A Travellerspoint blog

April 2009

Week 9, 25.Apr.09 - 1.May.09

Paramaribo, Suriname to Concepcion, Paraguay

View Week 9 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Paramaribo, Suriname
Well, I've officially been in Paramaribo long enough... even the riff-raff have stopped asking me for money as I walk down the street, as if I were a local they know! Spent some time yesterday and today getting the blog here up, then went down to the boardwalk at the river front for one more Parbo beer and the one constant dish you can find, fried chicken w/ fried rice. Flying back to Trinidad & Tobago early tomorrow morning for another marathon layover!

Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
With 11 hours to kill for my next flight out to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, got some serious reading done! I recognized a guy who was on my flight this morning from Suriname who is also waiting for a connection and offered my SRD $5, since I most likely won't be going back and can't spend it anymore. He said he was from Cuba, but did travel to Suriname often for work. Then he asked me, since we had such a long layover, whether it was safe to go and wander around Port of Spain - I told him I thought so (safer than Cuba, anyway!). Still got a few more hours that I'll be airborne...

Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Arrived this morning in Santa Cruz around 3:00 AM. I wasn't 100% sure about the Paraguay visa application process & whether I could obtain at the port of entry/border (like I had just done w/ Bolivia), or if I actually needed to apply in advance (which could be a problem, since I don't have one!). Since it was about 11 hours until my next connecting flight and everything was closed at the time anyway, parked it on the airport bench and tried for a few more hours sleep. Later when I spoke with a couple AeroSur airlines (the connecting flight) agents, they confirmed I had to apply for the visa in advance. Looks like I'm paying a visit to the Paraguay consulate here! Went ahead and changed my flight for the 29th, to be sure I had enough time to get the visa. Now to find a hotel in Santa Cruz...

I was dead asleep until 8 AM this morning - I guess that's what happens when you get only about 6 hours total sleep over the past couple days (that, and a bad cold I have). Staying in central Santa Cruz - really like this city, everyone seems really friendly, like the little old lady who runs the hotel is great - always dressed up in very formal 40's or 50's wear with her formal greetings (refering to me with "Usted") and the city itself is quaint with the cobblestone streets.
Awesome weather here, too... bright & sunny, hot but dry heat (compared to the muggy rainforest weather in Suriname & French Guiana) - feels like Indian Summer, which is appropriate since I'm now in the Southern Hemisphere approaching Autumn. Spent the day today - marking 2 months traveling (almost didn't realize!) - wandering around Santa Cruz & taking in the sights.

Just got home from hitting a couple bars. Definitely a fan of Santa Cruz, now sorry I'm leaving so soon!

Asuncion, Paraguay
10 PM, sitting here at my hotel's pool with cerveza in-hand. This hotel is by far the nicest I've been in on this trip... and most hotels I've ever been in, for that matter!... felt a little out of place wearing my dirty backpack into the nice lobby & my gleaming white room (may not even need shower shoes!). Asuncion seems like a pretty chill place that I can tell from the few hours I've been here - will definitely get more acquainted with this city tomorrow. Earlier today spent a few more hours wandering around Santa Cruz, & of course stopping by the Mercado Florida where one of the stall workers now knows me by name -- in my 3 days in Santa Cruz, I became heavily addicted to "jugos y salada de fuitas"; fruit smoothies poured over fresh fruit salad. Fortunately at only US $0.71/each, I could get my fix several times/day!

I'm not technically in Asuncion anymore, but rather somewhere ~30 minutes north along the Rio Paraguay, heading up to Concepcion. This may be the craziest thing I've done so far, but while wandering around Asuncion today & taking in all the sights of the city; both good and bad (beautiful government buildings dotting city center while squatter tents also dot parks & shanty areas right next door)...

... came to the Port at Rio Paraguay. I had read about cargo boats going up the Rio Paraguay that could take passengers to Concepcion, so when I inquired, turns out the next cargo boat was leaving tonight at 6PM for the 30 hour sail up the river. The next boat after wasn't leaving for another 15 days, so I figured if I was going to do it... so then went back to my hotel to cancel tonight's reservation, wandered around Asuncion a bit more to make sure I got to see as much as possible, then headed over to the port & hopped on the boat.

