Day 150: Day 2 in San Francisco – Chinatown, Coit Tower & Comedy

Wow 150 days! What’s crazier is that it’s been nearly that long since we were here – I’m writing this in December…opps.  Anyways –  we headed out walking to explore Chinatown. It was pretty impressive as far as Chinatowns go, and photographing the lanterns, signs and pagodas was fun. It was a little too commercial for us, lacking the strange smells that would make it feel authentic.

Our first stop was the Tin How temple – up a narrow staircase to the top floor of a very understated building. This was built in 1910, the oldest in the area. After some of the overstated temples on our visit, it was cool to see this quiet, surreal urban one. No photos allowed.

Next we, and every other camera and map toting person in the city, visited the Golden Gale Fortune cookie factory. Factory is a generous term – it’s more like a long room with 6 or so people forming the cookies by hand. Free samples, but not free photos. We munched cookies and Washington (not BC) cherries while we wandered.

The tiny Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

The tiny Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Gradually the signs, smells and scenery changed and we found ourselves in Little Italy. We stopped in at the Caffee Trieste, another first establishment – the first espresso on the West coast. We didn’t know this before entering, but it was one of those places that caught our attention, and we later found out it was a popular hangout for artists and authors.

We walked up up up to the Coit tower at the top of Telegraph Hill. Land and funds to build this tower/gallery were donated by Lillian Coit, to beautify the city. It’s an awesome walk up through the neighbourhood, and the 360 view of the city from there is pretty incredible.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

This city has an incredible mix of building styles. Around every corner are view layered with styles that span time and geography.




Our hostel had a slightly better version of this image on the wall. I had set out to capture it.

In the evening we took advantage of happy hour – much better deals than back home. We went to an unlikely bar – one that attracted a wide mix in the after work crowd. We sat observing how opinionated Americans can be and how much more frequently they strike up a conversation with each other.

Later we went to a comedy show in the basement of Lost Weekend Video – the perfect name for a video store. This place was tiny – there were maybe 20 of us in old theater seats, and half of them were the comedians. The show was funny at times, uncomfortably raw at others. There couldn’t have been a more jumbled mix of people with varied stories and background – I loved it!


Day 148 & 149: Back in North America – San Francisco

This was the third biggest culture shock of the trip.  The first was Vancouver to Hanoi, the second from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam. We are so very happy to be back in the land of familiar language. We had underestimated the toll of the communication gap over the past few months. For the first time we could understand and be understood and even joke. We could order what we wanted from a restaurant and expect it to come out right, rather than just hope. Glorious English!

We had been preparing for the customs process hearing it could be intense after collecting as many stamps as we had, and arriving from Colombia. It was shockingly simple, they didn’t even look up as they waved us through. If only the baggage claim was that easy. The one time I check my bag (to bring home a bounty of rum) it doesn’t show up. Arg! Skip to the end of some frustrating phone calls, I got my rum, and some free shorts!

We took the BART from the airport to the centre where we were staying right at sunset. There were breath-taking vistas of the bay area with fog creeping in. Once settled we made a late night pizza run then relaxed to prep for a major day of exploring.

Day one of exploring in San Francisco: We fueled with an epic breakfast at the hostel. An offering of waffles score top marks in any rating. Darren was eager to check out the bicycle commuting, so we headed out on market street. There were waves and waves of the uber hip riding bikes to equally trendy start up jobs around 10:00. That’s the life!  We saw bike lanes, bike counters, bike shares and a greenwave.

We wandered toward the Mission district and enjoyed a lot of quirky details along the way. This area had an odd urban/suburban feel. The streets were overly wide for the 2-3 storey buildings that flanked them, but the liveliness and grain of detail was very urban. We loved the iconic bay windows, the bright colours and the twisted metal fire escapes.

We were especially inspired by the parklets. This city has really taken an initiative to have creative public space. The were unique, well used, and open to all.


Over a delicious Indian lunch, we brainstormed ideas for getting more parklets in Vancouver.

We stopped in a cafe and enjoyed the luxury of hearing snippets of conversation around us and a variety of people around us enjoyed the cafe/work culture.

Next we headed to Clarion alley, where the street art is regularly being renewed with strong political messages.

Urban turbine - fun to say fun to have!

Urban turbine – fun to say, fun to have!

