2022 Southern Africa Blog Update

In 2022 we are using a travel program (PolarSteps) in place of the Blog we used for South America in 2018. PolarSteps allows us to post pictures and comments far easier than the blog we used previously. It also seems easier to manage while offline and has an added benefit that it also provides a interactive map of where the pictures were taken.

We are still also using our InReach Satellite Tracker that gives us emergency text communications along with the ability to text family and friends when there is no cellular services. It will also give you live precise tracking of our current location during this trip for our family and friends.

InReach Link (coming by July the official trip start)


2018 South America Homecoming Surprise!

So, after arriving safely in Vancouver after 3 flights and 15 hours of travel time, we take this car share vehicle from the airport to drive home. Trouble is, we can’t find our front door key that Ken left in a secret spot once we get there! It turns out one of the kids, who’d kindly came to fetch the fruit I’d forgotten to give away, erroneously thought the key was for them. What to do? It turns out they are out of town this weekend and also out of cell range, so unable to reach via text, phone or Whatsapp! It’s by now way past midnight, and Ken calls all the hotels on the North Shore, but they are all full, and it’s too late to call friends. So, we get back in the Evo car now parked on the street below us, and recline the chairs as far as they go, and settle in for the night. Then at 5.20am after a short sleep, we both wake up a bit chilly, and decide to find somewhere warm for breakfast. We end up at the fast food chain Dennys, the only place open! Over our steaming cups of tea, Ken looks at me and says brightly, “This is a test of our adaptability!”
Having spent one night in a co-op car, 3 1/2 months in the VW campervan and about 2 1/2 weeks in hotels and hostels, I think we can say yes, we’re pretty adaptable these days.
Oh yes, and happily we get into our basement suite via our tenants in the main part of the house later in the morning.

Here’s our dog, Kerrie, also exhausted from her 4 month trip up Indian Arm where she stayed with the dogsitter.

Isla Palma, a tiny island on the Caribbean coast, west of Cartagena

Isla Palma is about 80 kilometres from Cartagena including a 40 minute boat ride, and it was well worth the 4 hour trip to get there for a couple of days of R & R after 22,000 km of driving over 4 months!

There are only two places to stay on the island, the Decameron Hotel and Hostal Isla Palma.

We opt for the hostel and are two of only four guests, which means we are outnumbered by staff two (or three) to one:) The property was originally owned by a drug lord, and then seized by the government and sold to the present owner, who has had it for 30 years. The drug lord had a zoo, and that still exists though it’s somewhat low key these days.

Here’s the dining area, with Wilton behind the bar. He’s the one and only person we meet in South America who is interested in learning English from me. Of course, I am in heaven! The Brazilian managers say they will try to get him wifi so he can use google translate to converse with the English-speaking guests. This would be really useful as at present literally no-one on the property speaks any English. How cool would that be if he was the first.

The other two guests are snorkelling both days, so we have the beach to ourselves,

and plenty of hammocks to choose from!

There are hermit crabs, each with whatever shell they can find that is their size, and they switch out shells as they grow (!)

Green Amazon parrots, and red squirrels with white chests,

macaws, here mid-flight,

pink flamingoes,

miniature deer,

and one sleepy croc.

So, two very lazy days, with delicious food and drinks, and no driving. Perfect!

A different side to Cartagena – African Slavery in Columbia

This is the gate slaves from West Africa were forced through on arrival in the port of Cartagena, starting in the 1520s,

and here is the formerly named Slave Square (now called Carriage Square) where they were sold. These slaves were forced to work up to 17 hours a day, mostly in gold mines, sugar plantations, cattle ranches, cotton fields, and large haciendas. Some slaves successfully escaped and fled to the jungle near Cartagena, where they created the town of Palenque. In 1691, the Spanish government actually issued a royal decree guaranteeing the freedom of the people of this town, and still today the inhabitants of Palenque are all direct descendants of slaves brought over from Africa. Sadly, most slaves were not so lucky, and it wasn’t until the 1840s that slavery was abolished in Columbia.

The building on the left is where San Pedro Claver (1580-1654), a Catalan Jesuit priest lived. He became the patron saint of slaves due to his 40 years of humanitarian work in Columbia. For example, he used interpreters and pictures which he brought to Slave Square to give basic instructions to the newly arrived slaves. He also tended to the sick and travelled from plantation to plantation making sure those he had converted to Christianity were treated humanely (he baptized over 300,000 slaves!). Due to his hard work, the lives of slaves slowly improved.

Here’s a statue of him,

and one of the pictures of him that is displayed in the sanctuary, now a museum.

For the last four years of his life, San Pedro was too ill to leave his bed. Unfortunately, he was not well treated, but upon his death, the city magistrates, who had disliked his persistent advocacy for slaves, gave him a public funeral full of pomp and ceremony. He was canonized in 1888.

Also, in the museum is some African art work (English at the bottom of this photo).

One of my favourite pieces!