Not too sure how many other people are on this boat - I think at least 1 other passenger (local, maybe - not tourist, or certainly not gringo) & several crew members who were loading cargo. Now I'm sailing up the river, laying in my hammock I bought earlier in the market (US $5!), watching an amazing sunset while having a (warm) rum & coke, & listening to some tunes on my iPod... Christoper Cross' "Sailing", appropriately enough - good times!

Concepcion, Paraguay
It's right around midnight & we just docked in Concepcion. Today was spent lounging in my hammock - reading, listening to tunes (both my own & the crew's radio playing latin music), spotting the occasional animal along the banks of the lazy Rio Paraguay...

... and of course, the siesta (or 2)

There was a group of hombres that got off w/ some of the cargo a few hours ago where a truck was waiting for them on the bank; I think they were heading to the small town of San Pedro about 50 miles south of here. I borrowed one of the guy's phone earlier today to make a reservation at a hospedaje guest house, but arriving here at midnight & not knowing where this hospedaje is (the guidebook only has the name & phone number, no address nor map of Concepcion), was going to try and catch a cab (if any were still running at this time, not sure), but the boat's captain told me it was OK to sleep on the boat for another night, so for simplicity's (but not cleanliness - another day w/out showering??) sake, I'll crash here tonight & figure out my trek back toward Bolivia tomorrow.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 10:36 Comments (0)

Week 8, 18.Apr.09 - 24.Apr.09

Cayenne, French Guiana to Paramaribo, Suriname

View Week 8 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Cayenne, French Guiana
After another unsuccessful attempt at getting on a tour up to Iles du Salut, wandered around Cayenne a bit more, taking in sights like the market selling all kinds of funky fruits and home-made liquors (I sampled a couple), and nice views of the ocean before I head back over to Saint-Laurent.

Saint-Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana
The collectivo ride back from Cayenne (after waiting only 2 hours this time 'till full) was eventful.. the driver was super aggressive, passing 4-5 cars at a time, so one passenger (with a daughter) started yelling at the guy, the van pulled over and both got out almost exchanging blows. The driver threw back the man's money and left him on the side of the road to find another taxi. After that, everyone else was pretty much holding their comments about the driving.
Well, if I were more of an entrepreneur, I'd set up a shop in St. Laurent and only open up on Sundays. There are zero places open here today... not even a place to buy water (hopefully the tap water is ok to drink here!). I did wander into the Camp de la Transportation (although I think technically it was closed) to see where prisoners (like Papillon) arrived for processing to Iles du Salut.

Monday rolls around and suddenly the town is alive again (where everyone was yesterday I don't know, but the place was a ghost-town). Lounged around having expensive cafe au laits this morning, and got signed up to visit Plage les Hattes tomorrow.

Plage Les Hattes, French Guiana
Earlier was sitting on a pretty decent beach up at Les Hattes having lunch, seems this is about the only part of the Fr. Guiana coast not covered in mangroves, with some great wildlife up here.

The boat ride up the Maroni river from St. Laurent was wet & wild - everyone in the group was soaked. The village of Awala-Yalimopo is all about roughing it... generator supplies the limited electricity, very intermittent running water, mosquito nets dangling over simple cots, but some great scenery nonetheless!

Now, just returned to Awala from Les Hattes, we took a small boat a ways to the beach this evening then sat around waiting for the turtles to do their thing.

After about an hour laying on the beach (which was quite nice, actually -- good breeze blowing in, not a sound except the waves crashing in the dark, while looking up at about a million stars), our guide calls us over to a Giant Green Sea Turtle, laying dozens of eggs.

Apparently they're very sensitive/skittish when first getting out of the water, so no noise/lights are allowed whatsoever (hefty fines involved if you're caught), then they get into some sort of "trance" while laying the eggs, so you can get right up next to without them noticing. Really wild to see this live!

Paramaribo, Suriname
This morning while still near Les Hattes, got to see the full "circle of life" thing with a hatched turtle making it to the water.

