Roadtrip to Quebrada Valencia

We finally stretched the legs of our new motorbike with a day trip to the cascades at Quebrada Valencia.

With $3 worth of petrol in the tank, we headed east along the Troncal Caribe in the direction of Riohacha. I am not the best pillion passenger as I have a tendency to dig my nails in and yell into the ear of mi novio should we approach other vehicles too quickly, go over speed humps (or dead policemen as they call them here) without braking, overtake trucks or buses and I curse and scream “I don’t like this” when we weave in and out of traffic. But, after leaving Santa Marta’s city limits, we were suddenly quite alone on a well paved highway and riding under a canopy of green forest.

The air was cooler and the scenery divine. The wind blew all of the weariness and frustrations of the city away. Instead of screaming in mi novio’s ear to slow down or pay more attention, I was conversing with him, constantly exclaiming “This is so lovely.”

While I marvelled over the scenery and breathed in the fresh air (any odd insect or two), I realised that it must be quite tedious listening to me rabbit on about the scenery when he has passed by this same route thousands of times for his work but he told me that it was a completely different sensation on the motorbike where you really feel your surroundings to that of watching out the bus window.

50km and a bit over an hour later, we arrived at Quebrada Valencia, with an internationally recognised tourist attraction brown sign announcing the destination. The entrance to Quebrada Valencia is right beside the highway with a small pull-in on either side, a local store and a market stall selling aqua socks to the Colombians from the interior who can’t bear crossing the river in their sandals or bare feet.

Quebrada Valencia, with its impressive range of cascading falls, is a 20 – 30 minute walk from the entrance and our first task was to cross the river. During dry season, the river is clear, shallow and tranquil, making the crossing (and subsequent crossings) quite easy. On the other side we passed by vendors selling coffee and fresh cooked arepas and walked alongside a banana plantation for a little bit. Not far into our walk we came across an enormous tree blocking the path, forcing everyone to walk around it. The tree has great clumps of root-like vines dangling down, and looks rather like you would imagine a tree relative of Mr Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.

We continued our easy walk in the forest and crossed the river another five times to reach the lower swimming pools and rocky cascades of Quebrada Valencia.

It’s a popular spot for tourists and locals who take along picnics, and even their own hammocks. The falls drop over a rocky vein that obstructs the river’s flow and creates pools at different levels and some great jumping points.

We were instantly enamoured, and climbed the rocks to find a little ledge under a shady branch to leave our belongings while taking a refreshing dip in the rock pools and a slide down rocks beaten smooth by the water current. It is a great spot to relax and unwind and enjoy the company of family and friends. I couldn’t believe when mi novio said he hadn’t been there before. Not even on a family outing with his parents or with other friends.

Further up were more water pools and great views of each waterfall and all the way down to the end of the cascades, but we couldn’t climb up to the very top as it was cordoned off with plastic ‘do not enter’ tape and had a guy posted beside to enforce the no climbing rule.

After an afternoon of bathing in the lovely rock pools, we followed the easy trail back to the entrance and our motorbike, all the while exclaiming that we will have to bring D and la suegra here one day. Quebrada Valencia really is an all-round great day trip for lovers, families and groups of friends.

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Want to go to Quebrada Valencia?

What’s there: Waterfalls, swimming and a short hike in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

How to get there: Take the Troncal Caribe from Santa Marta towards Riohacha by car or motorbike (parking COP$2000 – $3000 at the entrance) or by a public bus that leaves from Calle 11 near the Mercado in Santa Marta that also passes by Parque Tayrona (ask to be dropped at Quebrada Valencia) and then flag down any return bus.

Entry fee: COP$3000 per person (US$1.65)

Hike difficulty: Easy but must be able to cross the rivers, the walking path is flat and well looked after

Walk time: 20 – 30 minutes

What to take: Sandals or flip flops, water, sunscreen, snacks or money to buy from vendors along the way, towel and camera.

Making a dictionary worth its weight in words

When I was packing my bags to move to Colombia my hardcover Collins Concise Spanish Dictionary was on the yes list. Then on the maybe list. And ultimately ended up in danger of landing on the no list.

At 1.977kg on the kitchen scales it took up a decent portion of my luggage allowance. I started out adamant that it would be coming with me. I wasn’t going to buy a new you-beaut dictionary in Colombia that would cost a bomb and run the risk of not being as good (as discovered in a previous experience buying a not-to-be-trusted, inadequate dictionary in Latin America). I had also decided that my He-Man novio could do me the favour and carry it; it would be useful for him too and help to tone his muscles.

After seeing the mountain of belongings I was taking begin to grow like the local rubbish tip, I panicked about how much everything would weigh and started to think up weak reasons for not packing the dictionary.

Only at the final hour when everything was packed and weighed did I find I had both the physical space, and a spare two kilos for the behemoth. And so the dictionary joined us on our international journey and breezed through the airport check-in.

When we changed our plans mid-journey and decided to forgo our plane tickets, we suddenly had a much tighter (and stricter) weight limit to take on the bus. On our international bus trip we had to pay excess baggage, twice. Whoops! Suddenly the dictionary of my dreams was a dead weight, costing us money to keep it on the journey.

