Friday, July 8, 2011

Mountain Biking on Cotopaxi in the Andes

In Quito I found a company offering downhill mountain biking trips on Cotopaxi in the Andes Mountains. They provide all the equiptment, 2 guides and transport you to the parking stop at 4,500m. From there you bike down stopping for lunch on the way. There is a support vehicle following at all times so if anything goes wrong you have backup.

Parking at 4,500m

In Quito they said that Cotopaxi is the largest active volcano in the world but wikipedi says otherwise. Eiher way its pretty high and the downhill mountain biking was excellent. It was cloudy the day I was there so the snow capped peak is only barely visible.

Cloudy Cotopaxi

I wasn't prepared for how cold it would be when we got to the starting point. There was a strong wind, low visibility and some sleet. Luckily I was able to stay in the car until the bikes were ready.

Preparing for the ride down

Once we got moving we were decending fast and it warmed up quick. The skies cleared and the sun came out. The decent was great, fast paced and challenging. Tough on arms and wrists due to the terrain although the suspension helped somewhat. We crossed rivers, passed wild horses and stopped near some inca ruins for lunch.

Better weather as we descend

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Super Mario Bros in Colombia

I took this photo in Cali in Colombia but I've seen the restaurant a few other cities in Colombia also. It appears to be a restaurant chain but the name and logo looks very familiar to Super Mario Bros. I don't think you'd get away with this sort of branding in Europe or the United States.

Mr. Bross in Colombia

Monday, July 4, 2011

La Peluquería and the killer hairdressers

Before leaving Bogota I decided to get my hair cut. This was an experience unlike a haircut in Ireland. I went to a place called La Peluquería. The place is a combination of a cafe, art gallery, museum, cultural centre and hairdressers although on their website they say they are not really any of these. If you want to get your head shaved its free!

Entrance to la peluquería in Bogota

They don't have any mirrors so you can't see what they are doing to your hair. The girls who work there and cut your hair are known as Peluqueras Asesinas which translates as killer hairdressers. Based on some of the photos I've seen on their website and blog it looks like they went very easy on me.

No Mirrors!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Colombia surprised me

Colombia surprised me. I met lots of people traveling who told me not to go to Colombia because it was very dangerous. You hear lots of scare stories, people being kidnapped, hostels being robbed, the best I heard was from some backpackers in central america who were avoiding Colombia because it was too dangerous. They heard that someone was traveling in a taxi with his hand out the window and someone passed on a motorbike with a machete and chopped off his hand. The reason they chopped off his hand was so they could steal his wedding ring. I questioned the how true this story was, they'd heard it from a friend who'd heard it from a friend who knew someone else who had been to Colombia. So I suppose I can see why some people shy away from Colombia when they hear scare stories such as this combined with the general reputation Colombia has in Europe as a dangerous drug ridden country.

After the boat trip from Panama to Cartagena I spent a month traveling around Colombia. From Cartagena, a very touristy pictureesque colonial town, I went to Taganga, a small fishing village close to Tayrona national park. It was a welcome break from big cities especially considering I would spend the next few weeks traveling through the major cities in Colombia.

Taganga Beach

Fishermans end of Taganga Beach
My next stop was Medellín, a city that up until 15 years ago this city was a no go area for tourists mainly due to Pablo Escobar. Now (according to my guide book) Medellín is one of Colombia's wealtiest cities and a model of excellent urban planning. This is backed up by what I saw, a very modern safe wealthy city with excellent public transport and great public parks.

Cable Cars are part of public transport in Medellín
Most backpackers who visit Medellín do one of the many Pablo Escobar tours on offer. These tours take you around the city showing you the important sights including the rooftop where he was shot dead by police and finally finishing with a house visit to meet his brother. I didn't take the tour due to a combination of laziness but also I think it is a bit weird to do a tour that is almost celebrating the life of someone who terrorised a city for so many years. Some locals that I spoke too were disgusted by the fact that toursts came here to do tours that more or less celebrate his life. Ignoring the violence it is an interesting story, in 1989 he was Forbes magazine declared him the 7th richest man in the world and in 1986 he attempted to enter Colombian politics even offering to pay off the countrys USD$10 billion national debt.

Medellín today

Bogota was my next stop. I ended up staying for a week and a half, its the sort of city the grows on you. Its a litte more gritty than Medellín, not as clean and proper but not in a bad way. Lots of alternative music, clothes, people and street art.

Bogota Street Art

Street Art in progress
I like the stencil above the wall

On the Friday night I went to see a Colombian group, Systema Solar, play in Bogaloop, a venue similar to whelans or the village in Dublin. I went during the day to buy the tickets and only for I saw the actualy stage I would have been questioning if I had the right place at all, it looked more like a squat than a music venue. No name outside and the place was covered with street art and graffitti, inside and out!

Systema Solar in Bogota