Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Covenas, the San Bernardo Islands and a cocaine haul

We left Medellin at 5am. We knew it was a really long drive, so we understood the reason for the early start, but still, 5am! And if that wasn't quite bad enough, because the hostel here is the only place since Buenos Aires that I have had a hairdryer, or am likely to again until Christmas, I couldn't bring myself to pass up the chance to wash and dry my hair before we left, so had to get up at 4:15.  If it hadn't been that the next days were camping in hot weather, which generally means bad sleep, we might not have bothered going to bed at all.

cloud filled valleys
So we set off on our fifteen hour journey to the Caribbean coast and the hot weather.  It was already getting rather warm when we stopped for breakfast at 8:30.  The scenery always looks good on our long drives, but the most beautiful part of this journey was as we were high in the mountains looking down on valleys full of white clouds.  It looked spectacular, but as usual our photos don't do it justice.

We arrived at Covenas at about 8pm, by which time it was dark.  After a bit of an effort to get Cindy through the gate and parked up, we started setting up the tents.  It was just as well that our three older ladies decided to upgrade to a room, as there was only just space on the 'grass' for the tents we did put up.  Otherwise the camping area was gravel which would have been most uncomfortable.

None of us were impressed with the campsite.  The camping area that we were in looked like it was usually the carpark, and the gravel area at the front is clearly the gardens.  The only shower is a beach style shower - cold water out in the garden, and the one and only toilet didn't flush at all and had huge cockroaches threatening to land on you.  We resolved the toilet issue by demanding they opened up an empty room for us to use the toilet in there, but we were far from happy campers.  The food they served us took forever and whilst OK, was definitely overpriced, and their general attitude was poor.  They didn't even have any cold beers.  Those in the rooms weren't too impressed either.

In the morning, Izzie suggested that if she could confirm rooms could be available, we might want to do a late drive to Cartagena that evening, rather than stay here another night. The agreement was unanimous and enthusiastic.  I gather Dragoman won't be using that place again.

fishermen at Tolu


With hope of a better night ahead of us, we got on our bus to Tolu, where we were to pick up a boat to the San Bernardo Islands.  We loitered for a bit while they got themselves sorted out South American style - i.e. slowly and with some confusion, and then got on the twin engine speed boat.  Some of us got a bit wet on the journey out, but only a little and it was a good trip.  We paused briefly at the first island so that we could see people fishing and see the homes dotted around.  We pulled up at the second for two extra passengers to get off as they were staying there for a couple of nights.  It looked a nice place to spend a day chilling out in a sunlounger with a cocktail, but we weren't getting off there.  We hovered near the dolphin pool for a few minutes watching them swim around, before moving onto an 'ecological park' where we got off for a visit.
'snorkelling' for turtles

Well what can I say?  It felt like an old closed down theme park.  We followed a pathway through the edge of some mangroves, stopping off to see the various 'sights' along the way.  The first was a sectioned off seapool that had turtles in it.  Some of us just about managed to catch sight of it in the murky waters, but only just.  one of the ladies in our group is a keen diver and had brought her snorkelling gear along.  We watched with some amusement as she put on the goggles and snorkel, knelt on the edge and put her head in the water.  Don't think she saw much even then.

Next we stopped at a few animal enclosures.  There was a water buffalo, a couple of possums, and a few monkeys and birds.  The enclosures weren't great, but not terrible either.  As we neared the next stop, we started to see plastic skulls hanging in the trees.  We were led into what was described as a marine museum, but can only be described as a collection of nautical related junk.  There were some decrepid old diving suits, bits of ships and models of ships etc, in a large covered shelter.  It looked like it had been abandoned years ago.
wierd tableaux

We then had the obligatory stop at a 'bar' where we could buy an expensive beer, before the final attraction.  We were led into a tunnel, and very dark tunnel, which had pools of water on the floor so we all got wet feet.  Every so often there was an alcove in the wall with some kind of generally quite disturbing looking pirate scene!  Eventually we came out into an open space with a very murky looking aquarium in it.  You could see the fish that were close to the glass, but not much else.  Then mercifully we reached the end of this little tour.

We were all quite relieved to be back on the boat again.  This was definitely one of those places that was just so bad that it was good.  It was farcical, and had absolutely nothing to recommend it, but we found it hilarious.

Tintipan beach

The next stop was the island of Tinitipan, where we waded off the boat and had three hours and lunch on a caribbean beach that we had to ourselves.  I was quite happy lying in a hammock under a coconut tree, sipping a coco loco out of a coconut!

On the way back we made a delivery of some tamales (at least we thought it was tamales, but given what we found out later we may have been wrong) to another island.  This one was far from idyllic.  Every available space was covered with run down huts and houses.  It reminded me of that film Waterworld.  This was certainly not intended to be a tourist destination.
very crowded island

The journey back was done at speed and for those of us at the front was pretty bumpy as we hit the large waves head on and dropped over the crests.  For those at the back, especially on the right of the boat, it was very wet. Very, very wet.  But at the end, we all got wet anyway, as we had to get off some distance from the shore in water up to our thighs, and wade our way to land.  We suspect that our bus driver knew this would happen, as instead of the little coach that we had on the way there, we had a minivan with plastic seats on the way back.

Back at the campsite there was good news.  We were striking camp and going to Cartagena.

The next day, we saw a newspaper article that showed that, on the day we were there, there had been a police raid on Tintipan island that had seized 936 kilos of cocaine, worth around $23 million.  So maybe they weren't tamales that our guide dropped off after all?

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