Caves, crazy bus rides, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon

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So what’s happened since I left Medellin? Well, quite a lot actually! From Medellin, we went to a place called Rio Claro, which is basically a glorified activity centre with a hotel and restaurant attached. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by jungle, with a river running through it. The hotel was comparatively expensive compared to anywhere else i’ve stayed so far, at a whopping 40-odd quid for the best room in the house.

So to get to Rio Claro, you take any bus to Bogota. You ask the driver to let you off at Rio Claro, so you disembark in the middle of nowhere and the other passengers wonder what the bloody hell you are doing. You get off the bus at the entrance to the centre, and you then have about a 1km hike along a path unsuitable for wheeled suitcases. I was therefore forced to hike 1km in sticky jungle heat, with my wheeled backpack actually on my back for the first time. By the time we got to reception, I had decided that I probably needed to throw some stuff away!!

After check-in, there was another 10 minute trek to get to my room, which (of course) had to be the one furthest from reception. Over steps, stones, and under rocky overhangs. By the time I got to my room I was ready to die. The room, however, was worth the effort. The most striking thing about the room was that it was completely open to the jungle. By this I mean that there were 2 large balconies and no windows (and no defence from the bugs / birds / bats / whatever might like to visit you during the night). The view was truly spectacular. Jungle on all sides, with the river below. No electricity, save for a short period in the evening, no wifi, and no hot water. Sounds like my idea of Purgatory? Well yes, but somehow the view made up for it, as did the incredible display of stars on the 2 nights I was there.

After dark it gets interesting. We had to make our way to the restaurant, which was by reception, over a path that was challenging in daylight. Turns out the head torch was not the waste of money I expected it to be! We made it to the restaurant, for the food included in our room rate. Basically a bowl of something that tasted like butter soup, and something meat-ish served with rice and salad. Pretty basic, but not as bad as ‘Lonely Planet’ led us to believe it would be. Walking around in the dark we encountered some interesting wildlife, including a jungle super-rat which hurled itself very gracefully from the bridge as we crossed, and a variety of insects. I looked down at one point to see what had just scuttled over my foot, expecting to see a large cricket or similar. What I actually saw, was the stuff of nightmares, the Beast from the Black Lagoon. If you’ve seen ”Starship Troopers’, think the arachnid menace. Otherwise known as ‘scorpion spider’. Bigger than my hand – significantly! I didn’t hang around to get a photo as I was too busy sh*tting myself and running for my room, but trust me, it was one nasty looking beastie, and it touched my naked foot!!

Anyway, after a fitful night sleep in my room with two indefensible entrances, during which every bug in the Rio Claro had a piece of me, my travelling companion managed to convince me that I really wanted to go caving, previously in the ‘no effing way’ box along with paragliding. Equipment consisted of lifejacket, helmet, torch and rubber shoes. Difficulty rating 8 out of 10, which I hoped to God was an exaggeration. Turns out it wasn’t. After crossing a river at neck-height and a very sweaty hike through the jungle to the entrance to the cave, we stepped into the darkness. Now in the cave lives a type of bird, which screams loud enough to wake the dead when you enter. Our guide’s instructions – don’t shine a light on em! We walked through the first part of the cave with the screaching going on above. I desperately hoped that the drops hitting my shoulders were water and not pteradactyl poo.

Caving turned out to be quite fun – mostly easy going, but several places where we were required to access the next part of the cave by leaping into it and trying not to drown or swallow too much river. Anyway, I survived, and spent the afternoon tubing on the river (sitting in big rubber ring and floating). There were a few baby rapids to negotiate which ultimately ended in me bouncing across a set of rocks on my arse, and I got swept into a tree on the river bank at one point and ended up sharing my ring with a large jumping spider, which was promptly squished.

Overall Rio Claro was pretty fun, although I left with a sore arse and lots of bites.

Next, on to Manizales. Turns out getting out of Rio Claro was a bit tougher than getting in, and it took 3 taxis and 2 buses to eventually reach our hostel in Manizales. The first 2 taxis and bus were pretty much OK. The next stretch was a 5hr slog from La Dorada to Manizales, over the mountains, on a small local buss with no aircon. Not much fun, and my relief band came in very useful as without it I would certainly have ruined the upholstery. There were a lot of serious twists and turns, and big drops off cliffs just feet away. The scenery however, was totally spectacular. All mountains and jungles and clouds, truly breathtaking. Still trying to get the photos off the iphone, but if you’ve seen ‘Romancing the Stone’, it was reminiscent of the part where Kathleen Turner wakes up in the jungle and realises she’s on the wrong bus.

Manizales is surrounded by mountains, even more so than Medellin. Every way you look, there’s a great view! It’s only been a couple of days here before pushing out to Cali tomorrow, but thus far we’ve been to a hotel with a thermal pool (fab, but felt like my skin was melting off), and a park where we were surrounded by hummingbirds, butterflies and orchids, and today we went to a coffee farm where we learned all about the growing, picking a drying / roasting process, as well as getting to drink some seriously nasty coffee, and eat the beans straight from the tree (NOT recommended by the way). We’ve also eaten some serious food. Last night we got steak – I ordered steak with mushroom sauce, wok-fried veggies and mash. I actually got 3 steaks, with everything else. A ridiculous amount of food, but pretty damn good. So no – still not losing any weight!

Anyway, that’s all for now – off to Cali tomorrow for a few days before catching a flight to Quito next Thursday to begin the main part of the adventure. Can’t believe 4 weeks are gone already – at this rate i’ll be home before I know it!!

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