in to the heart of the city

Porte Dijeaux – the gate in to the heart of the city

Since when?!

Since when?!

The coolest cinema in the world?

The coolest cinema in the world?

John carrying Mum's shopping :-)

John carrying Mum’s shopping 🙂

Local life

Local life

Eglise Saint-Pierre

Eglise Saint-Pierre

Too true lads

Too true lads

 

Sucre, Bolivia

Sucre was probably one of the highlights of Bolivia for us. It’s a really pretty whitewashed colonial city with a warm and sunny climate (and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site). We stayed at Casa de Huéspedes San Marco (80 BOB) which had wifi but that’s really the only good thing I can say about it. Let’s just say it’s a voyeurs dream. Moving on! Sucre’s main plaza, Plaza 25 de Mayo, is a great spot to while away some time just watching life go by. On one side of the park lies the Cathedral which is nearly the size of an entire city block. Massive! We visited Sucre’s market and it was absolutely fantastic. There’s amazing fresh produce, really friendly stall owners (we got a free apple. Result!) and lots of food spots upstairs. We didn’t try the food upstairs but there were hundreds of people chomping away. There’s also a couple of supermarkets which we got really excited about since we hadn’t seen one since Cusco. SAS is a brand new supermarket (which also has a cinema above it) down Calle Juan José Perez (about 3 blocks down from the main plaza). Sucre is chockerblocked full of chocolate shops (pardon the pun. I actually think they might have a diabetes problem!).

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Relaxing by the park

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Prefectura

Cooking up a storm in the market

Cooking up a storm in the market

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Plenty of fresh produce

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Putting John to work at a pasta stand

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Carnations everywhere

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Love it!

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Pink potatoes!!

Cafés-wise, Abi’s, on the main plaza, and Abi’s Patio, about three blocks further down are Belgian/Bolivian owned have really good Belgian chips and mayonnaise (and wifi which is hard to come by in Bolivia). The Belgian owner is a lovely chap too which always helps. We had breakfast a couple of times in Condor Café (also a tour agency). The muesli was delicious and wifi strong enough. Dutch-owned Florín (pub) was a good spot for a catch up with our lovely Dutch friends, Dorianne and Sam. They have a really tasty apple crumble here and they also brew their own beers but they actually had like two options out of a large menu. We stayed so long here one evening we got locked out of our hostel. John had to bang on the door for about 20 minutes before we had any joy. Fecking midnight curfew, come on!

Parque Bolivar is Sucre’s largest park and a worthwhile stop if you want to sit and chill for a while. It’s about a ten minute walk downhill from the main plaza and is full of playing children, ice-cream sellers and dogs. It’s overlooked by the stunning Supreme Court of Bolivia and the park includes a climbing frame Eiffel Tower which is cute for kiddies.

El Hospital Real de Santa Barbara

El Hospital Real de Santa Barbara

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On the walk to Parque Bolivar

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Plenty of these in Sucre

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Sucre’s Eiffel Tower

We took a micro bus (1.50 BOB) to the Parque Cretácico (from the back of the market) to see the world’s largest collection of actual dinosaur footprints. It was a bit expensive, 30 BOB for foreigners (10 BOB for Bolivians) plus 5 BOB to take photographs. Not enjoying this paying extra for photos malarkey – like you’re going to come here and not take pictures? They police the hell out of it too. The footprints are actually out across the way from the parque (which has a one room museum too) so it looks like the dinosaurs were climbing up the walls; in actuality the shifts in tectonic plates have pushed the ground upright. Perfect for viewing though! There is supposed to be a tour included but they decided against it on our visit as there was a smattering of rain. I mean smattering too. I’d like to send them to Ireland for just one day!

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Dinosaurs approaching…

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All the pock marks are prints

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Plenty more

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And some more

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I’m done now…

Next stop: Back to Potosí to get to Uyuni and the Salar de Uyuni or Salt Flats

Trinidad, Cuba

Typical street in Trinidad

Typical street in Trinidad

Plaza Mejor

Plaza Mejor

We booked the bus to Trinidad with Transtur inside the Cubanocan office in the Iberostar Parque Central Hotel in Havana. It costs 25 CUC per person (each way) to travel around 320 kilometres and takes about 7 hours. It only takes that bloody long as they stop every hour along the way – if you hired a car you could easily travel from Havana to Trinidad in 4 hours (we tried but there weren’t any hire cars available – plus they wanted 200 CUC deposit which I’m sure you’d get back…). Cuba is really set up to screw tourists to be honest; you can’t travel from Havana’s bus station in local transport which I’m sure is a fraction of the cost of the tourist bus companies (Transtur and Viazul). Hitch-hiking is the only way to travel for local prices in Cuba and it’s actually well set up so you’re not 100% likely to be murdered. The landscape changes from city to greenery just five minutes outside Havana. There are plenty of tobacco plantations to see en route and the roads are in pretty good condition for the whole journey – very little traffic on their highways though.

