Hiking and Filming in Colombia

On our way to Colombia by bus, we stopped a few times, and hiked across the border from Colombia to Panama in the Darién Gap.

We met in Colombia friends Bill and Betty whom we got to know when we were all living in Argentina in 2005—2006. We met Bill and Betty the last time in Cambodia in 2006, and it felt good to see them again. We talked incessantly, wandered in the markets, and exchanged tips for hot new releases in books and in TV shows.

Bill and Betty have the habit of escaping Minnesota winters and this year they had chosen to hibernate in Santa Marta, Colombia. Santa Marta is a popular and polished tourist city. It has a fair amount of beautiful colonial buildings and a nice stretch of beach, and the city is kept clean and safe. The presence of soldiers and policeman seemed a bit exaggerated to us: they were literally everywhere. The contrast to the local living areas was huge. When we stepped out of the old city, we found streets full of trash and houses that looked like they were collapsing any time.

It was a surprise to all four of us how expensive Colombia is. Food is pricier than in the US and in Europe; the cheapest accommodation we found was 20,000 Colombian pesos (US 11$, 9.6€) per night for two persons in a private room; a three-four hour bus ride cost us 20,000 Colombian pesos per person. It is clear that locals do not pay the same prices, at least when it comes to food—otherwise the nation would starve to death.

Of course there is variation in prices. Santa Marta and Cartagena which are jam-packed with American backpackers are the most expensive. When we stayed one week in a local environment in the city of Montería, we got much better value as there were no other foreigners around. Equally enjoyable was our stay in the remote Capurganá although the village lives from tourism. There they had enough competition and obviously too little customers. The place was very quiet. We were staying in a big cottage village with two other guests and had thus all the facilities, including a nice outdoor kitchen with a fireplace, at our disposal.

The highlight of our journey through Colombia was our hike from Colombia to Panama. Despite all beliefs and misinformation, the hike is easy and safe. We did not see any guerrillas nor drug smugglers around although on the Panamanian side we were forbidden to walk further from La Miel. According to the border guard, there might have been some bandits, or at least there has been suspicious activities at some point in the past. Probably the real reason was protecting the local businesses offering over-priced boat trips between coastal towns which were way more dangerous than walking in the jungle. It is hard to understand how otherwise safe jungle trail from Colombia to Panama would turn into a dangerous amok run for a short leg of some eight kilometres between the Panamanian villages of La Miel and Puerto Obaldía.

On the jungle trail we enjoyed numerous beautiful butterflies, flowers, spiders, and frogs. Santeri documented the whole trip and we will publish the film as soon as we get a decent Internet connection for uploading the huge video file. So long and thanks for all the frogs!


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