Tag Archives: guide

Caves of the Tayos, Macas

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The Amazon Jungle: Full of energy, breathing life, and adventurously addicting.

Instead of taking the more traveled pan-american highway to Peru I took the back road through the jungle and stoping in the small town of Macas for a little cave pitstop.

Macas is a burning hot heated jungle town with hundreds of caves. The ¨Caves of the Tayos¨ have many myths and stories about them. One is about the lost city of Atlantis that may found there where you can literally spend days walking through the complex network of trails. All the caves are naturally made, and some even go as far as saying that there are indigenous people that live in the caves with higher intelligence than anyone else in the world.

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Here we are deep in the cave, I am not going to lie I was scared at many points. To the right of us you can see a bat flying.

There’s been books, movies and legends about them and the caves reach all over the jungle fo Ecuador and Peru. I would of liked to spend more time doing the four day walk through some of the caves, and eventually end breaking through the ground with a stick to get out of the caves when the guide permits. It is possible to do that through Zamora, I would of loved to check it out!

With me my friend, Natasa came to the caves! We weren’t prepared for the day we got into as it was much longer and less planned than anticipated.

We caught a 6:30 am bus from Tena to Puyo, 1.5 hours ($1.5 USD) and then a bus from Puyo to Macas, about 3.5 hours ($5 USD). Once in Macas we tried to find a guide because you cannot go into the caves without one (you wouldn’t want to anyway, they are scary and complex).

We searched around town for 1 hour trying to find someone in the scorching heat. We had limited amount of time and were banking on someone being avaialbe for a say of tour to take us.

We knew there were two tour agencies in town. First place was closed, and so was the second. We were so lost and wandered for what seemed hours. Finally a hostel gave us a random flyer of a man who offered tours. We managed to reach his house, a little cottage tucked away on a street corner. The man, Darwin was just leaving an jumped at the opportunity to take us for a hike. He said 3 hours, lunch, transportation and 1 hour in the caves would be provided and the price would be $25 a person. That is a great price for a jungle tour, most start at $40 and we were booking it last minute so of course we said yes!

This leads me to my next point and lesson in traveling:Never, ever, ever assume anything.

As the tour started we walked quite a way from the mans house and we were expecting to get into his car and go to the caves. Well ends up we were walking to the bus station. ¨Okay¨, I thought to myself. ¨I do not mind taking the bus, but I was expecting a car¨. No bus came, we ended up hitching the way there to the entrance of the path for the caves. We tried to find a car to the entrance but after 1 hour of waiting around we had to walk the 4 miles just to get to the entrance of the hike. All of this would have been fine if I wasn’t worried about catching my bus that I had booked, a night bus, at 7:00 pm.

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So we start to walk, and by walk I mean run. Darwin didn’t wait for us one bit and knew that I probably wouldn’t make my bus and was trying to make up for it with running the trail. It wasn’t even a trail, it was just treking through the jungle (gorgeous) and finding ways to get around huge bolders and rivers and streams.

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Here is the river, the hike was unlike anything I have done before.

The hike was divine, we were in the deep jungle, bats flying by just barely garzing my face, and flowing powerful rivers playing in and out of the trees.

The caves were out of this world, I’ve never seen anything like them. We came upon a huge bloder rock wall and looked down into the rocks cracks which was a window into another world.

We crawled on our hands and feet, through the thick clay mud and into the darkness.

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This is the entrance of the caves, see you later!

Big boots were necessary as at the entrance of the cave was a river deep and loud which would become our hiking path. The sound of the water echoed in the caves and you couldn’t see a thing, it didn’t help Darwin was still going fast and was the only one with the light.

The river was shallow in some parts, but deep in others. The whole time our boots were full of water and heavy in weight.

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Here we are dancing our boots around trying to get all the water out.

We hiked for about an hour and turned off our lights to feel the energy from time to time. Powerful, dark, cold and yet still full of life. I felt like an animal, primitive and timeless. It was a trip, so beautiful I couldn’t take in all I was feeling at the time.

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This is us climbing out of the caves.

Once we hiked out of the caves, we had only limited time to get back to town to catch my bus. So we walk the same 3 miles back to the road and hitched a ride back to Macas.