Upon arrival in Trinidad you are accosted by about 20 touts trying to get you to stay at their casa particular – it’s full on insane. Instead, we found one by knocking on doors we liked! We ended up right near the bus station in a beautiful colonial house with a lovely courtyard. We payed 25 CUC per night at Casa de Alquiler. I think they make their money on food, 5 CUC per person for breakfast which consists of some fruit, tea/coffee, bread rolls and a rubbery omelette – it’s still the best food you’ll have in Cuba though. You wouldn’t believe how bad the food is in restaurants and cafés here – we’re pretty much living on ice-cream from this little spot called Crema Dulche – 1 CUC for a sundae (!!) and John reckons their coffee is some of the better stuff he’s had over here. Man I miss Sydney’s foodie culture 😦

So we decided to spend 3 nights in Trinidad which is definitely way too many – one full day would have been perfect as it’s a tiny spot. The main square, Plaza Mejor is probably tourist central and has some lovely fenced in gardens, palm trees , a view out to the Carribean Sea a few kilometres from the ‘city’, and is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Kids come here in the afternoons to expertly fly their kites. The top of the plaza is dominated by the Santisima church and surrounded by beautifully painted colonial mansions (most of which are now museums). The church has 14 altars and is worth a quick look in if only to escape Trinidad’s midday heat. Next door to the church is the Museo Romantico (2 CUC entry, plus an extra 1 CUC should you wish to take photos) which is a colonial mansion as it once could have been, a labyrinth of rooms seemingly readied for guests; the dining room table is set with French crockery (I’m not joking lads – Cubans are obsessed with telling you where things are from and most of France’s crockery and tiles seem to have found a home on the island), a four-poster bed with pretty armoire in he bedroom, lots of chintzy ornaments everywhere, an amazing Italian marble bath (minus plug-hole) in the bathroom and a separate mahogany ‘throne’ across the upper courtyard from here. Whilst the Museo Romantico was definitely worth seeing, they have so many staff just teetering around pretty much on top of you that’s it’s quite annoying – they also try to sell their embroidered handkerchiefs and other wears so you pretty much rush through to get away from them. You’re then ushered out through a shop at the back for even more spending options. Unfortunately, Cuba is the worst place we’ve visited in terms of touts – it’s non-stop and I definitely would have liked to have been prepared for it – relentless! I know they’re  just trying to make a living but it riles me up something wicked. Anyhoo!

Just to the left of the Santisima church on Plaza Mejor is the little wander up to the ruins of La Popa church – probably only worth doing if you’ve got a bit of free time (it only takes five minutes to get there) but there’s a nice vista from the top.

Santisima Church

Santisima Church

Orchids in the beautiful courtyard of our accommodation

Orchids in the beautiful courtyard of our accommodation

Trinidadian Art

Trinidadian Art

Typical Houses

Typical Houses

La Popa ruins in the background

La Popa ruins in the background

They're a proud bunch

They’re a proud bunch

Not at all random

Not at all random

Well where do you keep your eggs?

Well where do you keep your eggs?

Fruit shop in Trinidad

Fruit shop in Trinidad

The best thing we did in Trinidad was a visit to the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos (which used to be a convent). The yellow bell tower of this building is the most recognisable image of Trinidad. For just 1 CUC you take a walk around the museum downstairs, complete with speedboat and Russian artillery truck as well as pictures of all those who died during the Cuban revolution. The walk up the wooden staircase to the bell-tower is the best part; there are a few different levels with 360 degree views around Trinidad. It’s beautiful looking across this UNESCO city’s terracotta rooftops with locals hanging colourful washing on their upper terrace. You can hear beats from the surrounding houses too – Trinidad has music pouring out of every crevice.

Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos

Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos

That's one old bell

That’s one old bell

There’s a market too selling lots of handicrafts which was on all the days we were there – you can buy lots of Cuba branded bits and bobs; maracas, embroidered tablecloths, little dresses for kiddies, painted license plates, woven bags and jewellery to name but a few.

Trinidad's Market

Trinidad’s Market

Market buys

Market buys

Overall, Cuba was always somewhere high up on our must-visit list. I think maybe because we had such high expectations it didn’t really live up to our expectations. Centro Havana, where the locals still potter about doing their thing was amazing, as was wandering around the old town of Havana. The persistent touting, terrible food and abundance of litter everywhere (they really just don’t care!) really put us off. I’m glad we’ve seen Cuba now though, before things inevitably change. I’d still return though 🙂

Stunning sunset from the Plaza Mejor

Stunning sunset from the Plaza Mejor

Next stop: Back to Ecuador – to the town of Banos.