Cut to 2 months later and I’m now grateful I decided to bring the world’s weightiest dictionary with us because I’ve landed myself a gig updating some translations in a tourist guide to Santa Marta and I need to get the words right. At first I thought pobladores meant villages, but after confirming with Señor Diccionario, discovered it means settlers. It’s tricky little words like this and aledaña (outskirts) and the one I always forget destacar (to emphasise or stand out) that mean my dictionary is now worth its weight.

Next destination, Colombia

Words cannot begin to express how excited I am to be going to Colombia.

Firstly there is the yearning for travelling in Colombia that I’ve had since April 2004 when I was in the tiny jungle border town, Leticia. I made a vow to come back and now it is finally happening. Initially I told myself I wasn’t removing the red, blue and yellow wristband I bought there until I returned, but after going home and getting a professional job, that had to come off. But has been with me all the time hanging from my keychain. So as you can imagine, I’m really excited to see that dream come to life.

Secondly, I have had my fill of the US. After 6 months here I am desperate for some new scenery and culture. I think the longer I stay here, the less I like being here. Despite all the wonderful people I’ve met, and the places I’ve enjoyed as I crossed the country, I just don’t like being in America.  It’s a strange feeling that’s hard to describe. There’s something that makes me feel uneasy, and then there’s so many things to appreciate about Australia that you only pick up when you speak to people about how it is here, like annual leave, maternity leave and health care.

Whilst I feel like this now, I also know that I will be back and travelling in the this country in the future because I want to revisit the friends I’ve made and also see the things that I missed on my planned return leg like Niagara Falls, Chicago, Mt Rushmore, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park, Seattle, Crater Lake National Park, Portland and Yosemite. It’s just that next time will be for a much shorter period of time, and hopefully with a friend.

Inspiration for life

I’m a bit of a fan of inspirational quotes, and I love sticking them up around me.

My friends know this so I have a wall of cards with great quotes and little inspirational boards in front of my desk.

Poking around the Arclight gift shop, I found myself drawn in by the quotable cards and magnets (as per usual) and had to buy myself a card that really spoke to me right now. It said:

find life experiences
and swallow them
whole. travel.
meet many people.
go down some
dead ends and
explore dark alleys.
try everything.
exhaust yourself
in the glorious
pursuit of life.

lawrence k. fish

This  quotable card really resonates with me right now because I’ve decided to move on from Los Angeles and get travelling. After three months I’ve found that this isn’t where I’m supposed to be right now. The road has been calling me, and I think that’s where my wellspring of creativity lies.

Making up for being a bad friend

I’ve been in LA for three months and hadn’t yet caught up with my friend who I met when she was on exchange in my hometown 15 years ago. That’s poor form.

I guess a number of things conspired against it, like my car woes and her late stage pregnancy. So now that her baby is birthed and Esmeralda is fixed, we finally arranged a meet up.

It was a nice 30 mile drive out to her place on the Foothills Freeway 210. This is a much nicer freeway than the 10 freeway. As the name suggests, it traverses the foothills of the mountains and it quite pretty. On the way back in the evening it afforded incredible views of the city lights and downtown.

Meeting my friend’s new baby was lovely. When I visited her about 11 months ago, I had no idea that I’d be back to see her so soon and that by that time she’d have another child. It must be quite some time since I’ve seen a newborn because I couldn’t believe how tiny he was. As I held him while he struggled against sleep, his head warmed up the crook of my arm. That’s a nice feeling. For all my friends who know about how I feel about me and babies, I tell you I’m not getting clucky!

My friend and I talked about how it is that we’ve kept up our friendship that started way back in 1996, and the fact that we have seen each other four times since then, once when she returned to Australia and now that I have visited her in LA three times. Whilst Facebook makes it easy to stay in touch, actually visiting really cements the friendship beyond the electronic. I never regret travelling to meet up with my friends living overseas, be it Los Angeles, London, Buenos Aires or whether it’s even just closer to home in some far-flung place in Australia. There is something special about the memories you create with them in their current cities, and it adds to the relationship because you understand their life there.

I hope that I will continue to do this for the rest of my life, because a little bit of effort goes a long way. Perhaps I should be looking to book a flight to see my friend Shanghai Slipper.

Last minute Grand Canyon

After a long time humming and harring about what to do for my birthday, I finally booked an adventure.

You see, ever since I spent my 25th birthday straddling the equator in Ecuador, I have vowed to go away and do something exciting for my birthday. I used to expect others to make my birthday special for me, but after adopting this new philosophy I found that the only person my birthday is special for is me, and that it’s up to me to drive the celebrations.

So my birthdays have involved parasailing on the Gold Coast in Australia, kiteboarding in the Philippines, cycling around Rottnest Island in Western Australia, climbing the Sydney Harbour bridge, visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia and swinging in a hammock in Puerto Escondido in Mexico. Sometimes these trips have been alone, and some have been with friends or family, but they all involved me taking responsibility for enjoying myself on my birthday without the need for birthday wishes or gifts.

