Cartagena Christmas Lights   1 comment

Colombians have an extraordinarily festive spirit and they love light displays. The Christmas lights here in Cartagena are the most beautiful I’ve seen and walking around the city enjoying them is a favorite part of this visit!

I met another interesting local yesterday – Felipe Castaneda – who has written several books on Cartagena. He seems to know the history of every building in the walled city, including houses owned by celebrities like Marlon Brando.

Today I head for the Rosario Islands – with lots of sunblock!

Posted December 21, 2014 by suemtravels in Colombia, South America

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas   Leave a comment

San Felipe De Barajas Castle3Cartagena’s incomparable San Felipe De Barajas Castle is the most important defensive complex built by Spanish military engineering in the New World. The massive defense complex is a mixture of tunnels, galleries, and uneven grounds and traps. It has an intricate system of communication and escape routes and an “ingenious weave of mines” designed to blow up if an enemy captured the fortress.San Felipe De Barajas Castle1

During the 16th century, Cartagena was Spain’s principle colonial port. Conquistadors returning to Spain sailed from the port of San Felipe De Barajas with their ships full of gold and other bounty. King Ferdinand commissioned construction of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas to defend his ships from pirates and English warships. “The castle took over 200 years and 245 tons of gold to build!” It’s designed to repel cannonballs by making them bounce off its exterior walls.

During the last few days here in Cartagena I’m enjoying the friendly, happy people and the spectacular night lights in the walled city’s squares. Incredible and tasteful Christmas light displays are everywhere! Last night I forgot my camera but will take photos tonight and post them. The Archipelago de las Islas del Rosario is also on the list to explore. It’s a 1.5 – 2 hour boat ride from Cartagena and the sun is very harsh. Since I got sunburned walking around, am waiting until it’s a little better.

Adiós por ahora!

Posted December 20, 2014 by suemtravels in Colombia

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La Popa Monastery Cartagena   Leave a comment

View from La Popa

Bocogrande and Castillogrande from La Popa

One of the best views of Cartagena and the surrounding archipelago is from La Popa Monastery perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking La Bahia de Cartagena. The word popa means “stern” in Spanish and it’s said the monastery resembles the stern of a boat from a distance. Sweeping views from La Popa include the Caribbean Sea, the Island of Tierrabomba, and the neighborhoods of Getsemani, La Matuna, Centro Historica, Bocogrande, and Castillogrande.

View La Popa

View from La Popa

There’s a sharp contrast between Spanish Colonial Cartagena with its distinct African influence and the newer modern areas of Bocogrande and Castillogrande. Even more contrast is apparent from the view on the back side of the monastery where one can see Cartagena’s extremely poor neighbors. I find the atmosphere and architecture in old Cartagena more appealing. The contrast between the old colonial buildings and the modern hotels and high-rise apartments in Bocogrande and Castillogrande is slightly unnerving.

Back View La Popa

Back View from La Popa

During the 17th century the town built a chapel on top of the hill for church members who helped clear and clean the area. The original chapel was a modest wooden structure with a small cabin next to it. The structure had a statue of the much revered Virgin of Candelaria who saved Cartagena from disease and pirates.

La Popa

La Popa

Later, an influential monk of of the Saint Augustine monastic order received a divine message to build a convent at the top of the nearest hill in Cartagena de Indias. The convent of Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria eventually replaced the modest wooden church.

The convent became a fortress during the independence and civil wars of the 19th century. In 1964 the Augustinian religious group restored the convent and today it’s one of the most visited places in Cartagena de Indias. I enjoyed touring the monastery. It was a hazy day but the views were still incredible!

Posted December 19, 2014 by suemtravels in Colombia

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Cartagena Street Art   2 comments

Old City Fruit Vendors

Old City Fruit Vendors

Yesterday was a long but interesting day. It began and ended with lots of walking and included a four-hour open bus tour around the city and peninsula. Our guide – Jairo – was knowledgeable and his love for Cartagena was clear but he spoke very fast and even with the loud bus speakers it was difficult understanding him.

There is much rich history here and I will need to do more research to gain a better understanding. Most of the other people on the bus were friendly Colombians on holiday. One of the other tourists was a young woman from Munich who spoke fluent Spanish but even she had trouble understanding the narrative. She’s leaving for Cali tomorrow and makes frequent trips to South America.

