Whale Watching Weekend Pt3: Ballenas

As the song goes, Sunday morning, rain is pouring. The ocean is covered in a thick cloud of fog and the temperature is a bit colder than before- but still warm enough for shorts and t-shirts. After breakfast we assemble at 9.20. It’s twenty minutes late but hey, we’re adapting to the laid back mañana culture of the Colombians- when in rome! We are told to wait until visibility improves for the trip. We are all still in good spirits, safe in the knowledge that even if we don’t see whales our weekend has been magnificent anyway. We have a good laugh around the table taking videos of ourselves, and joking about the pronunciation of the spanish word for whales, Ballenas, which here in Colombia sounds funnily like a mispronunciation of vagina. (I hope no kids are reading this blog!!!)

After all the shits and giggles of our mid morning relaxation we finally head down to the port where we board the boat to go whale watching. Rain is still pouring, and despite being a scout for 10 years and abiding to the motto be prepared, I had no raincoat with me. I was soaked, but the weather was still warm and I was having too much of a good time to get down in the dumps about a bit of water. Our boat had no roof, so we were all drenched before even leaving the shore- but we embraced it as part of the experience.

The boat ride is rocky and shaky but fun. After about 2 minutes I see a dolphin and scream for joy. Nobody else saw it- I am obviously the Attenborough of this group! We finally get out deep enough and start looking for Ballenas. It’s not long until in the distance, a huge whale leaps out of the water and we see it crash back down into the waves. Wow. Soon after we see whales surface a mere 20 metres from the boat. Over the hour long trip we see several whales go up and down, some quite close to the boat and other, bigger specimens in the distance. It really is special, a completely magical experience. (Inside joke).

We return in good spirits. Have lunch in Buena Ventura- dodge the gringo price of $15,000 pesos and opt for a cheaper meal, and Patrick, Kirsty and I try to subtly get changed in a park. I think we might have accidentally flashed some locals, but hey- when in Rome! (eh, I guess that doesn’t really work in this context but give me a break I’m no Dickens or Rowling).

The journey back to Cali is good. We get to reminisce about the weekend and of course have general chit chat and banter. Back in Cali, Heather, Kirsty and I bid a sad farewell to the others as we leave to catch our flights. Kirsty, Heather and I get a quick bite to eat in the airport, play some more “Real or Fake” and discuss what parts of our own bodies we would change. In the end we decide that we are way too sexy to go under the knife. If its not broke, don’t fix it. Just before 9pm, Heather and I embark our flight to Bogotá and Kirsty gets on hers, which sadly is with a different airline. On the plane Heather and I are beside a poor wee hombre with two cans of beer. He seems really nervous, and it’s clear he’s bricking it because he doesn’t like flying. “Está bien, no te preocupes! Estarás bien.” I’m not too sure our counselling session worked, but we got to Bogotá in one piece so our amigo’s worries were misplaced.

In Bogotá Heather accompanied me until we had to part to ways at the security checks, and from here I successfully managed to fly back to Barranquilla and get home safe and sound.

All in all I had a wonderful weekend- after all my homesickness, troubles, worries and problems I was reminded of the reason I’m in Colombia and realised that there is a lot of positive here and I just need to get out there and grasp it. I’m sad to once again leave behind my fellow English language assistants, but I know that just like before their support and friendship is just one Skype call away and we don’t have the pesky 6 hour time difference that so often prevents me from contacting friends and family at home. I can’t wait to see them again.

A huge thank you to Heather, Kirsty, Patrick, Jay and Amy for making my weekend whale watching so spectacular, and muchisimas gracias to Lucy for suggesting the trip, welcoming us to Cali and organising a fantastic weekend for us all.

Besos y Abrazos

Whale Watching Weekend Pt2: Boat Rides, Beaches and Pacific Dancing

Saturday morning and I spring out of bed as Kirsty wakes me. Using phones to find our way about in the dark we all assemble our things, wash and get dressed and quietly leave the hostel trying not to disturb the other groups staying there. It’s not long until we’re all at the terminal de transportes and on our bus to go to Buena Ventura. Our bus was great- a small mini bus kind of thing and we were all together without any strangers. The road to Buena Ventura was long and windy. It brought us through the mountains where we were concerned about the steep fall into the valley bellow us and also the risky overtaking by our driver.

Finally in Buena Ventura the weather is hot and a sea breeze refreshes us all. Several locals try and entice us into buying hats, sunglasses and local alcohol with disgusting flavours- and I get myself a pair of genuine ray bans.

The boat ride from Buena Ventura to Ladrilleros is bumpy and exciting. Jay and I nabbed the front seats, and the scenery of the coast as we drove by was spectacular. Huge cliffs, thick rainforest, beautiful beaches, mangrove swamp and also rustic villages where the locals live in houses made by themselves from corrugated iron and wood. Ladrilleros has no roads, just mud trails, and it’s economy is supported by the tourists who come here to go whale watching and experience pacific culture. Our cabins are lovely- comfy beds in a great wooden house that we had all to ourselves.

We all have a quick nap and afterwards have lunch. As with most places it was tricky for Lucy to obtain a vegetarian option and I was laughed at by every person in the restaurant when I clarified that my food came without egg or cheese. We headed down to the beach, and by this point the weather had gotten a little worse. It was a dull day, nevertheless with some hints of sunshine, but the temperature was still warm and the beach was still packed. Jay and Patrick played football with some locals (They won- brilliant!) and Heather and I were first to check out the sea while Lucy and Kirsty looked after our stuff. The water was a perfect temperature, and the huge waves that crashed back and forth were so much fun to play in. The water was a bit dirty, with bits of leaves and stuff in it, but nonetheless we still had a great time jumping over waves and attempting to body surf.

