Walking for exercise

We recently bought a treadmill. It’s for me, really, because Edwin uses the treadmill at the gym at which he is a regular and dedicated member.

When I announced this purchase at work, one of my colleagues laughed and told me it would end up being a giant clothes hanger and why didn’t I just walk outside. Why indeed? I’ve never even remotely considered buying a treadmill before as I’ve always gone for walks in the great outdoors on walking trails or isolated river tracks near my childhood home, so what is different now?

Well, you see Bogota isn’t exactly a city made for people who like to walk for exercise. There are lots of parks, playgrounds and green spaces (depending to a degree on where you live) but there are not many easily accessible trails you can walk or jog around on an everyday basis. Driving to a trail is out of the question given the hideous traffic and lack of parking that Bogota is notorious for, and walking around in the streets is a surefire way to either get frustrated at not being able to cross streets or wind up getting hit by a car. I guess many people have a gym membership, however I felt that getting a gym membership just to walk on the treadmill was, for me, a guaranteed way to never use it.

Today, Good Friday, dawns and unlike spending my Holy Thursday holiday in my pyjamas reading books and organising my wardrobe, I write a to do list, topped with “Get on treadmill”. Probably a good idea given that it has sat, unused and collecting dust, at the foot of my bed for the good part of a week.

However it is too nice a day to stay inside our apartment praying that the narrow windows will let in some soft breeze along with the sunshine and views of blue sky. So I look to Google Maps to help me find somewhere green I can walk to and around. I’m open minded to try anything really, as there is hardly any traffic after the mass exodus of Bogotanos to celebrate Easter outside of the city. Then I see the Rio Molinos with strips of green along the sides. It’s not far from our apartment, so I decide that I can do a loop of it between Carrera 11 and the Autopista.

It’s the best idea I’ve had in a long time.

You would hardly call Rio Molinos a river. It is a typical Bogota river, a cemented aqueduct that is stagnant and stinky like a sewer. But after the smell stops bothering you, the beauty of the trail begins to emerge and gives you a perk in your step. The river is lined with many trees, some flowering, some providing shade, playgrounds and grassy nooks, there are even bottlebrushes with their red flowers coming out and reminding me of home. It’s quiet. Being in the middle of a peaceful residential area there is very little traffic around, although crossing the Carreras 15 and 19 are still a bit challenging even on a quiet traffic day without a convenient pedestrian crossing nearby.

Fifteen minutes into my walk and I’m planning when I can get here next. I fall in love with Bogota all over again. I feel an energy and lightness enter me. The barnacles of the everyday frustrations of this city release their hold on me and I’m smiling. I have an extra bounce in my step, the air sucks deeper into my lungs and the vitamin D leaches into my skin.

Even though the Rio Molinos is ugly and in no way compares with the magnificent Murray River I grew up alongside, today Bogota has given me an extraordinary gift, and has proven me wrong in thinking I needed a treadmill to get exercise by walking here in this city.

Tubing in Palomino

I keep hearing about Palomino. It seems to be the destination on everyone´s lips at the moment. A beach paradise to get away from the crowds and party town of Taganga. When I was first in Santa Marta in 2011 I didn´t hear anything about it, but it is quickly earning a reputation amongst the backpackers and travel crowd as a must visit.

After walking an hour through the jungle, we're happy to get to the relaxing, floating part of our adventure.
After walking an hour through the jungle, we’re happy to get to the relaxing, floating part of our adventure.

With a day off work and mi novio away, it was the perfect time to visit with mi amiga, a Spanish friend who also lives in Santa Marta. We decided we were both up for a little relaxation that wasn´t just lying on the beach, so we took up the option to go tubing on the Palomino River.

There´s really not much to tubing. You jump in the river with an inflated inner tube and float downstream. It´s gentle, calming and a complete de-stress; that is if you don´t get lost on your way to the river, almost lose your tube to the current, scrape your butt on rocks in the shallows or get toppled over backwards by an overhanging branch.

Our relaxing trip turned into somewhat of an adventure with plenty of laughs and excitement thrown in amongst the peace we were looking for.