I had been looking at stacks of Grand Canyon rafting tour websites, trying to find the best deal and best adventure. I would have loved to do a week-long trip but my travel budget couldn’t quite extend that far, so I settled on a shorter 3 day trip. I was worried that I wasn’t going to find one that would have availability over my birthday in a week and a half’s time because these trips are usually booked way in advance, but the first company I called, Arizona River Runners, had an opening and they were super nice on the phone.

So now I’m booked on a tour that includes a flight to the canyon rim, a ranch stay, a helicopter flight to the canyon floor, a whitewater rafting and camping trip and a jet boat across Lake Mead. I’m pretty darn excited.

Wave me goodbye

Only one more sleep until I fly to LA and embark on a whole new world of fun and adventure.

I’m wiggling, squirming and shaking with a delicious blend of excitement and terror. For some reason, taking off on a big jet plane to another country and farewelling your family is gut-wrenching. You just don’t get the same feeling when you move to another town in your own country, whether it’s an hour drive or 4 hour flight away.

Melbourne Airport have this really cool feature on their website where you can track inbound and outbound, local and domestic flights on their live radar. So tomorrow, click on the link below to see where I am during my 14 hour flight on the A380(QF93 @ 12:10pm).

http://www.melbourneairport.com.au/Flight-Passenger-Info/Flight-Information/Live-Flight-Radar.html

Wave me goodbye!

Travels in 2010

 Somewhat (un)inspired by watching The Tourist yesterday I want to celebrate a year of travels to places new and exciting, old and inviting. (I know, it’s a very weak link I’m making between the film The Tourist and travelling, but I’m making it anyway.
Recoleta in Buenos Aires
Admiring the dead at Recoleta Cemetery
in Buenos Aires

I saw the new year, 2010, arrive in Rotorua, New Zealand, amid the stinky geo-thermal gases and with a somewhat chilly and of course jaw-dropping fireworks display on the lakeshore.

A big 6 week trip in April and May with my mother took me to Argentina to visit Emily and Pablo, Peru to marvel at Machu Picchu for a second time, Mexico to eat grasshoppers and visit ruins, Guatemala to see a Mayan Shaman and a quick stop in LA to meet my email penfriend of 4 years, the man who puts the A in LA.

On the domestic front, I’ve also managed to visit some thus far unexplored corners of Australia and revisit some favourites:

  • Two weeks traversing the Kimberley from Broome to Darwin on a magnificent and indescribably beautiful camping tour
  • Bunbury and Margaret River to see my friend Travieso who I met at Iguazu Falls 6 years ago
  • Darwin to do some serious dancefloor carving
  • Three trips to Sydney for a conference and shopping,  a flight to Buenos Aires, some xoxo, and to see some German buddies from my Kimberley tour along with a good friend from school
  • Gold Coast to visit my little bro and do big sisterly things like buy him kitchen utensils and shoes
    Machu Picchu
    Thumbs up for making it up to Machu Picchu
  •  Melbourne goodness knows how many times to see friends, shop, go to parties, watch Mary Poppins the musical, go to exhibitions, meet my fellow LA adventurers and soak up that gorgeous city vibe
  • Adelaide to see my friends, go to a baby shower and meet the new baby
  • Falls Creek to ski with a friend, visit her family and catch up with other friends in Wodonga
Chapulines
Eating chapulines, grasshoppers, in Oaxaca, Mexico

So it’s been a pretty travelsome year. Especially when I list it all down like that. It’s a wonder I had any weekends at home!

New places always thrill me. I can’t wait to move to LA where I will no doubt get an overload of new experiences, places and people.

That said, the alternative to moving to LA was a year (or more) of travel. That’s a pretty big ‘sacrifice’ to make, but I’m confident I’m going to have one hell of a 2011, even if it isn’t living out of  a backpack but rather out of a backpack, rolling duffel and suitcase with a brand new suite of Apple gadgets in my possession.

Even though the big travel adventure is but a former plan, can I please, please, puh-lease share with you my travel wishlist for 2011… I promise you can share yours via comments on this post!

  • America, duh. Like, all over you know. I totally want to see it all.
  • Europe –  has remained elusive of my travel map thus far and if I REALLY have to select just a few places it would be Spain para hablar espanol (to speak Spanish), France and Germany to visit friends in each of those countries. I’d also like to add the Greek Islands, Italy, Russia and Croatia but that would just be greedy.
    Manning Gorge
    My wicked backflip into Manning Gorge
    in the Kimberley
  • Shanghai – to visit my old housemate who’s also making a big overseas move in 2011. But only if she sends her driver to pick me up from the airport with a sign that says “Chickety China the Chinese chicken wants a little cameo” and is in the shape of a love heart with pink feathers on it.
  • Australia – to visit the doctor and assure the family that I haven’t gained an American accent.
  • Mexico – to cross the border to TJ and go to Cabo darhling. Though I think the Copper Canyon, San Miguel de Allende and a return visit to Taxco are more my scene.
  • Canada – Vancouver anyone?
  • Colombia – simply because if I didn’t have it on my list I would be LYING. Desperada, that’s what I am to get there. Hmmm, maybe I need to think up a good doco, TV show or film we can film on loco location in Colombia…