Colombian Navy, recovered Eurocopter AS555 Fennec naval helicopter, one of two machines of the same type in the Navy’s inventory, which crashed on December 9 2016 off the coast of San Andres Island, in the Caribbean Sea.
One passenger, an arrested drug dealer on his way to jail, missing, the remaining 5 crew and passengers, a policemen and 4 navy personnel, successfully rescued.
My past couple of months have been jam-packed full of exploration, adventure, and a lingering uneasiness that at some point in the very near future there is a plane ticket with my name on it waiting to take me home; drawing a line under this experience and converting it into an overflowing bank of amazing memories.
However, a huge part of starting a life abroad is learning how to deal with the times that won’t make it to the highlights reel. Overcoming difficult situations (that inevitably arise) with aid from family and friends entirely out of reach is not easy. I couldn’t have felt further away from home during the 5 horrific days of bedbound imprisonment that my coeliac disease treated me to back in October - crime: consumption of thai dish stealthily laced with gluten. After days of deliriously stumbling from bed to bathroom, I dragged myself to the Doctor in desperation. This only resulted in some seriously precarious stomach prodding, a bizarre set of questions about my abortion history (thought I was going mad at this point) and a list of foods ‘safe to consume’ when suffering a severe intestinal reaction; most of which my coeliac-stomach would have spat straight out. To add insult to injury, I was forced to miss a job interview I had lined up with a Colombian newspaper as I could barely string a sentence together.
Receiving a parcel from home midway-through that hellish week
Eventually, as it always does, my body righted itself, just in time for the coastal getaway we had been planning for months. San Andres is a tiny Caribbean island between Nicaragua and Panama with a perimeter of just 10km, and provided the most idyllic form of rehabilitation. Our 4 day stay flashed by in a whirlwind of golf-buggy mania (neither Morgs or I have a driving license), ocean-floor scuba walking, and a utterly hilarious jet-ski experience which ended with an extremely angry 15 year old yelling at us in costeño Spanish to come back to shore. Our shameless music video documents the trip better than any photos can:
It seems that San Andres reinstalled my luck, as once back in Bogotá, I managed to wangle another interview with Colombia Reports, and have secured work there for the second half of my year abroad… I can’t wait!
Then came gearing ourselves up for a fortnight of final adventure, which would send us hopping through Colombia, northbound. It is no exaggeration to say that my eyes are still struggling to compute the vast array of terrains, climates and landscapes that I experienced in this short time.
Cali, the Salsa dance capital of the country, saw us getting paired up and flung about in a club that resembled a giant bingo-hall, and I made the realisation that I will never not be in complete hysterics while at the mercy of a seriously competent Colombian dancer.
Cali by night
Salento, in the coffee region, is a beautifully quiet town immersed in lush green valley. After learning the ins and outs of the coffee growing and making process at a local farm, we drank the most deliciously rich cups of their produce, and in one fell swoop I became a total coffee snob. Our excitable tour guide attributed his well-being to 7 cups of the stuff a day.
Morning in Salento
We then travelled up to Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city and my new home as of February. I was properly nervous as we approached – though that could have been bi-product of the casual bus crash we had en-route – a similar feeling to arriving at university for the first time and hoping to god you have made the right choice. Luckily for me, Medellín is incredible. A determination to move forward into the future has instilled a culture of embracing innovation and positivity whenever possible. Our walking tour guide explained this through a powerful metaphor. Colombians, he said, have long lived with their heads underwater, struggling to survive and destined for collective failure. Therefore, when a branch of opportunity appears overhead, a Colombian will do whatever it takes to rise up and seize said branch, pulling their heads up to air, and rejoicing, simply because they are alive. This inspiring attitude oozes out of the city’s architecture, pristine transport network and all-round optimism.
Watching Medellín’s hometeam Nacional beat Huila
The next days were spent sweating in the heat of the beautiful colonial town of Cartagena. A trip to a nearby volcano saw us floating atop the 2.7km deep mud that sits inside, in a zero-gravity sensation that leaves you pretty helpless as to controlling your movement.
Mud volcano madness
We then shot up a mountain on motorbike to reach the mind-blowing views of Minca, where hostel Casa Elemento boasts the world’s largest hammock. Up in the clouds, and looking out on miles and miles of Colombian jungle, it was a magical experience.
Hammock with a view
Cuppa in the clouds
Morning in Minca
We finished the fortnight on the coast, with a mind-blowing day of Jurassic Park style hiking and beach-hopping at Tayrona National Park, followed by a two night stay at Costeño Surf Beach, which was a firm favourite on a previous coastal visit. I proceeded a tragic performance in a volleyball tournament with an expert loss of 3 drinking games in a row, leading to the forfeit consumption of 3 bowls of rum and a very early night.
Tayrona National Park
Final night at Costeño
Now that Morgan, my adventure partner in crime, has devastatingly left Colombia for England, I am for the first time completely alone out here! I have a final couple of weeks of solo exploration planned before heading back to the UK for Christmas, which although right now seems too surreal to actually be happening, I am so excited for.
The coral island of San Andres is located in the Caribbean Sea 750 km away from the Colombian coast. Geographically it’s much closer to Nicaragua (230 km). The island’s history is very complicated; centuries ago it was inhabited by English Puritans as well as being pirates’ favourite spot. So I couldn’t miss my chance to visit the place, jumped on a plane in Bogota and in two and a half hours I was already there.
The main town (locals call it simply El Centro) didn’t impress me at all: it’s just a big duty free with mopeds running all around it. Fortunately it’s very easy to avoid the chaos by taking a boat to one of nearby cays to spend the day on white sands and bathe in azure waters. Photos in this post are from El Cayo Acuario and El Cayo Johnny.
If you are not afraid of tourist crowds, then you could try one of local activities - swimming with manta rays. I didn’t do that, because there were more people in the water than rays. Also there is an option to take a ferry to the neighbouring island of Providencia which is said to be nicer and quieter than San Andres, but the round trip ferry ticket there was same price as round trip flight from Bogota, which was way too much in my opinion.
Taking into account the fact that I came to Colombia in February straight from snowy Saint Petersburg, I did enjoy San Andres island, and tourist crowds didn’t bother me much (I have to mention that I got to San Andres in its peak season and saw lots of Colombian vacationers there).