Another guest at my Bed & Breakfast – John – is from Canada and has traveled extensively throughout South America. He gave me some pointers and his descriptions of traveling through the high Andes were inspiring and definitely gave me something to look forward to!

Below are photos of some of the street art I saw during the outing yesterday. Still learning about the local artists and the symbolism of their work…. Cartagena is truly a lovely place! I’m acclimatizing slowly to the heat and humidity – life moves at a slower pace here.

Posted December 17, 2014 by suemtravels in Colombia

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The Walled City – Cartagena, Colombia   4 comments

After two painless flights I arrived in Cartagena yesterday and am in awe of its charm and beauty. The narrow cobbled streets are exactly what one would expect of a mysterious Caribbean city with a history of pirates and “many a tale of times past”! At night the streets come alive with dancing and activity. The street art is interesting with bronze sculptings in the parks and squares. I’ll take photos and share them in a blog.

Some of the major streets are being re-paved so navigating the city is a bit tricky but if you’re not in a hurry the chaos is fun. Last night I met some young people from London at an outdoor café near Trinidad Square where locals and tourists party until the early hours of the morning. They’re on an extended trip throughout South America and were good fun and entertaining. May meet up with them again on Wednesday for a tour of some of the small islands nearby. It’s been over a year since my last adventure through Turkey and Eastern Europe, so the opportunity to travel again and explore exotic South America is exciting!

Will enjoy the warm coastal climate here in Cartagena (80s and 90s) for at least a week. Nicknamed The Walled City, it’s also known as Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena of Indies) and Cartagena La Heroica (The Heroic). After Cartagena, I travel inland over the Andes to Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Then it’s southwest to the city of Cali on the banks of the Cauca River – the second largest river in Colombia. Cali is known as Colombia’s capital of fiestas, dancing, and salsa, so it seemed a natural for celebrating the New Year. Some side trips near Cali include Isla Gorgona, the colonial city of Popayan, and archaeological sites at Tierradentro and San Agustin.  In January it’s on to Quito, Ecuador, a city I visited briefly before en route to the Galápagos Islands. Quito es muy hermoso and I’m looking forward to exploring its secrets and spending leisurely time there.

My modest but cozy and private Cartagena accommodation is in the Getsemani Area. Getsemani is known as the bohemian neighborhood of Cartagena where locals outnumber tourists and “real life takes place in art-filled streets”. Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia’s Nobel Prize-winning author, set many of his novels in Cartagena. Re-reading Marquez’s novels after this trip will add richness to his stories.

Haven’t planned many details beyond these major points of interest in Colombia and Ecuador. After acclimatizing and learning to navigate new territory, there will be many interesting side trips. I’m visiting South American countries that don’t require entry visas for US citizens. The ambitious itinerary includes Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and Venezuela – it sounds like so much and hoping I’m up to the task!

Beyond the no-visa limits in each country, there isn’t a timeline for lingering. With so many captivating places to visit, the choices are difficult! I’m happy and feeling fortunate for this special time in Colombia learning about its history and culture and enjoying the warm climate, friendly people, and magnificent scenery. Espero que mi español básico mejorará a medida que el viaje avanza!

Adiós, más tarde!

Posted December 16, 2014 by suemtravels in Colombia

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Eastern Oregon Hiking   1 comment

Strawberry Mountain

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily

“The terrain in Eastern Oregon is completely different from Oregon west of the Cascade Mountains. Words used to describe it are desert, cattle ranches, wheat ranches, pine forests, wilderness, remote, sparsely populated to unpopulated, and in parts extremely rugged. You can drive for miles in some areas and not see another car, human being, or house.”

Wallowa Mountains

Wallowa Mountains

The description above is appropriate for Eastern Oregon where I recently spent time hiking, enjoying the scenery, and visiting friendly communities along the way. Mountain ranges in the area include the Elkhorn, Strawberry, Wallowa, and Blue Mountains. The area is popular with hikers, backpackers, cyclists, campers, and fishermen. The scenery has rich history and abundant wildlife and vegetation. My favorite – mountain lakes, streams, and waterfalls – are nature’s special jewels.

Strawberry Falls

Strawberry Falls

Strawberry Lake

Strawberry Lake

Eastern Oregon covers almost 40 percent of the State. Tourists enjoy big skies and unspoiled natural beauty in a peaceful environment which produces a never-ending feast for the eyes. Wildflowers include Buttercups, Mariposa Lily, Shooting Star, Indian Paint Brush, and Yarrow. Wild berries, including Huckleberry, Gooseberry, and Thimble Berry, are abundant.