Now back in Parbo... took a water taxi back over to Albina from St-Laurent, then a collectivo the grueling 3.5 hours back on one of the worst pot holed roads I've ever been on. Was all set to make a reservation on the minibus for an early departure tomorrow from Paramaribo to South Drain for the ferry over to Guyana, when I was told there is "an ongoing strike w/the Immigration Police, so no ferries are running". Well, I guess you have to be flexible traveling around this part of S.A.! Unfortunately, only so much flexibility here as I have a reservation for flight down to Kaieteur falls on the 25th, and a ticketed reservation for a flight out of Georgetown to Bolivia (via Port of Spain) on the 26th. Looks like I'm making a stop to the Guyanese Embassy tomorrow to figure out my options...

Well, the Guyanese Embassy confirmed a strike - I think it technically is the ferry company that is striking, but without the ferry running, there are no Immigration Police over in Moleson Creek on the Guyanese side to stamp your entry in (apparently things are more formal and there is only a ferry crossing over Suriname-Guyana vs. Suriname-French Guiana, where I just grabbed the first water taxi that was available and got stamped on the other side no problem). No idea when the strike will be over, so this is putting me in a bit of a bind and keeping me grounded in Suriname for the moment - just goes to show I shouldn't book anything too far in advance!

The strike continues. The only other option is to fly from Paramaribo to Port of Spain, Port of Spain to Georgetown (no direct flights). That would set me back almost $300. Decided since I'd only have 1 day in Guyana it wasn't worth it, so today cancelled the reservation for the Falls, and had to change my flight to Bolivia to depart from Paramaribo. Still ended up costing $100 for the change - damn! Pissed about that, but more so for missing Guyana... but I'm sure I'll be back in this part of the world again. And when so, I'll be better prepared for flex-traveling! 1 more full day in Paramaribo then a flight out on Sunday.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 07:36 Comments (0)

Week 7, 11.Apr.09 - 17.Apr.09

Caracas, Venezuela to Cayenne, French Guiana

View Week 7 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Caracas, Venezuela
Heading to the airport to catch a flight to Port of Spain for a mere 10 hour layover...

Port of Spain, Trinidad
Had a less than spectacular finish in Venezuela - this morning at the airport, went to the cambio office to change Bolivars to USD. Well, it turns out that Venezuela will sell you Bolivars, but they won't buy them back. Come again?? Any place that won't buy back their own currency says something about the central banking infrastructure... so I'm sitting with $240 Bolivars that will be worthless anywhere outside Venezuela. Along come guys who work at the airport asking if I want to change for dollars. The first guy offers me US $25 (I have about US $110 worth), so I don't even respond. The next guy offers me $100, and when I agree, has me follow him into the bathroom. Ok, so it's shady, but what choice do I have? He hands me a $100 bill, which I'm looking at and feeling/holding to the light to see the barcode and I'm thinking it may be fake, but I don't see too many $100 bills so not positive. I'm about to walk away, but my flight was boarding in about 30 minutes so not sure what other options I had as the money would be worthless once I leave (heck, it's practically worthless now), so did the exchange. Now I'm walking to the gates and find out there is a US$64 ($140 Bolivar) airport exit tax I have to pay - this is on top of the US$55 exit tax already paid in my ticket - wtf?? So when I hand over the $100, the lady takes it and starts handing me change, but her colleague sitting next to her starts looking at the bill, grabs it and then says "no". So now I'm really pissed and go looking for the guy, find him wandering around the arrivals level and when he sees me coming for him and the look on my face like I'm going to pop him, he doesn't say anything but just reaches in and pulls back out the $240 Bolivars. I say a few spanish curse words to him but with the flight already boarding and leaving in about 20 minutes, just hightailed it back to buy my departure stamp and got on the plane.

Paramaribo, Suriname
Arrived around midnight last night and managed to sleep in until 8:00 today! Had some coffee out on the balcony here at my guesthouse when a little capuchin monkey swings over from the adjacent trees looking for food - already love Suriname!

Most everything is closed here in "Parbo" also for the extended Easter holiday, just wandered around a bit toward the river - not too refreshing looking, so probably won't go for a swim later!

Rented a bike today and rode up along the river until I came to a pier where they had water taxi boats crossing over to Nieuw Amsterdam.