I would of never entered those caves without a guide, but honestly this guy Darwin I would never go hiking with again. He was smoking joints the whole time and walking ahead of us. However, I am glad he was there because I wouldn’t of had the nerve to go through the caves alone. And as a bonus when we were heading back from the hike we ran into a venomous snake that has a rodent in its mouth and wasn’t letting us pass. The guide grabbed some cigarettes and blew smoke in its face and had some type of drink with him in case it did bite. That made me feel better.

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Here is a photo of Darwin, he was taking pictures the whole time.

Darwin said that he once saw a anaconda kill a little boy in a river about 15 years ago. A bunch of kids were washing up in the stream and he watched the snake strangle the kid and then squish him to death before eating him. Could you imagine! The stories from this guy were pretty rough he has lived his whole life in the junge and been going to the caves since he was a kid.

If I were I do the tour again I would take it from Puyo, not macas and make sure I asked ALL questions and not assume that all guides are professionals. Even though the guide wasn’t the best, I was back on time for my bus with two minutes to spare and was off! Macas to Loja night bus is supposed to take 8-9 hours and it ended up being 10-11 as there was tons of traffic an construction. The trip cost $14 USD and led me to Loja where I took a bus for $1.5 USD to Vilcabumba. The whole trip was worth the stress and adventure. The caves were definitely a high light and the energy from them is something I will remember for the rest of my life! (Photos to come soon!)

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Back to the Mountains, Salento

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Magical mountains, birds singing a symphony of songs, delicate raging rivers, potent flowers shining in the sun and shades of varadescent greens cover the rolling hills in this story book land. Salento, Colombia is one of the most beautiful places I have seen on my journey thus far. I forgot how beautiful the mountains are.

In Salento there is the most gorgeous hike that I’ve ever been on. It’s called Valley de Cocora and it’s about 45 minutes $3,500 COP ($1.70 USD) out of Salento. It’s free to do and about 6-7 hours to do the whole loop. There is even a hummingbird farm! This hike was stunning: tiny path lined with wax palms, mysterious clouds thickly wet with dew, the occasional cow, waterfall after waterfall, and rolling hill after rolling hill.

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There was one mountain that was later than the others, and the clouds would creep slowly up it, and then spiral down the side. I’ve never seen anything like it, I felt as I had fallen asleep in a fairy tale and awoken to a new world.

After traveling almost 3 months on the coast I forgot how wonderful the mountains are. Going from 90 degree heat to rain and lucious trees has made me appreciate the qualities of both landscapes. Colombia is so diverse and colorful, every place is so distinctly different.

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To get to Salento from Manizales you can go to Pereira or Armenia. Both are easy and both will get you to salento. I chose to go through Peridea. It was $8,000 COP ($4.00 USD). It was about 1 hour bus ride. From that terminal I got another bus to Salento. It was just a 45 minute bus ride for $8,000 COP ($4.00 USD). It’s a short ride and easy to catch from Peridea. The weekend schedule is different from the weekday schedule so make sure you check before you go.

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Manizales, Colombia

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Manizales, the tourist guide book says little about it. Including something along the line of leave your camera in your pocket as there are not many things to see in Manizales. So I had somewhat low expectations and decided to venture into Manizales before leaving for Salento. I was going to do a little exploring with the intention of leaving later in the day. I walked for a little bit, and exploring a new city alone can be a little stressful. I am definitely getting better at it. It is quite a skill as you don’t want to look like a tourist, yet you have to remember where you are and you are bound to get lost.

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I found a breakfast spot and sat down next to an older man and woman. If there are empty tables at a restaurant and you sit by yourself rather than with other people it can be considered to be rude. It is very Colombian to sit with other people like a community and get to know the people who are dining in the same place as you.

I met an old man named Alberto who only spoke Spanish and he was curious about my solo adventures. I told him I was leaving Manizales to Salento because I wanted to see the coffee farms there and he immediately took me under his wing and offered showing me around the town. I could not resist, so I said of course.  We first went for some coffee from the land of Manizales as it is known for its coffee farms and rich beans that are exported from the land. He paid for my breakfast and for the coffee, which is also very Colombian. When a man invites someone to do something whether it’s a movie, drinks, or out, they always always always pay. Its amazing and its considered rude if you do not let them pay.