Havana, Cuba

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Guess where I am?

We found flights with Copa Airlines for $650 each (Quito to Havana return) so jumped at the chance to travel to Cuba for 9 days…bit of a detour from South America but it’s Cuba! As we were in the Galapagos we took a flight from Baltra to Quito and overnighted at Quito Airport Suites ($49) about five minutes drive from the airport in Quito – they had some English language TV channels so a nice little treat for us. Our flight to Havana was routed through Panama with a 2 hour layover…so obviously we had to get the ol passport stamp. John got a pretty unfriendly customs chap in Panama who wouldn’t let him through but my guy was a lovely fella who understood that my Panama hat had to visit Panama (obvs) so stamped us both in; tick! I don’t think it counts to be honest since we saw absolutely zilch of Panama but it’s a reason to return I guess (took us about an hour to get back through customs and security). Since I’ve had to go cold turkey on my magazine habit it was lovely to pass through Panama and pick up the latest InStyle (you can pay in USD in Panama) which I shall treasure for the next few months.

We landed in Havana and customs was only about ten minutes (which included a very thorough official asking a million questions about whether a portable battery pack was capable of receiving the internet…thinking they might need some additional training…) but our bags took over an hour to come out. Lazy pups. Anyhoo as it was after 11pm when we arrived it only took about 25 minutes to get to our Casa Particular from the airport. We decided to go with a Casa Particular or homestay as it felt like the best option to experience the real Cuba. Our hosts were Anna and Miguel (who I actually believed was a bull-fighter because of a mock up poster he had. Ha!) in Centro Havana…who spoke no English…which was perfect as it ensured we had to communicate in Spanish. Our Spanish has improved a lot in since September – we definitely understand a lot more and it’s making for a much better trip.

Havana's Art Scene

Havana’s Art Scene

Local Magazines

Local Magazines

Even the walls are pretty

Even the walls are pretty

Havana city is comprised of 3 areas – Havana Vieja (Old Town), Centro Havana (grittier than Havana Viejo but definitely makes for more of a local experience as it’s where the majority of locals live) and Vedado (in my opinion the most soulless area where a lot of the hotels are located). Our casa (La Terrasa – 25 CUC per night) was on the cusp of Havana Vieja so we were only about a 15 minute stroll to the main attractions. There are two currencies in Cuba – tourists use the CUC (Cuban convertible: 1 CUC = $1 USD) and locals use the CUP (Cuban pesos, which are worth a lot less than the CUC) so there’s a dual economy. Our first day started with the mother of all breakfasts from Anna (4 CUC) – I’m talking eggs, plantains, cheese, massive plate of fruit, smoothie, bread, tea and coffee. We didn’t have to eat until dinner but we obviously did anyway. We strolled to the beautiful Plaza Vieja in the old town which has a lovely fountain in the middle and is surrounded by wonderfully renovated colonial buildings. There’s a brewery on one corner, a very popular cafe called Cafe Escorial (tasty lemon meringue pie) on another and the very worthwhile Camara Oscura on another corner. Here, for 2 CUC you can take a look down on the Plaza Vieja and across the rooftops of Havana from the terrace. There’s also a tour per se – the camara oscura is a telescope lens which displays 360 degree images using mirrors; you go into a dark room and the guide turns a lever which displays the surrounding city on a circular table of sorts and points out points of interest…and makes terrible jokes about being able to see you coming out of the brewery, people washing their laundry etc. groan-inducing but you can’t help but laugh. The Plaza Vieja is also home to the Museo de Naipes (free entry), a small playing card museum which is definitely worth a quick browse. We had some drinks in an upstairs bar called Azucar too (hands down best bathrooms in Havana…it’s really hard to find a bathroom here and you’ll pretty much always need your own toilet paper). Down the street from the Camara Oscura is the Museo del Chocolate. I wouldn’t really call it a museum; more of a cafe with some posters on the walls and some chocolate moulds from Belgium. The hot cholocates here are 55 cents. Yep. They have awesome chocolate figures too, vintage car anyone? (7 CUC but they have little guitars, hearts and other random figures ranging from about 4 CUC up to 11.75 CUC for a bear). Also around here is the Museo de la Farmacia Habana (technically free entry but they ask for a contribution for its restoration even though it looks fully restored and they keep a log of contributions in a ledger; typical pharmacy eh?!) which is an old school pharmacy with hundreds of branded porcelain bottles stored in floor to ceiling ornate mahogany cabinets. Locals still queue here for some of their homemade concoctions. The Camara de Representantes in Habana Vieja houses some paintings and furniture of past presidents. Here we had our first WTF moment when after our free guided tour we were summoned to a corner by the guide and asked for a contribution for her family of 10 CUC for about a five minute stroll around the ground floor. Some pup I tell you. They whisper to you to make sure that others (i.e. security) don’t see them hitting you up for cash. So annoying but it pretty much happens in every museum so be forewarned. Just down the street is the Hotel Ambos Mundo where Ernest Hemingway spent a lot of time. You can visit room 511 for 2 CUC but when we got up there somebody had broken something in the room so we could only look in from the door. To be honest it just looked like another  hotel room. You can visit the famous La Bodeguita del Medio where Mr. Hemingway frequented when it was a quiet bar – it’s now full of Nikons snapping away.

