Under The Southern Cross

From top middle to bottom right – the new decoration on the wall of our front room

Since the first new year post was written in a dark, deserted Ghanaian beach bar in 2015, each one has looked to reflect on how much ground has been covered in the previous 12 months.

Sometimes there has been plenty of movement in terms of travel mileage, other times the change has come in life without actually going anywhere.

And during Covid, it seemed like nothing had happened yet everything had changed. All while going absolutely nowhere.

But doubt if any year will match 2023 for the amount of ground covered, both in terms of distance and changes in my life.

All, oddly, while feeling as stable and grounded as my life has done in a long time.

Not that things have not changed – a lot.

The Barron River Falls en route to Kuranda. Try Googling them to see what they looked like a few weeks ago

Last year’s post was written in my flat in Gloucester in the middle of a British winter. This one comes from our spare room/office in Canberra in shorts and flip-flops with the sun shining and a forecast of temperatures topping 30C tomorrow.

That does not tell the full story. It was lashing down here yesterday and, rather like places at home and the River Severn across the other side of the Docks basin from that Gloucester flat, flooding has been the major weather news in parts of Australia.

Thankfully not here, although the mix of sun and storms appears to be the perfect conditions for our deranged pumpkin plant to take over the garden. Although not necessarily grow any pumpkins.

When that new year post was written, an email confirming my Australian visa had not longed popped into my inbox, Lisa had headed home alone for the final time and the to-do list to packing up my life in the UK and moving to the other side of the world had begun.

And that is what bought a sense of stability. A feeling of certainty.

For several of these new year, state-of-the-nation posts, a common theme has been one of uncertainty, a perpetual state of limbo and – unlike that pumpkin plant – an inability to put down too many roots.

First it was because of more travel looming on the horizon, then not knowing how long we would have to wait for the world to open up again after Covid as we carried out a long-distance relationship constrained by the size of a screen and quality of a video call.

Then, amid a mountain of paperwork, there was the wait for the visa.

Not in Gloucester now, Toto

That mountain had to be scaled again in recent months for the post-wedding next step to making the visa permanent and it is reaching the point where every email brings a frisson of excitement that the latest wait might be over (ahead of another application to enable leaving/re-entering the country to return home for a family wedding if the latest update does not arrive in time).

But, to all intents and purposes, there is some certainty about my life.

Probably more than there has been since that decision over a few drinks to first quit my job to go travelling. Possibly further back than a couple of personal events which may well have played a part in that decision.

Had no idea where that would lead – well, New York initially, given that was the eventual destination of that first trip – but pretty sure getting married and living in Australia was never one of the possible outcomes.

But 12 months on from drawing up that to-do list to move, here we are.

The flat was packed up, its contents shipped Down Under, raided by family (my stereo headed off to a good home) or collected by a charity shop.

My life in the UK wrapped up, bar a couple of financial issues kept alive for convenience, the door shut behind me and my first step on Aussie soil – country number 68 – was to start unwrapping a new one.

The biggest concern was getting a job, but the sharp eyes of a friend spotted the perfect vacancy and a little more than a week before getting on the plane, that one was ticked off and PA Media had a British member of its overnight Australian team.

A less reliable member of the PA Australia team

Having travelled all that way, have had more bylines over the last few months in some titles than in much of the time they actually employed me.

So ensconced in a new job and new home (another thing which, thankfully, was waiting for me – complete with cat, who only hid under the sofa for the first couple of hours), much of the year has been about settling into a new life in a new country.

Will mine that topic for some future posts but it is not all that different. Take away the odd kangaroo and some very odd mullets. In this neck of the woods they even serve pints – at least if you ask them to.

And that is pretty much my year. Bar two things which go hand in hand – the person who was the reason for the move in the first place (who reckons she is the star of this blog) and our wedding.

The big day itself is covered elsewhere, coming not before the honeymoon but in the middle as we opted to maintain our record of keeping things non traditional.

The trip provided – a weekend in Sydney that featured a reunion from that original London to New York trip apart – my first real chance to explore some of Australia outside the ACT (albeit we are just over the border, which runs along the end of the road, where they do not serve pints) as we headed north into Queensland. Some of the bits which really have been flooded in recent weeks.

A rare moment when there was only one of them perched on me in Kuranda

A few days in Brisbane were highlighted by a trip to see England’s women play Nigeria – and become part of a select few who have seen an England team win a World Cup penalty shootout – and the post-match dash to find a hint of space in a bar to watch Australia.