Rode my bike around there, not sure what I expected (not exactly like the original Amsterdam, that's for sure) but there wasn't really even a town, just a museum and some houses in a village, where some kids were fishing for crabs.

Signed up for a tour to Brownsberg Nature Reserve tomorrow, should be good stuff to see.

Day got off to a slow start to Brownberg courtesy of the guide showing up 1hr late (the group and I think he overslept), and the flat tire on the drive down ("Hey, its all part of the tour!").

Drove past Koffeekamp village and saw some interesting creatures...

And the drive up the Reserve mountain was no joke. Our 4x4 minibus was spinning its wheels and swishing all around the trail, coming within a foot of the ledge more than once! We arrived (alive) at the reserve and got to see nature in its finest.

The drive back down was equally "adventurous", glad I survived to write about it!

Cayenne, French Guiana
Took a bus from Paramaribo to Albina this morning, then a water taxi over the river to Saint-Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana. Having only 2 hotels in the town completely full, I ended up taking the collectivo bus to Cayenne. They run an interesting transportation routine here... the collectivo wouldn't leave for Cayenne until it was completely full. So I (along with others) waited 2.5 hours in Saint-Laurent for an 8th passenger. And now after the collectivo fare (35 Euros) and the cheapest hotel here in Cayenne (65 Euros), and having gone out for a beer (7 Euros), know that I'll be spending some cash while I'm here!

Tried to get signed up for a tour to Iles du Salut tomorrow, but there is only 1 tour bus/week that goes from Cayenne to Korou to catch the 8am ferry, and that's not for 3 more days. The collectivo isn't an option due to the "only leave when full" policy (hate that!), and if I want to rent a car to drive there myself will have to keep it until Monday since all agencies close Saturday mid-day and there isn't an after-hours drop box option. It doesn't seem like French Guiana is very tourist-oriented, but maybe will be someday.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 08:40 Comments (0)

Week 6, 4.Apr.09 - 10.Apr.09

Bogota, Colombia to Caracas, Venezuela

View Week 6 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Bogota, Colombia
Well, I had an unexpected tour of the entire city of Colombia today! Got on a colectivo bus which have signs in the front windshield indicating the stops it makes, this one of which was "funicular", or the cable car to go to the top of Cerro de Monserrate. I asked the driver in my broken spanish to confirm this goes to funicular, and he responded "si". So I was sitting in the collectivo after 15 minutes looking around thinking, "this doesn't seem right, the mountain is the other way!". The problem was that the collectivo only stops on request or to pick up waiting passengers, and without a clearly-marked sign for the funicular, I didn't know where to get off. Of course the driver could have put dos y dos together to figure out where I wanted to go, but that may have given him too much credit! So when I realized that I missed the stop, I figured I'd just sit on the bus and wait for it to loop around back to the funicular. Well, 1.5 hours later with all the other passengers departed, we pull into this dirt lot way on the outskirts of the city and park. The driver gets out and didn't even know he had a passenger left (there is a divider that blocks the drivers view of the passengers), and then tells me (I think) the colectivo is out/broken, and for me to get another one if I need to go to the funicular! I have no idea where I am (my map definitely did not cover this far out), nor which bus to take back to the city center. So I wander around and find the busiest looking street around and just wait for a bus with "centro" on the windshield to drive by. Finally one came along and I took it back. Got on another colectivo with "funicular" in the windshield, and yelled out "PARADA!!!" once we got to the funicular. Finally made it up and got some great views of the city (including way out where I was dropped off!).

Sitting in the bus terminal (of course!) waiting for the overnight bus to Cucuta, at the Venezuelan border. I negotiated with the guy selling the tickets - every carrier was charging $100,000 pesos, but got this one down to $75,000 (about $30 USD). Hopefully this bus will be safe and reliable enough to get me there!
Got to watch MSU b'ball beat Uconn in the semi-finals last night (dubbed in spanish) - great game - then went to a small bar with a cool venue to watch live music. A band played a mix of salsa, jazz and funk - the crowd was awesome, people ranging in ages from teens to middle-age were all up and dancing the whole time. I decided not to embarrass myself by attempting! Granted the band was good, but these people were fans... up at the stage snapping photos left and right - I don't know if Colombians always are so enthusiastic with the live music, or if this band is "the next big thing" to come out of Colombia. If so, then I can say I saw them way back when...