A Little Taste of Local Art

A Little Taste of Local Art

More Art and some Cuban Hats

More Art and some traditional Cuban Hats

Havana Rooftops from the Camara Oscura

Havana Rooftops from the Camara Oscura

Local Taxi

Local Taxi

Plaza de San Francisco

Plaza de San Francisco

Meet my new friend

Meet my new friend

Freaking out a little...

Freaking out a little…

Museo de la Farmacia Habana

Museo de la Farmacia Habana

Just down from here is the lovely Plaza de Armas which has beautiful trees and is surrounded by a local book market (except Mondays). It’s probably the most beautiful square in Havana and is surrounded by some beautiful buildings and one evening there was an orchestra jamming away. Very special. The Cathedral is located, rather shockingly on Plaza de la Cathedral. It’s a stunning building and you can potter up the tower if you so wish for a nominal fee.

Book Market at Plaza de Armas

Book Market at Plaza de Armas

Another Friend

Another Friend

Havana's Cathedral

Havana’s Cathedral

The Havana Club Museum (guided tours only; 7 CUC) is definitely worth a visit. They have tours in lots of languages and we just had to wait about twenty minutes for an English tour. There’s a bottle called Maximo which they sell for 1700 CUC and so far only a couple of Chinese, Russians and Japanese have purchased them. They have a scale model of a working sugar plantation with moving train which is pretty cool. At the end of the tour (which is only about 20 minutes) you get a shot of Havana Club (aged 7 years) in a 1930s style bar and then you’re whisked off into the shop should you wish to purchase the 1700 CUC bottle. The other bottles start at 5.55 CUC.

Me and Che by the Havana Club Museum

Me and Che by the Havana Club Museum

Scale Model Train at the Havana Club Museum

Scale Model Train at the Havana Club Museum

Havana Club's 1930s Bar

Havana Club’s 1930s Bar

Museo de la Revolucion

Museo de la Revolucion

Che, Fidel and Cienfuegos

Che, Fidel and Cienfuegos

Shopping in Cuba is an odd affair. There aren’t any department stores – just sparse rooms essentially with glass counters as you walk in the door which block you from actually manhandling anything. The staff have to get you whatever you need. Quite strange but obviously it’s what they’re used to – maybe it will change with the easing of relations with the USA. Speaking of the US, there’s a building on the cusp of Habana Vieja which is a mirror image of its namesake in Washington D.C., the Capitolio. The main tourist street for wandering is Obispo and there’s a really good spot called Patio de los Artesanos where you can gather up handmade buys and colourful souvenirs for very reasonable prices. There’s also a cool market down by the port in an old train station where you can buy paintings and anything you can think of stamped with an image of a cigar.

Something you have to do in Havana is the walk along the Malecon all along the sea. It’s windy as hell but a nice stroll should you wish to get that windswept look.

We took a 3 day trip to Trinidad too so I’ll pop that post up next.

Habana 1791 Perfume Shop

Habana 1791 Perfume Shop

Loads more pics!!

The Capitolio Building

The Capitolio Building

More Local Art...

More Local Art…

Some pics from Centro Habana

Just gorgeous

Just gorgeous

I have it on good authority that these are tiles from France

I have it on good authority that these are tiles from France

 

Local Stall Owner (actually very friendly although he may not look it!)

Local Stall Owner (actually very friendly although he may not look it!)

The America Theatre

The America Theatre

Just getting the dinner

Just getting the dinner

A Havana Florist

A Havana Florist

Street life - oh the colours!

Street life – oh the colours!

Plenty of cats in Havana

Plenty of cats in Havana

John reckons Havana's mechanics must be amazing

John reckons Havana’s mechanics must be amazing

Cuba Theatre

Cuba Theatre

Dilapidated but oh so beautiful

Dilapidated but oh so beautiful

Che's everywhere

Che’s everywhere

The Vedado Area

Chilling with John Lennon in the Vedado Area

Chilling with John Lennon in the Vedado Area

Chilling with the Cuban Flag at the famous Hotel Nacional

Chilling with the Cuban Flag at the famous Hotel Nacional

Next stop: Trinidad, Cuba.