We hired our pneumaticos, the tubes, from Eco Andes on the highway next to the ferreteria (hardware store) and got a lift to the normal starting point of Mamasanta. We were told of a second jumping off point that was a 30 minute walk from Mamasanta over a hill and to a small stream where we needed to turn right to get to the river. That sounded like a good plan to us as we would get to enjoy more of the river. We were asked if we needed a guide and we looked at each other with a “surely we can´t get lost floating downstream on a river” look and declined the offer.

This way to the river
This way to the river

With our pneumaticos slung over our left shoulder, to avoid puncturing them on spiny plants located on the right, we started the uphill climb on a narrow trail and were soon puffing and sweating.We conveniently took a breather at a place where you can see all the way out to the turquoise and azure of the Palomino shoreline.

As we descended the other side of the hill there were storybook views of  a bend in the river with a wisp of smoke escaping the chimney of a thatched roof hut tucked in the elbow. That was where we were supposed to kick off on the pneumaticos.

Doesn't this view just make you want to run away to the jungle?
Doesn’t this view just make you want to run away to the jungle?

We arrived at the stream and crossed it. I remembered we were told to cross the stream but completely forgot the next direction, turn right. So we followed the trail up another hill as that´s where two Argentinian guys – who somehow managed to zip past us after we left them back in Palomino to walk to the river whilst we had a  head start with 15 minute jeep ride to Mamasanta – were heading.

About two-thirds of the way up the hill mi amiga looked at her watch and calculated that we should have been there by now. Conveniently a guide appeared coming over the hill and the Argentinians a few paces in front stopped to ask for directions. The guide said we´d missed the point which was were we planned to go, but that we could keep going and get to another launch point, we just had to turn right where a trickle of water crosses the trail and 20m later find the river.

Mi amiga urged me to press on. Her flip flops were not ideal trekking shoes and she felt the way down would be more treacherous than continuing on. The Argentinians ran off and we continued along the path, luckily finding the right trickle of water to lead us to the river after an hour solid of walking from Mamasanta.

We finally found the river and this little sandy push-off point
We finally found the river and this little sandy push-off point

We were excited to reach the river, put down our pnuematicos and get to the relaxing part but up ahead we saw an island in the middle and the white wavy water that identifies rapids on both sides. First up, we figured out the logistics, how to carry our few, but important, belongings, slathered on some sunscreen despite the cloudy sky and improvised my scarf/tie as a rope to keep us floating together down the river.

We decided on our plan of attack for the rapids, which was complete avoidance. We eased our way into the oh-so-difficult art of tube floating by making our way to the island where we got off and skirted around the right side of the rapids. Unfortunately these weren´t the only rapids, there were more hiding on the other side of the island. Being two big chickens afraid of these really weeny rapids, we continued the tough going to walk around the rapids. I say tough going because it is difficult to walk in water with rocky bottoms and currents that want to sweep your shoes off your feet.

We were almost all the way across the top of the rapid to a little sandbar where we could launch off when we saw a family of 6 and a guide floating down the river towards us. They had taken the left hand side of the rapids and were riding them. I looked at my friend in open-mouthed incredulity. The two thoughts that raced into my head were, why are we so afraid of teeny little rapids and now we have to share our peaceful journey with this family.

This may not look so scary to you, but when you are 2 minutes into your 2 plus hour float down a river in a rubber tube, no one judges you for erring on the side of caution.
This may not look so scary to you, but when you are 2 minutes into your 2 plus hour float down a river in a rubber tube, no one judges you for erring on the side of caution.

Once finally back on our tubes we got to take in the beautiful scenery of steep, green mountains, rocky river bottoms and clear water. It did truly feel like peace on water with small interruptions of excitement for the rapids (which we now chose to ride instead of avoid). That was until we got to a rock blocking our path at the beginning of a rapid. I don´t quite remember exactly why we jumped out of our tubes into the shallow water instead of riding around it, perhaps it was a fear of piercing a pneumatico on a sharp rock.

Now Tubing 101 tells you that the tube is essential to the activity, and Understanding Rivers 101 tells you that rivers flow with a current. So by way of logic if you let go of your tube, the river will take it away and there will be no tubing and a big problem of how the heck you will get out of there. When we got out of our tubes mi amiga thought she´d lost one of her belongings and was looking around to see how it could have fallen out of her knotted sarong. Meanwhile, the river stole her pneumatico and took off with it. When I, also distracted by mi amiga´s lost item, realised that the tube was escaping I thrust my tube at her, jumped over the rock in the river and bounded on the uneven rocky bottom after it, hurling myself at the black tube, eventually coming up spluttering holding the pneumatico up in one hand and my bundle of soaked possessions in the other. Mi amiga stood in the middle of the river doubled over in stitches of laughter, but I´d saved her ride.