After a while of playing, chatting and enjoying ourselves we retreated to the cabins and all got in the pool. We had some races, attempted to do synchronised swimming and Patrick and Lucy engaged in a water handstand battle.

In the evening Heather and I helped a man build an extra bed for our cabin and then as a group we all sat down for a few drinks. Excited by the novelty of drinking from coconuts the boys opted for a coco-loco (crazy-coconut!) and the girls decided on some piña-coladas. Let me just say I’m glad they gave us extra coconut milk to dilute the coco-loco as it definitely lives up to the loco side of its name.

A group of local children are the nights entertainment, playing traditional music and doing the dances of the pacific region. Some of the bumping and grinding was maybe a bit beyond the years of the chicos and chicas but we loved seeing the brilliant cultural dances and the courtship games they played. After the show it was participation time, and every single one of us was brought up to boogie and party hard like the locals do. Some of the observers actually thought I was local because my dancing was so good.

Afterwards the kids found it hilarious to make us say words like salchicha, chorizo, and sombrero (in reply to ¿Cuántos años tienes?) and loved posing for photos with us.

After a brilliant night we retreated to our beds where we had a pre-bedtime chat and eventually went off to sleep.


Whale Watching Weekend Pt1: Salsa City

It’s Friday September 7th and I get up at a slightly earlier than usual 5am. I have a quick shower, grab my stuff and head off in a taxi to the airport: this weekend I am going to Cali to meet up with some friends (Amy, Heather, Jay, Kirsty, Lucy, and Patrick- fellow language assistants from the UK) to go on a whale watching weekend.

My flights goes from Barranquilla to Bogotá, and then onto Cali. I arrive in Cali at around noon and Heather was kindly waiting for me in the terminal so we could head to the hostel together. “I am so glad you’re here Heather, because I completely forgot to write down any details about where we’re going!” Awakward turtle, Heather had forgotten too! So we got a bus from the airport to the Terminal de Transportes in Cali, where luckily a lovely tourist information lady was able to tell us where our hostel was. Phew!

We weren’t long in the hostel until Lucy arrived to welcome us to her new city, and shortly after Amy got to the hostel so we headed out for a bit. First off we went to the bank so that Lucy could pay the deposit for our whale watching excursion. I don’t think her bank is as good as mine, mainly because it didn’t have waitresses to bring you water or tea. Then again, why exactly my bank needs a waitress I’m not too sure. Our dander about Cali was nice. The city seemed quite pretty. A bit European and the warm weather was brilliant- just enough breeze to make it perfect and much more enjoyable than the intense heat and humidity of Barranquilla. We got a quick bite to eat, and for the remainder of our walk played a game called, “Real or Fake”: where we tried to discern if the bums and boobs of Cali’s female population were real, or if they’d had a bit of a helping hand from a plastic surgeon. Cali is one of Colombia’s plastic surgery hotspots and people travel here from all over the world to get bigger boobies, perkier bums and smoother faces.

Back at the hostel we met Lucy’s friends and hung out a bit. Poor Heather, a huge insect was on her back and I freaked out. “Don’t move!!!” I screamed as I armed myself with a fanta bottle and proceeded to whack the insect off her back. “Jeez Daniel it’s just a bug.” I don’t think she understands, it was huge and I think was possibly a praying mantis. Scary biscuits.

With Lucy’s amigos we went to a bar close by the hostel. It was a lovely roof terrace with a brilliant view over the city and a great place to refresh ourselves. I got a regular strawberry juice but the others were more adventurous. Heather decided to try a local drink called Champús. Well I’m certainly glad I didn’t order it. It was maize, pineapple and other stuff poured into a large glass that looked like… well, vomit. Ok so it tasted quite nice, but the chunky orangey-brown drink definitely want to my taste.

Back at the hostel we indulge in the pastime that Cali is famous for; salsa dancing! The dancing was so tricky, the footwork was very complicated and I just didn’t seem to be able to move myself properly. I swear I was doing exactly the same thing as the instructor, but somehow I looked ridiculous. I was a total sweaty Betty dancing as the room had no fan or ac and Cali’s nighttime is still muy caliente.

Shortly after our lesson I got ready to head out and lay about on a hammock eagerly anticipating Kirsty’s arrival. She finally got here (Yay!) and we set off for dinner. Just before we were about to order Patrick arrived, after travelling all day by bus from Pasto, and during the meal we all got time to catch up with what everyone had done, how we were finding work and how our social lives were going.

After dinner we were off to a Salsa bar where we had a few beers, and (attempted to) dance salsa with each other and the locals. Everyone in the bar looked like they had been professionally dancing salsa for their entire lives. Fancy footwork, extravagant twirls and shaky hips obviously all come naturally to Cali’s population. Strange to us was that all the men would ask all the girls to dance. One couple would dance, and then they would change partners; and then change again and again and again. I was so glad to have had the salsa lesson earlier, as I could sort of pretend to have a clue about what I was doing. “Just look like you’re not enjoying it all” was the best advice I was given (thanks Kirsty) as this definitely made me look more at home. One woman who I danced with, Yolanda, didn’t seem to understand that I had no idea how to dance. She kept telling me to “listen to the music” but I’m not sure why, I felt perfectly in time with the salsa rhythms!

After about 12 Jay finally arrived to Salsa City and our group was complete. We danced lots more, laughed at our less than perfect footwork and of course, continued to play “Real or Fake” until about 2am when we decided to call it a night and get some well needed beauty sleep so we could be fresh and frisky for our 5am wake up.