The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Some of the Galápagos Islands

Some of the Galápagos Islands

We flew with AeroGal from Guayaquil to Baltra on the main island of Santa Cruz in the Galápagos for  8 days. To get from Baltra to Puerto Ayora, which is the main town on Santa Cruz, you get a free bus from the airport to the ferry, then hop on the ferry for $1 across a short stretch of water and then you hop on a bus for $1.50 for the 45 minute trip to the bottom of the island (or a taxi costs $18). We hadn’t booked accommodation before arriving so found a place by just wandering around – we stayed at the Hotel Espana just parallel to the main thoroughfare for $35 a night. We stayed in Puerto Ayora for a few nights to suss out prices for cruises and eventually went with a 4 day cruise on the Estrella del Mar, stopping at Isla Bartolome, Isla Genovesa, Las Bachas (on Isla Santa Cruz) and finally Isla Santa Fe. It’s best to bring enough cash to pay for this trip as most agencies don’t accept credit cards and if they do they have whoppers of fees attached. We also tried to get a cash advance which didn’t work and our card was put on hold in Australia and it’s really difficult to find wifi good enough to Skype call the bank – let that be a lesson learned!

Puerto Ayora and Isla Santa Cruz

The main thoroughfare in Puerto Ayora is Avenida Charles Darwin and this is where most of the shops, restaurants and bars are situated. The walk along the port at night is pretty nice; we saw lots of small Galápagos sharks here and a even a cheeky sea lion chilling on a bench. There’s plenty to keep you occupied on Santa Cruz island. One afternoon we rented bicycles from the little shop just next to the Isla Grill restaurant for $7.50 for 4 hours and took in the whole town. The Charles Darwin Research Centre (free entry) at one end of town has a number of giant tortoises and some iguanas – not amazing by any stretch of the imagination but it’s free. A lot of cruises actually bring you here on your last day too. There’s a little rocky beach next to the station called Playa de la Estacion which was nice for sunset.

Tortuga Bay, reached by a good 40 minutes walk out of town, is absolutely stunning. The first time we visited we made the mistake of cycling but you can only get to the entrance of the 40 minute walk! We had no locks for our bikes but lots of people seemed to just leave them for the day so we thought when in Rome…happy ending too – they were still there when we returned. You need to sign in and out at the entrance station so you need your passport number. Tortuga Bay is where sea turtles come to lay eggs but we saw none of this – just lava gulls, pelicans, little sharks (some of the guys saw a hammerhead shark one evening) and the motherload of iguanas. The huge beach just before Tortuga Bay is stunning and you could easily while away a few days chillaxing on these beaches.

We rented a taxi dude another day for $30 who took us to the Bellavista Lava Tunnels ($3 entrance) and El Rancho Mariposa ($3 again). You get a flash-lamp to guide you through the lava tunnels – it’s pitch black in places with some lovely puddles thrown in for good measure for you to dunk your converse. El Rancho Mariposa is a tortoise ranch which was pretty cool – we got stuck in a tortoise jam on the way in 🙂 The tortoises have acres of space to roam around here and they are everywhere you look. Not sure I’d recommend this to be honest – $30 is a bit saucy for the distance you travel and we had a tortoise ranch and some lava tunnels included on the cruise we took.

Our favourite food haunt in a Puerto Ayora was the Galápagos Deli which has delicious thin crust pizzas, good (for the Galapagos) wifi and lovely chocolate cake. The ice-cream at Il Giardino down at the end of town is hands down the best in town. We must have had at least 10 scoops each in our time in Puerto Ayora! The main supermarket up the top of the town is definitely worth a visit. It’s so old-school; definitely like something out of an olde time film, plus they have organic chocolate.

En route to Tortuga Bay with an Opuntia Cactus

En route to Tortuga Bay with an Opuntia Cactus

Home to iguanas...

Home to iguanas…

and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

and Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Tortuga Bay

Tortuga Bay

Local Resident

Local Resident

Taking in the beach

Taking in the beach

Ceramic Garden in Puerto Ayora

Ceramic Garden in Puerto Ayora

Isla San Cristobal

We took a day trip to Isla San Cristobal to see La Loberia where the sea lions hang out and we weren’t disappointed – so many baby sea-lions – too cute! The 7am speedboat trip over there ($60 per person return – absolute robbery but we were hardly going to swim!) was horrible – 2.5 hours of nausea. After breakfast (don’t eat before that boat trip) we got a taxi to La Loberia for $1 and decided to walk back, alongside the tiny airport which takes about 45 minutes. Unfortunately that’s really all we had time to do on San Cristobal as the speedboat back leaves at 3pm.