Merida, Venezuela
Well, it has been "interesting" so far in Venezuela. Crossed the border this morning, and got a shared taxi with the old man who was on the bus with me from Bogota - he didn't speak English, but had this great way of telling me on the bus to watch my shit by pointing to his eye then around to imaginary hoodlums... and when I acknowledged understanding, he gives me the "thumbs up".... (we went through this 3 or 4 times so felt worthy of a journal entry...). Anyway, the shared taxi direct to San Cristobal (bypassing the bus transfer/congestion of San Antonio del Tachira), to get to the bus station for Merida. After getting the passport/customs check, continued onward but not without incidents - taxing over to San Cristobal then bus up to Merida rides were interrupted 3 times by guards along the road stopping vehicles randomly. As soon as they saw my passport, I had to empty everything out of my pack and my pockets by the side of the road for a search. 3 times! Surprised I wasn't strip-searched. The first time stopped was while in the taxi - the old man from the overnight bus had a briefcase full of bibles or something, but that didn't deter the guards from combing though his 2 other bags...

No banks accepted my ATM cards in San Cristobal (about 6 tries), so I was feeling a bit anxious about that. I changed my Colombian pesos in at the border for a few Venezuelan Bolivars, but I'm sure I got scammed... I am still thoroughly confused with the currency/exchange rate here - apparently Hugo decided to print new currency (and increase the value 1000%), but there is still the old currency floating around that looks the exact same. So the exchange rate is either USD 1 = 2,145 or 2.145 Bolivars, depending on which Bolivars you have.

I did manage to buy a ticket to Merida at the bus terminal with USD (almost missed the bus since Venezuela is 1/2 hour ahead of Colombia... not 1 hour, but 1/2... why they have a 30 minute difference in time vs 1 hour like the rest of the region I have no idea), and when I arrived in Merida later this evening, without any Venezuelan Bolivars, walked the 2 km (with big pack) into town. Along the way, finally found a bank accepting foreign ATM cards - phew!

Now I'm watching MSU get whooped by UNC in the NCAA championship game - damn!

Sitting in a cafe (te cafe, specifically) waiting to see if the Headeria Coromoto will actually open at 2:15 like my guidebook suggests. Not so much craving ice cream, but it holds the Guiness record as having the most flavors - over 900, supposedly - so it is a must-try as long as I'm here.

Besides, the only other thing than multi-day trips in Merida seems to be (another) Plaza Bolivar and a Plaza Charlie Chaplin on the other end of town, since the cable car (another record, world's highest & longest) that goes up to the top of Loma Redonda (4045 meters!) is closed until August for repairs. Would've loved to gone on that... on the other hand... glad I wasn't on it when they decided it needed repairs!

Apparently there is no overland route from Venezuela to Guyana, and flights (via Port of Spain) are only 1/week from Caracas, with the next flight with available seats not for 11 days from now, I'm opting for the flight in a couple days to Suriname and will travel from there to the Guianas. First need to head up to Caracas on the overnight bus.

Caracas, Venezuela
I can't believe the day I just had - ugh! Last night after booking my flight, at some point on the overnight bus (BTW, yet another stop and bag search - Venezuela is really starting to annoy me!) suddenly remembered that I need a visa for Suriname. Crap. So once we got into Caracas this morning, I hightailed it to a hotel to check in and then went to an internet cafe to do some research, hoping that (1) Caracas had a Suriname Embassy, and (2) It would be open! Meanwhile, it seems that all the "budget" hotels listed in my guidebook have recently changed their rates - hotel listed at US $27 now is $140 - whoa. Well, I found one that went from $12 up to $60, so that helped the budget a bit! I hopped on the metro toward the Suriname Embassy, but about 5 stops before I needed to get off, there was an announcement that the metro was out of service for further stops, and needed to transfer to the bus. When I (along with 100 other people) crammed on the bus, I lost perspective of where the Embassy was and overshot the stop I was supposed to get off. Finally got off and walked back about 2 km to the Embassy, and got there at noon just as they were about to close until Monday for the long Easter weekend (starting on Wednesday?!?), so practically wedged my foot in the door. I explained the situation of needing an expedited visa, but they required additional passport photos (knew I forgot to do something before leaving the states!), so I had to backtrack back 2.5 km to a mall where they take photos, but of course the one place I was told to go the camera was broken, so I had to search around for another place. Wandering around for another 1/2 hour finally located a spot to get photos taken, then hauled a.. back to the Embassy to hand over the photos (and US$105) for the visa. I was a sweating mess that I'm sure earned me sympathy points, so they processed the visa same day. Now I am relaxing having several well-earned cervezas at a sports bar, looking forward to relaxing for a couple days until my flight on the 11th!