A short (ish) flight – by their standards – took us up to Cairns with day trips around the waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands and, via a small train and cable car return above the trees, to the small town of Kuranda and a run-in with some birds.

Apparently they took a liking to me as a perch. Thankfully, the larger animals next door did not feel the same way.

Clicking into wedding mode (which both of us attempted to avoid as much as possible), a boat whisked us off to Fitzroy Island for a few days – not managing to do the same with the flowers, photographer and celebrant as a breakdown delayed the ceremony.

The locals can be a bit shy

But, bar that, it all went smoothly and well into the evening at a meal overlooking the ocean.

Our first act as a married couple was… behave… to relax on the island before heading further north to Port Douglas and more exploration of the Danetree area and a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling and even a quick submersible ride around the coral.

One of us is much more at home in the water – and the tropical temperatures of the far north – than the other.

That was 2023. Emigrating, new life and a wedding. Huge changes, but a sense of belonging and stability.

The next 12 months look quieter, but that continued stability suits me fine. There’s the standard plans – lose weight, get fit, write here more regularly – plus a trip back to the UK/France and a desire to see some more of my new home (there’s wineries around here need exploring).

And that all sounds fine to me.

Sunset from Fitzroy Island
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John, I’m Only Dancing to Juxtapozed With U

Traditionally, a new year brings two blog posts, but 2023 has been a bit different and one event warrants a post of its own. In keeping with tradition, the other two posts will follow – and be later than planned.

Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably (or as comfortably as those of us of a certain age can manage)? Then we will begin.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl from Australia. Little in stature, not age. Otherwise this story could get a bit creepy.

Bitten by the travel bug but caught in a work maelstrom, she dreamed of heading off on overland travels and a return to Africa.

Finding a spare few moments at work on her birthday in Canberra, she started googling overland travel companies and the big yellow trucks of Oasis Overland caught her eye.

Digging deeper into trip reviews, she spent time reading a blog of the Trans Africa journey around the continent written by an English bloke. And wondering exactly why it had a picture of a marmot (well, probably, let’s just roll with this for dramatic effect).

A few years passed and, after saving up her Monopoly money – sorry, Aussie dollars – our heroine (oh Lord, that one will come back to haunt me) finally booked a spot on one of the big yellow trucks. Not in Africa, but to pastures new in South America.

As she and her future travelling companions prepared for the trip, emails started to fly, a Facebook group was set up and one of those posting started to look familiar – the African blogger was chipping in on truck life ahead of adding a new continent to his travels.

And, as she sat in a Quito cafe the day before everyone was due to meet up at the start of the trip, the English blogger posted a (not so) fresh-off-the-plane picture with the view from his hostel terrace across the part of the old town she was exploring.

She was unable to work out where our clearly jetlagged romantic lead (hey, if she can be the heroine) was posting from, but as the travellers assembled at the pre-trip meeting the next evening, she recognised the English guy listening patiently to a monologue from a bearded American.

Not sure the two spoke much to each other that first night. Or even until he jumped in on the back of her haggling to grab the same rug (both lost somewhere in Brazil) at a market in Otavalo.

They definitely did speak during a freestyle game of Jenga in a bar and, over the coming weeks, began to chat more and more, spending an increasing amount of time together. Pretty much from the moment they were cursed by a random busker in Lima.

To cut a long story short – via becoming a couple in Argentina, being forced apart by the premature end of the trip in Colombia, daily video calls across the globe in lockdown, a couple of visits to wintry England and the quest for a visa – our heroine welcomed her Prince Charming (yeah, OK, that might be pushing it a bit) to Australia.

And on August 14, 2023, on an island off the coast of Queensland, the travel tale written by a single bloke from Gloucester officially became a two-handed affair with the girl from the beaches north of Sydney who had first stumbled across his ramblings several years earlier.

And somehow still agreed to marry him.

It was not a big wedding – the elopement package at Fitzroy Island giving a clue to the plan – in the middle of a two-week exploration of Queensland, but in a secluded garden (if you forget about the overlooking hotel balconies) overlooking a beach, the story which started with tales of Africa and took root in the wilderness, cities, beaches and jungles of South America had its happy ending.

Well, at least this chapter. There’s plenty more to be written yet.

And, keeping with a romance which first linked its romantic heroes via this blog (in which the bride has long considered herself to be the star), there was even a link to the A-Z iPod blog – which makes it a lot easier to shoehorn into this tale, even if it briefly threatened to derail the whole musical journey.