Mummy and baby on La Loberia Beach

Mummy and baby on La Loberia Beach

Aren't they just dotie?

Aren’t they just dotie?

Cruise aboard Estrella del Mar

We booked our cruise with Jenny at Moonrise Travel 3 days before we travelled. She was fantastic and called everyone on her contact list to get us on the most suitable cruise. We ended up on the Estrella del Mar for a 3 night/4 day cruise with 9 others – a relatively small number for a Galápagos cruise which was perfect for us – the others were really lovely so we had a wonderful time. Our guide, Alfredo, was über passionate about his profession and very happy to field a bazillion questions from John. Our itinerary started with a visit on day one to Isla Bartolome, overnight cruise north to Isla Genovesa, back overnight to Las Bachas on Isla Santa Cruz and Isla Santa Fe and the last night at the port of Puerto Ayora.

Isla Bartolome was our first stop and here we just took a little wander up some steps to see one of the most iconic images of the Galápagos – Sullivan Bay and Pinnacle Rock. We didn’t see any wildlife here but on the little dinghy on the way back to the boat we saw some darling little Galápagos Penguins taking in the evening sun. We anchored for a while to have some dinner and did some fantastic star-gazing from atop the boat. We cruised through the night to awake in the far north, at Isla Genovesa. This island is great for bird lovers as it’s the only place you can see red-footed boobies, which are birds lads and believe me there were plenty of boobie jokes on the whole trip so enough already! We started our day in Genovesa at Darwin Bay, taking in lots of Nazca boobies, frigatebirds (massive black birds with fork-like tails – the males have a red pouch under their necks which inflates to attract a female) and some sea-lions on the walk up to a look out point over the bay. It was wicked hot here so you definitely need a hat and at least SPF 50. Sadly, there’s a little plaque up the top in dedication to two women who were lost at sea whilst scuba diving here. After our little walk we did some snorkelling just off the beach and saw plenty of brightly coloured fish, some sea-lions, and some of the guys saw some Galápagos sharks. Back to the boat for a spot of lunch and then later on in the afternoon we climbed up the Prince Phillip steps to see the huge red-footed booby population. It’s quite baron up where this population lives so I don’t believe they have any predators. We then cruised overnight back to Isla Santa Cruz to Las Bachas on the north coast. This was my absolute favourite part of the entire trip! I had been dying to see blue-footed boobies and we finally saw them here – and not just some, probably hundreds. They are hands-down my new favourite! After only 15 minutes on Las Bachas we’d already seen the boobies, some flying flamingos (apparently quite rare), a nesting sea-turtle (extremely rare), and the ubiquitous crabs and iguanas. Amazing! In the afternoon we went to Isla Santa Fe where we spotted some endemic iguanas, a nice sized population of sea-lions, a couple of hawks and loads more blue-footed boobies. The blue-footed boobies have an amazing fishing technique; they dive from about 40m to 2m underwater to catch their dinner. It’s an awesome sight. Las Bachas ticks all boxes!

Pinnacle Rock

Pinnacle Rock

Galapagos Penguins

Galapagos Penguins

Red Footed Booby

Red Footed Booby

Hermit Crab

Hermit Crab

Catching the sunset on Genovesa

Catching the sunset on Genovesa

Las Bachas Beach

Las Bachas Beach

Nesting Sea Turtle

Nesting Sea Turtle

On her way back home

On her way back home

Finally - a blue footed booby

Finally – a blue footed booby

Many boobies!

Many boobies!

So peaceful!

So peaceful (on Santa Fe)

On our last morning, back on dry land in a Puerto Ayora, we took a bus to see the twin craters, Los Gemelos, which are basically two massive holes in the ground with trees growing inside them. We then went to another tortoise ranch, Rancho Primicias which was pretty cool. They had a really good set up here, with Some food options and a really well stocked souvenir store where I picked up a nice Galápagos tote/beach bag for $15. After this, we went to some more lava tunnels just next door. These ones had lights and were pretty big but even though the others were more expensive to get to, I think they were better.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

Posing with a resident at Rancho Primicias

Posing with a resident at Rancho Primicias

Turf War

Turf War

I cannot wait to go back to the Galápagos! Although we saw loads there’s still so much more to see. Isla Espanola down south sounds awesome and our guide raved about Isla Isabela so it seems like there’s a lot to see there too. I think the islands would be a great place to bring kiddies too.

