Hey everybody! We finally arrived in Colombia six days ago, after enduring a 25 hour journey. It’s crazy to think that just last week we were wandering the hustle and bustle of the Egyptian city of Cairo. Today, I (Shannon) write to you while relaxing in hammocks on a warm Columbia night, reggaeton music mixing in with sonorous rushing of the Fonce River. We are currently staying in an empty hostel (as of today) in the small mountain town of San Gil.
I have really been wanting to make a post (or maybe even several) about our chaotic, yet incredible, month in Egypt. And I’ve even began writing it, but to be honest, I’m exhausted after having such a busy and exciting month, and still trying to process the whole experience. Soon, our Egypt excursions will be documented here, along with all the wonder photos and videos that were captured by us and some of the wonderful friends we had been traveling with.
If you do ever plan to travel Egypt, try to get a group of friends together, if possible. Egypt can be a tricky country for a traveler, and even as backpackers, we had a hard time navigating things at times. The country is beautiful, and there’s lots of incredible sights to see, but be cautious that 90% of people in tourist areas will try to scam you. On several occasions, we had restaurants attempt to overcharge us when the real prices were written clear as day on the menu. We’ve heard from many people in the past that Egypt can be difficult to navigate, and they were right, but I am honestly feeling really happy with the choice I made to get to know Egypt for a month. We met some very nice locals during our time there, and since we knew what to expect and how to haggle as tourists, we were able to have a very colorful experience full of activities and adventures. Pro-tip for Egypt: most prices are negotiable. Every so often you’ll come upon a price that a person won’t budge on, but more often than not, they’re upping the price (sometimes severely).
Anyways, back to my update about Colombia. It’s been such a breath of fresh air (literally). Cairo was ranked the most polluted city in the world in 2018, and we could feel it out there. Some days, it was hard to see because the smog gets trapped between the tall buildings of the downtown area where we were staying. Now we’re up high in the mountains, breathing clean, humid area in warm tropical temperatures. What a lovely way to welcome the holidays. We’ve been feeling so grateful that we’re in South America for Christmas. The town of San Gil that we are currently in has Christmas lights everywhere, and we’ve heard fireworks everyday while out here so far. We once spent a Christmas in Peru, and it was one of the most celebratory holidays we have ever experienced, so we had our fingers crossed we would have a similar experience while out here (more socially distant, though, of course).
Speaking of social distance, we’ve felt so much better being in a country that takes COVID-19 seriously. In Egypt, most people don’t wear masks. Elderly people would wear them, but the majority of people would be maskless, even in the most crowded and busy areas. Hand sanitizer was a rarity (thank goodness we carry around several bottles with us), and hand soap was uncommon in public restrooms. It was a big adjustment for us, because Turkey and Croatia provided sanitizer everywhere. Turkey gave temperature checks at public establishments. And Egypt…kept going as though there was no pandemic. We did have one experience (the Nile Cruise) where we received frequent temperature checks, but we were on a cruise, so I think they feel the need to be more cautious.
Being in Colombia has been such a relief. There’s sanitizer everywhere, and many places sanitize your clothes and shoes when you enter! People are respectful about keeping 6ft away, and vendors on the street respect our no’s when we decline what they’re selling. The food has been amazing, the beer, delicious and cheap. Bogota was a bit of a busy city, but it was a piece of cake compared to Cairo, and we were able to finally breathe easy again in a much quieter city full of elaborate and colorful street art.
Bogota isn’t even that quiet of a city. You’ll hear the occasion horns of cars honking, and walk through crowded streets of people in the marketplaces of La Candelaria. But it was nothing compared to the constant horn-honking and shouting you hear in Cairo. Everything feels so much more relaxed here. The romantic honeymoon vibes have snuck back into our trip since we have been in Columbia, especially after traveling with a group of people for so long. Since we had arrived in Egypt, we stayed in a group of seven friends we had met in Turkey up until a couple days before we left to Colombia. It made our experience in Egypt so much more fun, and being in a group of friends made our stressful surroundings so much more endurable. We were sad to have to separate from them, but now that it’s just the two of us again, we’re remembering that we’re actually on our honeymoon. It’s been so wonderful to have one-in-one time and indulge in the joyousness of our recent marriage. We’re still buzzing from the wedding, and it’s been 4 months already!
Colombia is such a magic country for honeymooners (or even solo self-love adventures)! There’s so much to see here. We spent our first few days lazily bumbling around the colorful streets of Bogota, recovering from jet lag, and wanting to try all the local cuisines but only being willing to walk a few blocks away from our hostel. Most of our time in Bogota was full of lounging and indulging in being in a quiet space, but we plan to return to this town after New Years and properly experience it.
Now that we’ve been in the sweet little mountain town of San Gil for a few days, we’ve been feeling super eager to start experiencing things. Maybe nothing too crazy, though, since we had quite true adventure today during our first attempt to start exploring the nature this area has to offer. We saw that our hostel offers deals on many different adventures, such as bungee jumping, paragliding, white water rafting, and spelunking. Spelunking, for those of you unfamiliar with the word, is the exploration of caves. Julian has said he has had several cool experiences spelunking, and I had never tried it before, so we decided to give it a go at Cueva de la Vaca.
What a terrible day to leave our GoPro at the hostel! It was such an insane/thrilling/claustrophobic/wild experience! We went in expecting a pleasant walk down into a cave, and ended up chest deep in murky water most of the time (without any warning that we would be doing this when we booked this). We also had to swim through an underwater tunnel while holding onto a rope, and spent a significant amount of the journey in water under a ceiling so low, our helmets were constantly scraping against it. We hiked over an hour into this cave that was pretty deep under ground and ended up at a waterfall at the end, which was pretty cool. It would have been nice if we were warned that this experience isn’t for the faint of heart, though. We survived it, but our only pairs of sneakers are absolutely soaked and caked with mud, aaaaand overall it was just a really unexpected, creepy swim.
Now, we’re exhausted, once again, and spending the evening lounging in hammocks on the patio of our hostel that sits on the river. Tomorrow morning we’re moving to a hostel that’s closer to the downtown area, so we can enjoy walking through the Parque Central while sipping cheap beer. We also planned on checking out the National Park tomorrow, but might have to put that on hold since our shoes are still soaking wet. Who knows, maybe they’ll be dry, but even if they aren’t, it’s not the end of the world to spend a few extra days here in San Gil before bussing to Santa Marta. That’s the thing I’ve really been enjoying about long term traveling so far. We have no schedule, and make so many last minute decisions on things to do. Living without a plan or any kind of routine has been so refreshing for my soul, especially in 2020 and having to deal with routines for the past few years. I’ve been feeling so grateful to be having this experience, and being blessed enough to be able to take this year off to relax with my husband.
Sorry for the super long update. We’ve been neglecting this digital recollection of our experiences so long, and now that we’re in a country that has more reliable WiFi, I have no excuse to neglect it any longer. It’s been nice to be able to reflect and share everything that’s happened in the past three months while living out of a backpack. Sending love to all of you reading this, stay safe, stay healthy and responsible, and I wish you a joyous, and stress-free holiday (not always the easiest accomplishment, but I wish it upon you anyway.