Having mopped up the remaining J songs – the shortest letter yet at 233, although not for long – from David Bowie to the groom’s former Cardiff neighbours the Super Furry Animals, the alphabetical trek had reached track 7,311 out of 15,960 (for now).

The latest section saw us through more Johns, Johnny and Jonny, Jonathan, Jolene, Jorge, Joy (with oven gloves and in Leeuwarden with a couple of Half Man Half Biscuit outings), Julie (working for the drug squad) and a fairly lengthy list of Justs – Radiohead, Feeder (Just A Day), REM (two versions of the glorious Just A Touch) and Jesus & Mary Chain (the equally glorious Just Like Honey, twice) – before the wonderfully bonkers clash of cultures which is The KLF’s Justified and Ancient.

Which is not a comment on the groom’s age.

And for a while, that looked like it might be it for the iPod – a key component of the A-Z.

Dragooned into action to supply the music throughout the ceremony – downloaded at the last minute after a failure to agree on anything – it was hidden in the groom’s back pocket with his phone to avoid an unsightly bulge in the wedding photographs.

One of the pictures which almost ended the A-Z trip through my iPod

Which would have been fine, if some of the photos had not involved the happy couple sitting on some rocks on the beach.

Thankfully, the spider web of cracks on the screen does not have much impact on its use – more thankfully, the fairly new and rather more expensive phone was unharmed – and the big day did not claim a casualty.

Tradition in these blog posts dictates several videos or links being posted to songs from the latest section, but if we cannot break the rules on this post, when can we?

So let us sign off with a song which should rightly feature in the next post catching up on new additions from A-J, but one which means a lot to us – the bride was given a crash course in some of the finest British television over her trips up north, developing a couple of obsessions with plans to escape to the country and live in a big house full of friendly ghosts.

This formed one of the songs on the playlist for the wedding, as we signed our lives over to each other.

And the words seem to fit. As long as you don’t dig too deeply.

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Goodbye Yellow Truck Road

This post was written in response to the sad news that the overland travel company Oasis Overland had ceased trading. It became one of this site’s most popular articles, so for those stumbling across it, felt it needed updating with the much happier news that Oasis has been rescued and is back on the road. Happy travelling.

Nala’s Trans Africa tale

A year ago today, caught my last sight of a big, yellow overland truck as we boarded the replacement ferry over the river from Suriname to Guyana it had narrowly failed to fit on.

A reunion was delayed by red tape, missing paperwork and, eventually, by our forced retreat from Colombia as borders shut and the world shrank with the spread of coronavirus.

But for the last 12 months, there has always been the belief the big yellow truck was out there waiting to open up new horizons when we eventually emerge blinking into the light when travel is not a dirty word.

And then came this week’s news that Oasis Overland, the small company which operates the yellow trucks, had ceased trading.

Final farewell to Spongebob

All of a sudden, that exciting world waiting out there for us when we are able to get out in it again got a whole lot smaller.

The news of Oasis’ demise was met with dismay and no end of shared memories from former passengers and staff on social media – it may not be the best known company in the world, but those in the know will really miss it.

To understand why is to  understand the aspects of these trips which are hard to explain when people ask about what makes an overland adventure on a big yellow truck.

Overlanding: The Things They Don’t Tell You

Have tried to do that elsewhere on this blog – and there is plenty more on the list of pieces to write – but here goes.

My two Oasis trips total more than a year when the answer in the address box on a visa form could easily have been “a big yellow truck” – 10 months on Nala around Africa from north to south and back again, followed by six months on Spongebob in a (sadly uncompleted) circle of South America.

Along the way, both trips took in extraordinary sights and experiences which feature highly on any travel bucket list – trekking to see gorillas, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Serengeti, New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach, journeying up the Nile, the Uyuni Salt Flats, some of the world’s great cities and so much more.

You will find plenty about those in travel guides. They are on the highlights list for the trip that persuade people to sign up in the first place.

And they are all great – an hour spent with gorillas is one of the greatest experiences of my life, likewise rather longer trekking to Machu Picchu.

Even if we could not see much of it through the mist and rain when we got there.

But suspect the reason people feel so strongly about their Oasis experience runs rather deeper than that – it is not the big-ticket items, it is the imponderables, those moments you share with your truck family which elevate the whole experience.

They might be small moments, the stories behind the pictures, but they add up to something special that makes me – and many others – itching to get back for more.

While trying to forget the itching from insect bites.