Side note: The Galápagos Islands are honestly a money pit – I actually think currency evaporates here. Bring your life savings 🙂

Next stop: Havana, Cuba.

Popayán, Colombia

Ok so from Salento we took a bus to Armenia (20 minutes) and then to Cali (2.5 hours with Expreso Palmira) and then on to Popayán (5 more hours, again with Expreso Palmira), phew! The bus station is about a 15 minute walk from the centre of Popayán so we wandered away in and found a room in the Parklife Hostel, which literally shares a wall with the cathedral in the lovely main park, Parque Caldas. The hostel didn’t have a great atmosphere to be honest – maybe it’s just because it’s currently shoulder season. Run by another Irish chap…

Popayán is a white-washed city and there is some beautiful architecture to check out. It’s probably the only place We’ve seen so far in Colombia that I would say is in any way similar to Spain. They have some fabulous churches, I think Iglesia de San Franciso was my favourite (didn’t get a picture but you can check it out here). There’s a pretty cool bridge linking the north of the city to the centre called the Humilladero Bridge which is definitely worth seeing; there was even a llama wandering around; poor pet must have been freezing – we’re a bit far north for the little chap. Side note: chuffed I’ve finally seen a llama! The city is supposed to be a UNESCO City of Gastronomy or something along those lines but the food was the worst we’ve had in Colombia by a long shot. Odd. Saying that, we found a little café called La Fontana which had delicious caramel ice-cream.

We took a little walk to the Museo de Historia Natural (closed between 12pm and 2pm, $3,000COP entrance each) and had a tourism student/guide who was happy to practice his English on us. I asked him what he planned to do in tourism; he said the most important thing is to promote Colombia – WHO is this dude’s teacher?! Or is the government always watching? The museum is basically a few rooms of stuffed animals (with fake eyes), mostly birds, although there’s currently a moose on loan from Canada. A roadway just by the museum leads to a little purpose-made village (I think) with some little shops selling a few handicrafts.

Parque Caldas

Parque Caldas

La Ermita, Popayan's oldest church

La Ermita, Popayan’s oldest church

Just caught my eye

Just caught my eye

Humilladero Bridge

Humilladero Bridge

Cute church in the tourist/artisan village

Cute church in the tourist/artisan village

As we landed in Popayán on a Monday and the Silvia market was on the next morning we decided it would definitely be worth checking out. We wandered out to the bus station and went with the one company that was holding up a sign for Silvia. I have to say, bus travel in Colombia is pretty seamless. I was feeling dizzy but I put it down to being hungry (since that’s nearly always the case) but by the time we got to Silvia I had a splitting headache. Let’s just say there were tears and a little plastic bag was acquired for the bumpy trip back down to Popayán (longest 45 minute trip of my entire life). Think I must have caught some virus on all this public transport. The rest of Tuesday was therefore spent in slumber. Ah well, I didn’t do too badly for a month in Colombia. From what I remember, Silvia was pretty cool, although tiny; Tuesday is market day for the nearby Guambiano Indians who dress in beautiful deep purple attire with hot pink trim. John was just looking after me so unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures (although I believe they get a little offended if you take pictures anyway so all’s well…)

Overall, it’s a pretty-ish city but it didn’t really hold too much interest for us. The people were much nicer in Salento and further north in Colombia. We’ve decided to move on to Ecuador so we’ll be overnighting in Ipiales on the Colombia/Ecuador border to see the Las Lajas church and cross into Ecuador during the daytime.

Next stop: Ipiales, Santuario de las Lajas, Colombia/Ecuador border crossing.

Salento, Colombia

Calle Real, Salento

Calle Real

The bus journey from Pereira to Salento took about 45 minutes with Alcala on some of the best roads in Colombia; the entire road was lined in the middle with beautiful flowers – this is definitely where the Colombian government is sending their infrastructure funds. We were dropped off right in the middle of Salento’s main square, Plaza Bolivar, and found a lovely Dutch-owned hostel just around the corner called ‘Hostel Tralala‘ ($55,000COP). Amazingly hot showers and a hairdryer – haven’t seen one of those in a while! (side note: need to purchase hairdryer…it’s bloody cold here). We ended up staying in Salento for 5 nights – there’s just so much to do. The children run about the place chasing each other in their PJs whilst the men wander about with their wellington boots and machetés in fringed hoists clinging to the sides of their trousers.