Relaxing is an understatement... practically everything in this city is closed for Easter weekend, which apparently runs through Monday (they really milk the holidays down here).

Another day of not much going on! I did join the orderly (yet chaotic) mass pilgrimage through the catedral this morning for Good Friday.

Then wandered around the city, taking in the all sites (including propaganda which is everywhere..).

Came across by far the nicest place in Caracas, Parque los Caobos, with museums and fountains.

And ended the day catching a futbol game at a stadium near my hotel - I think maybe a college/minor league division, b/c it certainly wasn't crowded but very cool nonetheless to see a game live. The fans that were there were just as loud and boisterous as I've seen televised with the big matches.

Got an early flight tomorrow to Paramaribo via Port of Spain, looking forward to seeing Suriname!

Posted by rd wrld1yr 04:49 Comments (0)

Week 5, 28.Mar.09 - 3.Apr.09

Panama City, Panama to Bogota, Colombia

View Week 5 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Panama City, Panama
Well, one month (so far) on the road! Have already seen some pretty amazing things & met some great people - and I'm ready for more! Definitely a fan of Panama City - it's good to visit a modern/westernized city again, while it also has its share of history and ruins.

Last night went out to watch MSU b'ball dubbed in Spanish, then later there was a great street fair that I visited for a while.

I'm trying to sign up for a spot on the next boat sailing to Colombia, we'll see if it is anytime soon...

Well unfortunately, the timing isn't so great for the next boat to Colombia - not leaving for another week, so looks like I'm going to fly down (next flight's tomorrow) since there is no legal (nor safe) way to cross overland.

Cartagena, Colombia
Colombia's bad wrap so far seems pretty outdated - this place is awesome! Very friendly people and great atmosphere, at least here in Cartagena.

Met a guy on the flight over and we've been wandering around the town a bit - the "old town" is surrounded by a stone wall, with bright colored colonial-type buildings inside with cobble-stone roads. The town is by the Caribbean Sea, with the "new city" adjacent.

I can't get over how beautiful this place is (and the women, too!). Spent the whole day again wandering around, and could easily spend a few more days here - so much to see. Best time probably was hanging out in Plaza de Bolivar just relaxing and having some cervezas.

Gonna keep moving and head to Medellin tomorrow...

Medellin, Colombia
Just spent the entire day (15 hours) on the bus ride down from Cartagena. Although Colombia has a beautiful countryside to see, I'll definitely be taking the overnight buses (when available) from here on out.

Spent the entire day today wandering around Medellin - also a very beautiful city with friendly people.

Took a gondola to the top of the mountains for some impressive views. There are poor shanty towns up on these mountains, and when the kids saw the gringo they swarmed all around me - not in an annoying/begging manner, but I think more just curious, like "why would he want to come visit here?".

Going to hop on the (overnight!) bus to Bogota.

Bogota, Colombia
Bogota is another gem - people are super friendly, the city is beautiful with lots to see/do! Got in about 7 am from the overnight bus, took the collectivo into the city center (found my bearings fairly quickly, I must say!) and then stored my stuff in the hotel until check-in time and then wandered around, checking out the government and historical buildings in (another) Plaza de Bolivar.

A man and kid came up to me in the Plaza and asked if they could practice their english with me. They had a teacher (young guy) who came up a bit later, and asked me to grade their english knowledge. I gave them A's just for the effort! This happened (people coming up to ask if they could practice english) 2 other times so far in Colombia - I think its just great how friendly everyone here is, and eager to show how far their country has come.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 03:10 Comments (0)

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