Today, Columbia has a diverse population of three main groups- indigenous, Spanish and African. According to our guide book, 50% of the country claims mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish) heritage, 20% are white, 14% are mixed black and white, 4% are black, 3% are black and indigenous, and 1% are indigenous. This diversity certainly makes it a fascinating country to visit.

Romantic Cartagena

Cartagena’s historic centre is a beautiful, romantic walled city founded by the Spanish in 1533. The narrow cobbled streets and colonial architecture exude charm. No wonder people want to get married here!

Inside the museum adjoining the cathedral, I follow the sound of the beautiful music up a couple of staircases and here’s the view I get of the first wedding we see!

And here’s the music and dance that greet the bride and groom as they exit the cathedral. These dancers also perform at other events, such as at conferences to greet the guests.

All the buildings in the old city are two storey with georgous wooden or wrought iron balconies and tiled roofs.

Many houses have beautiful flowering plants too.

You can turn down any street and you’ll not be


I love the bright colours, the symmetry and

the simple lines.

At night, the city seems even more romantic. Many people dress up, and everyone’s strolling along the narrow streets. The stores, which sell expensive designer clothes or beautiful artesanals, such as jewelry and pottery, remain open until 9.00pm. Music wafts out of bars and restaurants, and horsedrawn carriages give visitors a twirl around the historic centre. In my opinion, Cartagena may be a long way from home, but it won’t disappoint if you’re interested in a trip!

Cartagena Part 1

There’s been a downpour for about 1/2 an hour, and this street and a few others are not draining well!

Here’s the solution for the edge of one street – wooden skids to make a bridge!

Our first afternoon in Cartagena is spent packing up the van. Everything from all the cupboards has to be put up top on the upper bed, and Ken has added a piece of
plywood which he’s bolting locked so hopefully nobody will steal anything. Panama, where the van will change ships, is notorious for thefts at the dock.

All locked up,

and the caboose is off the hitch at the back of the camper and now stored behind the driver and passenger seats.

We’re staying in a cheaper district than the centre of town to be close to the shipping company that we will have to visit several times. This is a standard lunch comprising (oversalted) soup, a plate of rice, beans, very dry meat and (here) some delicious crackling and some avocado as well as a fresh fruit juice. Price:$3.00 per person.

It must be a popular restaurant as the staff are organizing all the take-outs.

This is the size of the restaurant’s kitchen, in which 3 cooks work.

In the shade outside the smart office building of the shipping company we’re using, we see this squeegee man taking a siesta two days in a row. You can see his squeegee and soap and water bottle against the wall.

On another street is this mule enjoying some water melon.

Walking to and from our hostal to the shipping company, we cross this canal.

I pull out my iPhone to take a picture showing there’s no handrail on the edge of the bridge. About 2 minutes later a man on a bicycle stops us to say, “This is a dangerous street. Don’t put your camera out.” He’s really kind to warn me, and I make a mental note to be more careful of when and where I pull out the phone as I was being careless. Pickpockets can be everywhere, and our guide book recommends tourists go inside a store or stand in a doorway to use their phones, such as when checking their maps, rather than looking like a wealthy tourist in the middle of the street. I don’t want to get robbed right at the end of our trip!

En Route to Cartagena Part 2

There are tons of police checks in Columbia, which we don’t mind as they make us feel safer. Actually, travelling along the Panamerica is perfectly fine, but there are still certain areas of the country tourists are told to avoid.
In other countries we had found that saying “Hello” in English and looking dumb nearly always got us waved through police checks without having to stop. Most police spoke very little English and when they did stop us to see our documents, they couldn’t make head or tail of our Canadian car insurance/registration, so it was a hassle for them. In Columbia, looking dumb wouldn’t work at all. The police want to chat to you, and they always start by shaking our hands. We then always introduce ourselves right away and say we’re from Canada. They then tell us their name and want to know where we’re going and what countries we’ve seen on the trip. Sometimes they ask for our documents, but they are always very friendly, so it’s a pretty fun experience, and I get to practice my Spanish!

It’s not unusual to see people hop on the back of a truck to catch a ride. This guy is obviously well practiced, and he looks very relaxed hanging on even though there are the occasional pot hole and speedbump along the way.

When he’s ready to get off, he turns around and moves to the corner of the truck.

Then he lowers himself down and starts running while still hanging on to the truck

before finally letting go at this stop sign! Cool as a cat. P.S. He’s barefoot!

Funny name for a bread company!

I love how in South America people are creative about fixing things. It’s the opposite of our throw away society, and it’s so refreshing even though it’s born of necessity.

Horse carrying milk churns. Avocados are for sale in front.

The back of the buses are really cramped as Ken, and I’m sure this man, can testify.

En route to Cartagena

Toll booths are in all the countries we’ve been through in South America, with the most being in Chile and Columbia, and here we are waiting in line just outside Medellin, heading for Cartagena. Each toll in Columbia is between $2.50 and $4.00 Canadian, and we must have spent about $60 in all by the end of the trip. There’s a woman in the blue car to the right with a dog which keeps hanging out the back window!

We pass lots of houses like these ones,

and when people have gardens, they really stick out.