Travel is not so much about the destination but the getting there. Nowhere is that truer than life on a big yellow truck (and it is always a truck, never a bus – unless putting that on a form makes life easier).

There is some truth in that joke about putting the truck as your address. These trips, certainly the longer adventures, are not holidays. They do become your life, your home.

Even provided an emergency bed when we found ourselves locked out of the hostel at the end of the world.

And the people you share those days, weeks, months, miles, campsites, bush camps, cook groups, nights out, border crossings and back of the truck with become as important as those travel highlights. Even digging the truck out of whatever it is stuck in.

A Day In The Life On A Big Yellow Truck

One of the high points of South America was a reunion in Buenos Aires with a friend who shared those 10 months in Africa for the first time in five years. It was an instant reconnection.

At rough count, have travelled with about 40-plus people on those trips and would happily meet up and share a few beers, rum and cokes or caipirinhas with pretty much all of them.

Couple of honourable exceptions, but even one of them might be fun to see how much effort they put in to avoiding talking, or even making eye contact, with me.

Mind you, at the moment would be delighted to have a drink with pretty much anybody.

While such a drink or travel is off the agenda, spend much of each day surrounded by the same four brick walls.

Given the huge distances covered, overland travel can mean equally long hours surrounded by the four sides of the truck. Often while hot, sweaty, dusty and sharing the space with a number of other people with equally limited access to a shower.

The Overlanding Cookbook

But rather than being restrictive (or even that smelly – you are, after all, in the same boat), those days on the truck always offered a window and access to a wider world full of anticipation about what view is round the next corner or what lies in wait at the next destination.

Be that a Patagonian wilderness, west African dirt road, Brazilian beach, Sudanese desert – all of which provided scenery, destination and camp for the night – or a small village or settlement keen to welcome us with open arms. Or the odd rock.

News of Oasis closure has obscured that view, blocked those horizons.

Thoughts are with the staff and crew – several of whom have become good friends – and the countless guides, local operators and fixers along the way who all help to make the adventure and depend on travellers to make a living.

One day, when this pandemic is over and the world is open again, we may see the yellow trucks or something similar back on the road.

Into The Wild Camping

Until then, we can dream about more amazing overland adventures – and those remaining five weeks we were forced to miss in Colombia and Ecuador, plus a Trans Africa return and the Silk Road adventure were very high on the list – and reflect on the memories of those life-changing journeys.

And life changing is not pushing it too far – even without the yellow trucks, my horizons are far broader than they were before first stepping on Nala six-and-a-bit years ago. Even in lockdown.

Have made friends for life, seen places and experienced things which seemed to be out of reach, have countless tales to tell, learned a lot about myself (despite being well past 40 before starting this obsession), challenged my physical capabilities and my own conceptions of them.

And fell in love.

So for all that and so much more, thank you Oasis.

If this is the end of the road, it has been an amazing journey – there is just an awful lot more miles left to go.

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In The Shadow Of A Virus

Considering how little happened on a day-to-day basis for much of the year, it is amazing how different my life is from 12 months ago.

So sitting down for the Travel Marmot’s annual new year post, how do you reflect on the year everything and nothing happened all at the same time?

A year ago, it was written sat on a Rio hotel bed which was full of large chunks of Copacabana Beach, brought home from the previous night’s celebrations shared with about 2.9 million others.

New Year’s Eve last year

This year, it is being tapped out at my desk after seeing in two new years at opposite sides of the globe on video calls.

Apart from the number of people sharing my new year, the shift to sitting at that desk represents a large chunk of the last 12 months and reflects a life which has altered for all of us – the rapid shrinking of our worls.

Writing that piece in Rio, the horizon was a long way off.

In The Shadow Of Christ

The next few months featured plenty to look forward to – lots more of Brazil, a stretch across the north of South America through French Guyana, Suriname and Guyana, a brief return to Brazil and into Colombia before…

The view this new year

Well, before it all changed for all of us and those horizons on a daily basis stretched no further than the four walls which enclose my front room, office, kitchen and the majority of my life.

There was a while there, between our retreat from Colombia and moving into my flat as lettings opened up, when the walls were different and at least came with the advantage of a garden as my sister and her family gave me refuge.

Imperfect Circle

Lockdown – tier four, to be honest, has not made a huge difference in many ways to my life – has not been that tough in many ways.

Am quite content to spend a lot of time in my own company and with my own thoughts.

And never been one for much non-essential shopping, although popping down the pub would be nice.

