We spent many a frustrating hour trying to work out how to get from Panama to Colombia. Because of the prolific drug running that occurs through the area known as the 'Darian Gap' there is literally no overland route and travellers are left with two options. One: to sail through the idyllic San Blas Islands, or two: to fly. Obviously sailing through some tropical Caribbean islands is a much more desirable option, but when we were investigating we were unable to find a trip for less than $500 USD each. While the trips are for 4 days, and actually work out not too bad value for money when you consider it includes your accommodation and food, you also have to spend about $50 getting to the boat, and however much you think you may spend on alcohol during the voyage. If its anything like our Croatian sailing trip last year it adds up pretty quickly! While we did find one website offering students flights for $250 we were unable to fake our way into those so the average was about $350 each. Stupidly expensive considering it is a 1 hour flight! 

Since unfortunately we didn't have the extra couple of hundred dollars available for the boat trip, we sucked it up and bought our flights while we were in Granada. It was pretty frustrating then to arrive into Panama City and see not one, but two boats, advertised for less than our flights had cost us. Oh well, rainy season has set in so perhaps the voyage would be a bit miserable! Well, that's what we are going to keep telling ourselves anyway!

We were on the red-eye flight to Cartegena so arrived at the airport at stupid o'clock in the morning, only to be checked in by a lady who had obviously woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Colombia's immigration regulations say that a person arriving without an onward ticket 'could' (and could is the key word here) be refused entry. Now, we have flights booked out of Chile for the end of July and intend to bus our way from Colombia to Chile. Unfortunately South American bus companies aren't as technologically savvy as some in the western world so its not actually possible to buy a bus ticket on-line before you arrive in the country. We were prepared to take our chances and do battle with the Colombian officials if we needed to (as we had successfully done in Costa Rica), but mrs grumpy pants was having none of it, refusing to let us board the plane. In the end we had to fork out over $1000 USD for a return flight to Panama (thank god my credit card wasn't maxed out!) which she assured us will be refunded. What she forgot to tell us is that it may take 2 months and they wont refund their fees or the taxes. Freaking fantastic! So a word to any future visitors, fake an onward ticket! 
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In one of the plazas
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Outdoor dining
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Volcan Totoumo
After a smooth flight we landed in Colombia, and surprise surprise, the Colombian officials didn't even ask to see our onward travel information. We caught a local bus into town and despite getting a bit lost (seriously who has two streets with the same name only a couple of blocks apart from each other!) made it to our hostel. We had heard that there are a couple of cheap airlines within Colombia and so had planned to fly from Cartegena to Medellin, as it was cheaper than the bus, but despite trying 4 different eftpos/debit/credit cards we hadn't been able to book on-line. Juan, the lovely hostel owner, helped us to ring the airlines and book over the phone. Not as cheap as the on-line specials but still cheaper than the bus, and will save us a miserable 18 hours! We spent the afternoon exploring Boca Grande, the somewhat posh beach area of Cartegena, and enjoying delicious icecream to cool off as it was a humid 35 degrees. 

The following morning Juan booked us onto a tour to Volcan Tototumo, the mud volcanoe. Renowned for its health benefits, the 15m high volcanoe really looks a bit like a giant ant hill. Once you reach the top you climb down some stairs and lay back into the mud which apparently goes down 1300km. A little freaky if you think about it, but the mud is so dense it is impossible to sink!! Its the weirdest feeling! Ty was literally pushing down on my shoulders with all his strength and he got me down to my chin, but the second he let go, I popped back up to the surface. The company we went with works with a local indigenous community and there are guys in the crater who will give you massages for about the equivalent of $2 usd. Because the mud is so dense they can massage you on the front and back at the same time which is totally surreal. After a good soaking, you climb back out and head down to the lake where the local ladies proceed to wash you as if you are a child. While you think that its something you can certainly do yourself the mud is so so sticky that it really does take their aggressive washing style to remove it all, even if some of your dignity is removed at the same time. ha ha. We were then driven to a nearby beach for a delicious lunch before we were dropped back to the hostel. 
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Massage time!
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Mud monsters!
After chilling out for a bit we decided to walk into the old town, and despite it being much longer than the 15 minutes advertised on the hostel website, it was a nice walk along the waterfront. Cartegena's old town is very picturesque, with colonial spanish style buildings painted a variety of colours. Founded in 1533 it has been a major port over the years, particularly for the gold trade. We spent a lovely couple of hours wandering around soaking up the atmosphere and sitting in the many plazas people watching. 

Next stop: Medellin
 





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