Meadow Near Enterprise

Meadow Near Enterprise

Wallowa Butterfly

Wallowa Copper Butterfly

Obsidian Summer Camp was about a 300 mile drive and we passed through Bend, Prineville, Mitchell, Dayville, and John Day. This year camp was at Logan Valley in the Malheur National Forest which is part of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. We took our time on the way stopping for lunch in Bend, visiting the colorful John Day Fossil Beds, and hiking trails of the spectacular Painted Hills.

Painted Hills

Painted Hills

The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness supports a native population of elk, mule deer, antelope, black bear, sheep, coyotes, cougar, pine marten, beaver, and other wildlife. Almost 400 kinds of birds are found there, including ruffed and blue grouse, woodpeckers, nutcrackers, eagles, hawks, and many more. August isn’t an ideal month for bird watching but the birders in our group spotted many birds and butterflies.

Hikers on the higher more strenuous hikes saw mountain sheep and goats. Curious California Big Horns surrounded one hiking group when they stopped to eat their lunch. The close-and-personal encounter delighted them and is a rare experience! One hiker saw a bear and many spotted deer, coyote, marmots, and chipmunks.

Hiker's Break

Hikers Taking a Break

Desert Landscape

High Desert Landscape

Lostine Corridor Creek

Lostine Corridor Creek

The weather was warm but pleasant with afternoon thunderstorms often accompanied by lightning. The days began with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. followed by hikes of varying difficulty. Accessing some of the remote trail heads involved driving on rugged mountain back roads. Because of the heat and altitude, I picked moderate hikes of around 6 – 7 miles. My favorite was to Strawberry Lake and Falls – both breathtakingly!

Indian Paint Brush

Indian Paint Brush

Several of us spent a day exploring nearby towns and historical sites like the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day. Most evenings we sat around a large campfire and listened to reports summarizing hikes completed that day. The gatherings included lots of laughter, making s’mores, and sharing incredible sunsets followed by clear skies and moonlight.

We just missed the phenomenal super moon that appeared on August 10th. According to astronomers it was the second of three consecutive super moons this summer. The first was on July 12 and the final show will be September 9.  Super moons appear bigger and brighter and take place when the moon becomes full at the same time it’s closest to us in its orbit around Earth. A big, clear mountain sky is one of the best places to admire the moon.


Wild Yarrow

After summer camp some of us continued on to the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness area near the Idaho border. We passed through small towns including Prairie City, Baker City, Joseph, Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa. The Wallowa tramway lifted us to the summit where we hiked the rim admiring Wallowa Lake and magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.

We missed the Wallowa County Fair in Enterprise and the Joseph Blues & Brews Festival but enjoyed outdoor markets and several live performances in local parks, restaurants, and pubs. Terminal Gravity Brewery & Pub in Enterprise is fantastic. During summer their outside seating in a grove of Aspen trees is a wonderful euphoric atmosphere.

From Wallowa Tramway

View from Wallowa Tramway

Monument Rock

Hikers Posing at Monument Rock

Active wildfires in the area were the only negative aspect of the trip. We planned to visit Imnaha and Hat Point in Hell’s Canyon overlooking the Snake River but wildfire danger forced the Oregon Forest Service (FS) to close access to the area. A river hike in the Strawberry Wilderness and one outside Wallowa were also diverted when the FS closed several hiking trails and roads leading to trail heads. On the bright side, the smoky skies created extremely colorful, dramatic sunrises and sunsets!

Posted August 10, 2014 by suemtravels in Oregon USA

Travel Theme: Blossom   2 comments

sculptureproteakirstenbosch2OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I think of flowers and blossoms Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens come to mind. The gardens are on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and they celebrate South African flora and fauna.kirstenbosch-flower

male-silver-tree-floretWalkways and streams lead you by colorful indigenous plants and exotic birds – pure heaven. You can stroll through the gardens, take a longer more strenuous hike to the upper slopes, or picnic in a sunny meadow.

kirstenbosch-flower3proteakirstenbosch-botanical_gardens4A challenging route through the gardens to the summit of Table Mountain is via a hiking trail up a ravine called Skeleton Gorge. There are many beautiful flowers to admire along the way!

Posted May 17, 2014 by suemtravels in South Africa


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