It has not done much for my waistline and fitness, which had both improved hugely in the previous 18 months or so, but that gives me something to focus on in 2021 – starting with a challenge to walk 1,000 miles in the year.

Two down, 998 to go.

Above all other considerations, have been luckier than many others when it comes to friends and relatives being hit hard by the virus.

Long may that continue.

Am thankful my return home came just in time to find a job before all those unearthed by a search for journalism vacancies pretty much vanished and redundancies created more people hunting for exactly the same thing.

Maybe our welcome to Cartagena airport was trying to tell us something

It has meant changes beyond working from home, the ability to watch Homes Under The Hammer, listen to music and make a cup of tea without getting involved in a round (although those who have shared an office with me will know how rare an occurrence that was).

Have not worked solely as a reporter and interviewer since my first few weeks in journalism – a career which, gulp, have realised has entered its fourth decade.

The move to production – designing, subbing, planning and doing whatever was needed to get a newspaper out – came almost by accident weeks into that first job and increasingly took over before becoming complete around 10 years into that journey.

Thankfully, the last 10 years has increasingly involved a lot of subbing business copy which means writing about it for the last nine months did not come as a total shock to the system.

Subbing those pages – largely written by two people who did my current job before me – provided an insight into a whole new language and world (although have played the “there are no stupid questions” card a fair few times).

Have still had to learn a whole new vocabulary to deal with covering the events of the coronavirus – and that’s just trying to make sense of government announcements in the short time between when they are usually made and our daily deadlines.

Not always the easiest job when you consider who is talking.

It has all created a daily routine – shower, hunt for stories, the obligatory morning Zoom meeting, breakfast, writing, lunch, more writing, a walk for both exercise and change of scenery, food, laptop and, at some point, the major move of the day which covers all of a yard or two from desk to sofa.

And somewhere in that evening is one more daily fixture we have already touched upon.

Exactly when depends on the time gap with Australia, but those video calls across the globe are not just for new year.

That new year missive from Rio ended with news of me finding somebody who had agreed to explore those horizons with me (and was largely responsible for bringing great chunks of Copacabana back, whatever she might say).

And that, via those daily calls, has helped expand my world beyond these four walls, given me something to look forward to, someone to talk to, confide n and laugh with (something not to be taken lightly) and reason to keep looking forward.

The inability to do exactly that, make plans and have something inked in to the calendar to look forward has been – beyond the inability to do things we used to take for granted – the most frustrating aspect of our enforced pressing of the pause button.

The sun sets on our South America adventure

Conversations with friends, which have been at a premium, have invariably touched on our long-term plans without any answer beyond a resigned shrug (which works a lot better on Zoom than on the phone).

We have come up with a very long travel list – pretty much anywhere either of us has seen on TV, read about or the other has been to and we want to explore – on top of heading back to complete that missing chunk of the South American circle from Cartagena back to Quito.

But topping that list, depending on which of us you speak to, are Australia and the UK. Short trips to start with, probably, but after that…

It is impossible to plan beyond that. Even moving between Sydney and Canberra, let alone from the UK, involves two weeks of isolation at the moment while the prospect of flying from Australia – where an outbreak of 20-plus cases sparks local lockdowns – to visit here is hardly enticing.

Our next task is to look into the process of either us making the switch so we are ready to go when things return to some form of normality.

Who knows whether that will come before or after the next new year post.

Until then, there is always video calling.

 

 

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The Unravelling

Cartagena’s old town at night

EVERYONE who expressed an opinion – or knew where it was – assured us Cartagena would be a trip highlight, a jewel in the Colombian crown they were confident would shine brightly among South America’s other treasures.

And they may be right, what we saw was fun, striking, memorable… it’s just that Cartagena will always come with an asterisk. A what if. An if only.

Memories of Cartagena will always be clouded by the fact it is where our trip came to an abrupt, premature end as the real world reached out and dragged us back in from our six-month suspension of normal life.

Not that what we returned to can be classed as normal.

No idea this was going to be one of the final days exploring

Hopefully, as time draws by, the memories of iguanas and sloths in a city park, colourful adornments to narrow streets lined with art, old city walls and a bustling nightlife we met head on will take prominence.

But two weeks since being forced to return from Colombia by the looming spectre of coronavirus, the abiding memories of our time in the historic city remains a trip cut short, hurried goodbyes and a homecoming to a life which is not as familiar and comfortable as it should be.