Salento’s Main Street is called Calle Real (just to the left of the church) and is flanked by a huge clock. There are a whole pile of tourist shops and restaurants running the length of the street and up at the top there are some steps which lead up to the towns’ sunset lookout point, Alto de la Cruz. We frequented a couple of spots up this street; La Postre was a cute little stop for dessert and if you say please you get your cake a little cheaper! We had pizza at the Italian owned ‘Piccola Italia’ but it wasn’t great to be honest. We had some beers one evening at ‘El Tejadito de Salento Cafe Arte’ and there were a few chaps playing some Colombian tunes – pretty cool. Best people watching spot has to go to a bar on the main square called ‘Donde Mi Apa’ – full of paraletic locals getting their drink on (just next to the Supercocora supermarket). Café Jesus Martin is a lovely spot just off the main square for a coffee/tea and some cake. John bought some more coffee to cart around 🙂 La Eliana is another food spot and although it’s a little trek out of town it has fantastic pizza (yep, another pizza). They had ‘Coffee Appreciation’ classes too although you’d have a job getting me to appreciate coffee I’m afraid…We went to the American-owned ‘Brunch‘ on numerous occasions and I cannot even describe how fabulous their peanut-butter brownies are; and I don’t even like peanut butter! The owner, Geoff Bailey, is a lovely chatty chap with plenty of advice on the area. They have a projector in the back room with something like 2,000 movies so obviously we took advantage one rainy afternoon. The weather is pretty predictable here – perfectly clear in the mornings and then the clouds and rain roll on in for the afternoon. We played the local game of Tejo one evening with some locals in the Los Amigos bar a couple of blocks back from the main plaza. It was a pretty slow game but basically for the price of a beer you get to throw weights at little triangular shaped pieces of paper filled with gunpowder which explode if you hit them. I did not hit one piece of pesky paper. Obviously John bloody got some to explode. He’s not crap at anything.

Salento's church

Salento’s church

Some of Salento's colourful balconies

Some of Salento’s colourful balconies

Always another option in case you get locked out...

Always another option in case you get locked out…

Salento's modes of transportation

Salento’s modes of transportation

Cute shoes I didn't purchase :-(

Cute shoes I didn’t purchase 😦

One morning we decided to do the Valle de Cocora trek to see the famous wax palm trees. We caught one of the WWII Willy Jeeps in the main plaza at 7.30am for the 20 minute or so trip to the valley ($3,200COP per person) – it was wedged so we had to stand/death-grip on the back with the local kids taking their trip to school. We obviously decided to take the route less travelled so instead of going through the recommended little blue gate to see the palms we hiked up the mountain and down around the Valle de Cocora, which took about 5 hours including a trip to the hummingbird sanctuary (essentially somebody’s house with a few trees which draw an insane amount of beautiful hummingbirds). Entrance fee to see the hummingbirds was $5,000COP each and included a drink. Not sure how much of a good idea the mountain was – why are we doing SO much climbing on this trip? It was tough enough but didn’t take too long to ascend – at one point however I did think I saw a unicorn! I think word got around Salento that coming this direction was the thing to do at the moment; I don’t really know why – the best view of the palms is definitely just after the aforementioned little blue gate. We didn’t get to see too much from the top of the mountain as you’re literally up in the clouds but I suppose we’re getting our exercise!

Convinced myself this was a unicorn hallucination from all the darn climbing!

Convinced myself this was a unicorn hallucination from all the darn climbing!

The Valle de Cocora's famous (gigantic) wax palms

The Valle de Cocora’s famous (gigantic) wax palms

So beautiful

So beautiful

At Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary

At Acaime Hummingbird Sanctuary

Pretty little feckers

Pretty little feckers

Not at all dangerous crossing...

Not at all dangerous crossing…

Nifty looking bridge crossing

Nifty looking bridge crossing

Look how tiny I am!

Look how tiny I am!

One afternoon saw us take the 45 minute stroll out of town to the organic coffee farm, Don Elias (tour costs $6,000COP per person). Here they use pineapple plants, banana trees and a huge old avocado tree to keep the insects at bay (and as natural fertiliser). Pretty small set-up, they dry their beans in a little polytunnel and roast them over a tiny old range in a saucepan at the side of the house/building site. On the walk back (uphill so takes much longer) we popped into a little community called ‘Aldea de Artesanas’. This is supposedly where the local artisans practice their crafts and sell their wares at the Saturday market in the main plaza – there was just one house open when we were there – this chap making tiny little cribs. We stayed around Salento for the weekend too – it’s quite sleepy during the week and a lot of Colombian holidaymakers do pop in for the Saturday market but as it’s off-season at the moment the place wasn’t overwhelmed in the slightest. The market isn’t really anything major though – basically the main square becomes food central – little marquees pop up around the perimeter with a few handicraft stalls thrown in for good measure.

Rustic set up at Don Elias

Rustic set up at Don Elias

You could easily while away a few months in Salento but since we only have a few months full stop we’d to potter on…

Next stop: Popayan.