A river so still it shows beautiful reflections.
A river so still it shows beautiful reflections. Don’t trust this view. Up ahead are rapids.

After about half an hour we arrived at the point where we were originally aiming to leave from and continued the float, navigating more river hazards of rocks and snags but with smaller rapids. The mountains started getting smaller and the river wider. The current also picked up a bit and formed a nice path, albeit one that took us closer to the steep riverbanks, rock walls and overhanging vegetation. This is where I took a most wonderful backsplat into the water.

We came quickly to a thick overhanging tree branch at head height. I pushed mi amiga in her tube to be further away from the branch and raised my feet while leaning forward to get a kick off and push the branch out of the way. It turns out the branch wasn´t as yielding as I´d expected and instead both the river and its strong current ganged up against me with the branch. Instead of bouncing off the branch, the force of the impact flipped me backwards into the river and out of my tube. When I surfaced I had hold of my pneumatico and still had my cap perched on my head and my sunglasses on my face. Phew!

Calling a short time-out, I recomposed myself on the river bank, coughed up some water and opened my waterproof sack to find my camera still functioning. Thank goodness for drysacs!

With most of the excitement behind us, we managed to float the rest of the way without further accidents. As the clouds refused to let the sun shine for the whole day and with a breeze stirring up, we started to get cold. It´s quite unusual to get chattering teeth around these parts, so we decided that instead of floating all the way to the sea, we would get out at the bridge where the Troncal Caribe highway crosses the river and where a bunch of little kids were doing their laundry on the riverbank by pounding their clothes with a stick. Our rewarding day of peace and relaxation had turned into quite the adventure!

I can´t recommend highly enough tubing on the Palomino River. It is a fantastic break from the beach and takes you into a serene and beautiful part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. I´m sure ´ll be back again with mi novio and D for more river antics, but perhaps slightly more prepared next time.

In relax mode after passing the scary rapids. In the distance behind us are the family of 6 who left us in their rippling wake.
Tubing on the Palomino River

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Want to go tubing in Palomino?

What´s there: Palomino is a small village near the beach and where the Palomino River meets the sea. The tubing adventure involves walking in forest and floating down the river in amongst verdant mountains.

How to get there: From Santa Marta the buses leave from the market on the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 11 every half hour or so and are clearly marked. The same bus also goes to Parque Tayrona. The bus costs COP$8000 and takes around 2 hours. To catch a bus back you can flag down any bus on the highway.

Difficulty: From Mamasanta (the nearest start point) it is easy. If you chose to start further upstream, you just need to be prepared for walking on a hilly trail. At all times be aware of rocks and submerged trees in the river which could puncture your tube.

Time: Depending on your start point and finish point tubing will take between 2 – 4 hours. It took us 4 hours from when we started walking from Mamasanta to when we arrived to the bridge in Palomino.

What to take: Sunscreen, t-shirt, sunglasses, hat (there´s the potential to come back lobster-red if you don´t), bathing suit, bottle of water, sandals – preferably the type that strap onto your feet, a cord or something to use to keep you all floating together, camera,  a waterproof bag. We also took sarongs which instantly became wet at the river but were good for keeping belongings tied together and for covering up because walking along the highway in a bikini is not advised.

Where to stay: If you want to stay in Palomino there are a number of accommodation options. I like the friendly new Dreamer on the Beach.

I feel relaxed again just looking at this photo at Dreamer on the Beach
I feel relaxed again just looking at this photo at Dreamer on the Beach

Just another jaded traveller

Chopper into the Canyon
The chopper ride into the Grand Canyon

I’m embarrassed to say it. To say it is like committing some kind of treason. I know people won’t agree with me, but I just have to say it. The Grand Canyon isn’t so grand.

There. I’ve said it now. I’m prepared for the onslaught of comments telling me how wrong I am, and I’d love to receive them from those of you who were totally amazed. At the hostel I’ve now created some kind of reputation that I’m hard to please. It’s not true, but I’m prepared to laugh about it.