The views are breathtaking

especially if you love lush green tropical countryside.

We stop at a car wash on the side of the road to clean the car before we ship it, and pay the equivalent of $7.00 Canadian to have 5 people wash the car (they even scrub the wheels with a brush, shake out the mats and offer to wipe down the dash). Definitely a time to tip!

It’s steamy hot and muggy here, and one of the car washers cools himself off after finishing the job.

The countryside changes to fields and trees.

Lots of cows have their ears going down, which brings back memories of India!

Just like in the picture on Columbian coffee bags, many people wear straw hats here – not just in the ads!

Life takes place outside, with people often sitting outside their houses or selling their wares on the side of the road. Columbians seem to be very sociable and to enjoy life, this despite the suffering caused by guerrilla groups like FARC and the drug war that until recently raged in Columbia. It’s amazing how friendly and kind most are! We’ve had great experiences, such as a driver passing us on a dirt road asking us where we’re from and saying “Great to have you here,” or a mechanic who after doing some minor work on our camper got in our van to show us the way to a welder who could attach our muffler for us properly – just going out of their way to be kind.

Medellin (updated)

Coming down the cable car from the top of one of the mountains overlooking Medellin, we get our first views of the city,

and are shocked to see the poverty,

which didn’t fit the picture I had of Medellin being a colonial city full of flowers and beauty at all. It’s actually a huge modern  sprawling city of 3 million people with very few colonial buildings remaining, with poor areas like many cities.

Once in town, we join one of the two long line-ups for a tram in the hopes of getting to the Museum of Memories to learn about how the cocaine drug war ruined the lives of so many families in Medellin between the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, we arrive as the museum is closing, but we look up the history online and read about the car bombings, murders, kidnappings, and political corruption that made this the most dangerous city in the world. Here’s a quote from a 16 year old boy about his neighborhood in Medellin as quoted in The Observer on June 9, 2013-
“ It was impossible to reach the centre of town; we were stuck here. All our elder brothers were on drugs or dealing drugs. I just lived in the house, and the bullets came flying in, during dinner…”

In the last 20 years, a lot has been done to make the city safe again, and these days tourists can safely visit.That doesn’t mean that all parts of the city are safe at night though, and we’re told to avoid one of the tourist areas after dark. We had intended to go there for dinner but change our plans and stay in the same area and find a place for a meal, where it’s safe.

While having dinner, we get an unexpected email from the shipping company we’re using saying that now we have to be in Cartagena in 2 days’ time as the date of departure for our camper has changed!

Unfortunately, this means we have to cut our visit to Medellin short and cover the 650 km to Cartagena without delay rather than having another 5 days to get there. Don’t want to miss the boat!

The Pan-American hi-way is quite slow and with all the mountain passes and towns; we are lucky if we average 50-60 k/hr with all the slow trucks. We only were able to drive 400 km in 12 hours which included a 1 1/2 hour tire repair stop where we discovered we had slow leaks in 3 of our 4 tires from the bad roads around Jardin. Almost 20,000 km done with 400 km to go to get to Cartagena and we have our first tire problems of the trip.

A passing motorcyclist pointed out that one of our tires was low on air and when we stopped and checked all our tires we found that two others were also leaking air. We put on our 2 new spare tires and had the third tire repaired (all 3 would not be repaired in North America). Our first tire issues on the trip but the tires have had lots of real abuse with all the bad roads in South America. The tires are covered by road hazard insurance in Canada and we are curious to see if the tire shop we got the tires from will honour the warranty or use some weasel clause to get out of replacing the tires. They still have about 50% tread left but all the leaks are on the side walls of all the tires. When the tires were taken off the rims, they had big cracks on the inside of the tire from the bottom (road) portion of the tire, but the slow leaks were bubbling out the side walls. The tire shop said ‘no problem’ to fix but they shouldn’t be fixed, but we must get one fixed anyway to get to Cartagena as there are no replacement tires available in the countryside.


We follow the route given in Maps.me to Jardin (pronounced HardEEn), which becomes a single-lane track with some slippery patches of mud and clay. 48km takes us 3 hours, and this after travelling 100km on the main highway that had many stops for roadworks, which also took 3 hours. Poor Ken.

Only a handful of trucks , a jeep and motorbikes pass us. There has to be a
better route! (There is not a better route from the south.)

It’s a long slow ride to be hanging off the back of a truck bus to Jardin!

This town becomes one of our favourites in mere seconds,

and it is considered the most beautiful town in the province of Antioquia.

The buildings are brightly coloured

as are all the outside tables and chairs.

Courtyard of a hotel

and its entrance.

There are few cars, and most people are on foot though tuk tuks are available if needed.

Here’s the cathedral in the main square,

and these buildings

are on the other sides of the square.

There’s an air of joie de vivre

even in this 4 legged creature

and this one!

We know we’re on a PROPER road as we leave town with this traffic ahead of us – sigh of relief! Heading northeast to Medellin.

Jardin is surrounded by coffee farms clinging to the steep slopes,

views which are hard to

tire of!