Only two weeks, but it seems somehow longer, lengthened by forced confinement which contrasts so markedly with the sense of freedom and steady flow of memories and experiences which have characterised the last six months.

The sense of disconnect – both from the life we left behind in South America and the one we expected to be returning to – is palpable.

Umbrella street

Wrote before about “having landed back in a familiar world which all seems a bit out of focus” and that remains true.

Recognise what is around me, it is all just a bit fuzzy round the edges. Like trying to function when ill, everything just seems a bit muted, slightly distant, a touch out of sync.

All a far contrast from the vibrant colour and life of Cartagena which deserves better than being remembered merely as the place it all came to an end. It is too good for that.

What is not to like about a city where you can spot sloths in the park near our hotel, wander down lanes under canopies of multi-coloured umbrellas, flags or plants, watch the sun set over the Caribbean Sea while raising an overpriced cocktail on the city walls or watch a man in ridiculously tight yellow trousers salsa on the street while you eat a pizza?

It does not, apparently, have an escape room, unlike its namesake in Spain. Just in case you are browsing the web and booking things to do in either city.

Not that we had any thoughts of escaping when we flew in from Leticia via a quick layover at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport – a place where most of would spend too much time just a few days later.

Having made it to the hotel via an adrenaline-fuelled taxi ride, my first meaningful act was to climb in another taxi. And out again when it became apparent he was going nowhere in a hurry, opting for one that was – especially when the driver took the blue lights behind him as the signal to start racing the emergency vehicle.

Our destination was a bit of pampering, once we had found an alternative for the closed initial barbers, for what was always intended to be my last haircut and full shave of the trip.

Got that one right.

Freshly trimmed, headed out for a first outing into the lanes of the Getsemani and an alfresco pizza while entertained – or otherwise – by our colourfully dressed salsa dancer and assorted musicians.

The hat looks better on Lisa. Just wish we had got some more use out of it

All a pleasant, quiet enough prelude for a long, busy, fun day and night that has taken on extra significance with what happened in the following 24 hours – told you it was impossible to distance Cartagena with what it came to represent.

First stop on our day of exploring was the nearby Parque del Centenario spotting the iguanas which call it home. Not that difficult, they are huge.

Next up was the old town where the task was simple, wander the narrow streets, squares and city walls while trying to retain some sense of where we were – a handy trick when we headed back in the late afternoon for cocktails watching the sun go down.

The first signs of what was to follow kept us from our planned destination, new local rules limiting capacity in bars forcing us to find a less congested, slightly cheaper (only slightly and still overpriced) option further along the wall.

After that it is a bit hazy. There was street food, happy hour drinks which lasted rather longer than an hour and a club which involved dancing, trying to track down the drinks we were due with our entrance fee and painting on the wall.

A fitting final blowout if we had any idea that was what it would become.

But by the time the sun rose on Sunday in Cartagena, it was to news of border closures in neighbouring Ecuador (our final destination) and cancelled onward trips, but with our trip to the beach the following day booked, it was another morning exploring the considerable charms of the old town and Getsamani.

First on foot, via a return to the park and more iguanas (this time up trees), monkeys and the sloths we had not fully believed were actually there, then by bike – my first time on two wheels for several years.

Thankfully, it is just like riding a bike and the guided tour provided a fun, informative look at the areas we had been wandering around.

We were all smiles when we returned to our hotel – at least those who made it back.

It cost enough, taking a picture of it

A couple only got as far as the nearby hostel bar which became the breaking news centre throughout the evening as the rest of us dropped in as we passed to discover the latest restrictions, courtesy of Danny and his chats with the hostel owner.

As we headed out for food, restrictions were being tightened and our Playa Blanca trip was off. By the time we headed back, those restrictions were being ramped up, travel was about to become much tougher and the hostel owner was warning of closure.

There was just one option – get home as soon as possible. The frustration many of us felt trying to secure one of the diminishing, increasingly expensive flights proved how right we were not to leave it any longer.

Which means our last view of Cartagena was another taxi ride, this time to the airport and as hurried as the packing and goodbyes which proceeded it.

And from there… not Santa Marta, Taronga, San Gil, Medellin and beyond, but a third visit to Bogota and first time out of the airport. At least as far as a hotel for 24 hours or so before one final goodbye, a last, longer than planned, visit to the airport, an unscheduled night in Paris and home.

To make some sort of sense of what has happened, both in the hasty retreat and the previous six months.

We will work our way through what sense does appear in a few more posts, but that’s it. Journey’s end.

Until next time…

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