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So for the rest of the day we drove around in his car touring the whole city. The energy of Manizales is tranquil and reminded me a lot of San Francisco. There were not vendors trying to sell you things, the people were so nice and laid back, and there were so many hills that mirrored the way San Francisco makes me feel. We saw a gorgeous cathedral, the largest and tallest in Colombia, we saw many beautiful views of the surrounding area which is all farms. And from a distance you can always see green hills and layers of houses next to each other, just like San Francisco is the background. This town is picture perfect and makes for an amazing city. Sometimes when people write in the guidebooks I don’t think they actually visit the places and give each city a chance.

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From the city we headed for beers with Alberto’s friend who owns a coffee shop. Then we went his friends coffee farm where I learned about coffee farming and got to ride his horse. They take such pride in their farms and horses. Alberto rides competitively and is so proud of it, constantly showing me pictures of his family and himself riding horses. The Colombian people here, and I think I have a good grasp on this now, are so willing to invite you into their lives. It is as if you are a part of their family and they want you to experience a good time. I felt so lucky to have met this man. But the night did not end there.

Alberto invited me to a party later that night for some beers. Of course, I agreed and met him around 7pm to take a bus to this party. At the front door of the party we are greeted with costumes we must wear, that were all handmade. We enter the kiosk hut and there are tables full of glitter, live music, a bar and people dancing. I realize that I am at a horse club, where I assume everyone owns a horse that is at this place and this is where all the competitive people who ride horses hang out. The theme of the party was Carnival Barranquilla, even though carnival has past, they still celebrate. Out comes the flour, foam and other sorts of carnival costumes. Dancing all night long and everyone so willing to meet me, dance with me, and make me feel included.

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Cartagena, Colombia Mural

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What a pleasure it’s been to spend three weeks painting in a house, not a hostel and alone! This piece is in the second story of an apartment home. It overlooks the sea, has great light and the wall was over 10 feet tall by 12 feet wide. This piece was on a flat surface and had some light structures to the left and right. I also did not have a ladder which made for some messy painting when trying to get to the high surfaces. 20130227-145951.jpg

Location: Cartagena, Colombia. A rather small Spanish Colonial town located on the Carribbean Coast. The town has amazing energy that has large balconies with flowers pouring over the railings, artwork in form of statues and murals all over the city, and people constantly buzzing around the city.

Time to paint: 3 weeks, 3-4 hours a day

About the process: I went back to my old style from college and decided to do a Cartagena cityscape. The city was such an inspiration so I had to go for it. This process involves a couple of different layers. I start by painting the background one solid color. Often when the wall is white it can be overwhelming and I find myself thinking too much about what goes on top of it and what could go wrong. So instead I take white and a little dab of other colors and begin painting a solid background. That way it also makes the painting feel like there is depth to the piece as well. Then I start by sketching. That way if I mess up, I can always go over it with the same background color. The drawings go on top, then a couple layers of detail. Layer in spanish is called cuatromano. Cuatro which means four and mano which means hand. It makes sense as it usually takes four strokes with your hand to create one layer.

What I learned: This style was fairly familiar to me. I haven’t done a piece this large so it was difficult to fill the whole wall. I learned that I should never use a chair and a cooler again as a ladder and that a fan is a necessity when pairing in 90 degree weather.

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International Festival de Peliculas Fiesta

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It was 10 pm, the night was sticky and hot with a soft breeze that was swaying in and out. The outdoor movie was dancing in the wind as the screen moved around.”The bicycle thief” was the movie in Italian, translated into Spanish subtitles. The International Film Festival was in full swing as we drank beers while watching the film for free.

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Honestly, the movie was horrible. The experience was priceless. After the five of us walked 15 minutes from the old historical town to the media luna district which was roaring with energy. We found ourselves at the plaza again as street vendors and artisans were humming about.

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Suddenly, a car pulls up and starts playing music from subs in the trunk of the car. My friend Karine from Australian starts feeling the music. So much that he starts to go Napoleon Dynamite and dances by himself holding up traffic. A circle starts to appear around him and the rest is history. Thank goodness I have this on film! I couldn’t help myself I just couldn’t believe that he was dancing like he was!20130223-173447.jpgAnother wonderful end to the gorgeous day in Cartagena. I don’t think I could be more in love with the people and this city.