I don’t think the Grand Canyon is pathetic or anything, I just think my expectations were mismanaged. In the lead up to my ranch and raft tour on the Colorado River in the bottom of the Grand Canyon I read about the sway the river and canyon has over the river runners who guide groups through the canyon every season and that was reiterated with great emphasis by our host who went into great detail about it before we even glimpsed the canyon.

Ready to launch the rafts
Ready to launch the rafts

My expectations were that I would be captivated by the river and the canyon, that I wouldn’t ever want to leave and I also pictured sheer walls and dirty big rapids. Clearly they were way too high.

I love rivers and the opportunity to raft the river was something I was especially keen to do. The Murray River has a very special place in my heart, but it seems there is not enough room in there for a green Colorado River.

Canyon view
View of the canyon from the waterfall we visited

All this jaded-ness aside, I had an enjoyable trip. We saw some beautiful colours in the canyon walls, the camping was fun, the chopper ride into the canyon great and the walk up to the waterfall extremely pretty. I guess I just came away glad that I had only gone on the 3 day, 2 night trip and not the 6 day trip! Maybe my impressions of the Grand Canyon will change when I look over the rim. I certainly hope so.

Up the creek

Yesterday I went out to Mum and Dad’s for our last family dinner before I leave (Mum’s lamb roast). While the roast was cooking, Mum, Dad and I went for a trip along the creek in the tinny.

The high river means that the creek that only ever runs when it floods and the billabong  were full of water and since my parents love to explore the backwaters out we went.

What we commonly refer to as ‘the bend’, a riverside bit of native vegetation with clay tracks, red gums and a sandbar, was all underwater. As kids we used to ride our bikes through there all the time, but this year, the only form of navigable transportation is a boat.

I was fascinated by the big spiderwebs encasing trees standing out of the water. The way the late afternoon sun hit the webs and the tree bark was incredibly beautiful. It is such a different perspective gliding over terrain you know well at ground level in a boat. We had to navigate through saplings that were growing in the creek bed and fallen trees and try to pick out landmarks to figure out where we were.

It was a great way to spend a little bit of quality time with my parents, looking at old scenes through fresh eyes and a new perspective.

Apparently emus like mulberries

 New Year’s Day 2011 was spent on the amazing, flooded Murray River with my family in what is something of an annual event, a boat trip to pick mulberries.

Two ancient mulberry trees planted circa 1850s on an old homestead, are the only things beside a grave to remain from that time. Somehow these stooped trees managed to survive the drought to produce a crop of dark purple berries.

We’ve been coming to these mulberry trees since the mid 80s when my dad, uncle and grandfather built a modern day paddlesteamer. It’s been a pleasant and productive family outing ever since. This year the numbers dwindled to just Mum, Dad, Bro #1, Friday Night Dad and some of Bro #1’s friends, but that just meant more mulberries for me.

I love the amazing feeling of tradition that comes with eating mulberries. There is nothing better than sitting in the higher branches, container in one hand and the other red stained hand transferring warm, ripe mulberries from tree to mouth. I would always be chastised for eating more than ended up in the container, but I guess I paid for that whenever I accidentally ate one of the ants that also loved mulberries.

Emus ahead
Mulberry eating emus ahead

This year, our biggest competition was the emus. I never knew that emus liked mulberries, but it turns out that they do, even when they give them purple seeded diarrhea. As we walked over the hill, the dogs started barking and running towards the two trees, flushing out three emus in the process. At least emus can’t fly, so there were still some berries left for us. Emus are also discerning mulberry eaters and wait for them to ripen before pilfering.

Whilst gravity is increasingly against me, I did relive some childhood moments as I climbed up a branch or two. It wasn’t easy going and my clumsy adult body almost pitched through the web of a giant orb spider. Then I was too scared of both the enormous spider and falling out of the tree that I hardly any picked mulberries from that vantage point.

Mulberries
I picked a few, ate a few and squished a few on my top
Back at the boat we cleaned up. I had brought along some disposable rubber gloves to keep my hands stain free, but if you don’t have gloves when picking mulberries, just rub some green mulberries on the blood red stains on your hands and clothes and they will miraculously disappear!

In the end we managed to get five containers of mulberries, meaning plenty to have with ice cream for dessert, which is my second favourite way to eat them, right after straight from the tree.