We’d already covered a lot of ground, but this was just the beginning of our exploring for today.  We walked back to home base, then headed down market street in the opposite direction, to downtown.

Our hostel’s central location is great, though the vibe of the area is less great. It’s in a district with a lot of theatres and hotels, a sort of no man’s land where no one really lives, but those without homes hang out.  It was very sad, but of all the places we have travelled, we saw some of the most dejected looking people here.

The hills may look harmless, but I assure you they are not . we practically had to crawl up some of them.

The hills may look harmless, but I assure you they are not . we practically had to crawl up some of them.

Downtown was full of people, and most of the traffic was on the sidewalks. We were pleasantly surprised at how light the car traffic was – at that time anyway.  There were beautiful old buildings alongside new.

We headed to the water and emerged near the Oakland Bay bridge.  We walked along the Embarcadero, the promenade linking all of the piers at the water’s edge.  Not quite as sceneic as a walk along the seawall.  We started at Pier 1 or some low number, and were heading for 43 – the numbers weren’t going up fast enough.

At Pier 39 you can sometimes see a colony of sea lions, but they were apparently too busy mating.

At Pier 39 you can sometimes see a colony of sea lions, but they were apparently too busy mating.

At walked along the boardwalk at Pier 41, where it was incredibly windy.  We saw Forbes Island, Alcatrez and sights of the city in the background.  There were flocks of Pelicans flying by too.

We kept meandering past Fisherman’s Wharf, and stopped briefly at the park beach below Ghiradhelli square.  I honestly don’t know how our legs were still moving at this point.

We poked around Fort Mason where despite its isolated location there are a number of trendy restaurants and businesses in the old buildings.  We were a) underdressed, b) too cheap, and c) wanted a better view of sunset, so we decided against going to a restaurant there.  Instead we gathered picnic fare and headed further past Marina Green and the Yacht club for an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate bridge at sunset.

We gathered picnic fare and headed further past Marina Green and the Yacht club for an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate bridge at sunset.  It was beyond amazing!

The fog, sun, bridge, paddlers and pellicans all lined up perfectly for this shot.

The fog, sun, bridge, paddlers and pellicans all lined up perfectly for this shot.

It was so incredible watching the fast moving fog over the bay.  I would love to see this view at different times, different days – it’s constantly changing.  If the wind had not been finger numbingly cold, I might have stayed here forever.

We got a true taste of the hills as we walked back to our hostel through the Russian Hill and Nob hill neighbourhoods.  Insanity!

Day 144 – 146: Goodbye South America, our final days in Cartagena

Over 2 months later I decided it’s time to finish up the posts for the end of our trip – not to mention Darren has been heckling me. The dust has settled on out experiences, and life is back in full swing.

After our glorious experience in Tayrona, we spent one more night in St. Martens, before heading back to Cartagena for a couple of relaxing days.

The Copa America finals were on – Colombia vs. Argentina. The city was electric. We picked best spot to watch – in the square with the game projected on the church. The sea of yellow was pulsing with energy. They ended up losing to Argentina in a shoot out.


The next couple days we soaked up as much sun, rum and tropical fruit as we could. We can’t get enough of the texture here – and the colours – such a photogenic place.

We had coffee from a place that looked more like a chemistry lab than a coffee shop with an assortment of beakers and a make of tubes, inspired by Vancouver’s Revolver cafe. Our passion fruit and cinnamon infused coffees were – let’s say interesting…

Day 142 & 143: Beaches at Parque Tayrona

This was a bit of a trek, and a lot of work to relax, but it was definately worth it. Tayrona is located on the northern Caribbean coast, and is 15,000 hectare of protected environment – both land and ocean.  Its home to a number of endangered species. Access is restricted, and accommodation is only eco lodges – in our case sleeping in a hammock.

From Santa Marta, the park is an hour by collectivo.  On one hand these busses are genius, they go when they are full, and people hop on and off along the way.  They also serve as a local delivery system, as the driver would frequently leave packages in the more remote areas.  If you are pressed for time, or prone to carsickness, they are a nightmare.

Once at the park we had to go through a lengthy check to get in, searching our bags to make sure we weren’t bringing foreign plant species.  From there it was a two hour hike to the camp spot (or it should have been). Listening to local advice led us astray a couple times – whether intentionally or by accident we’ll never know.  This led us to back tracking a bit and walking a portion on the beach in the hottest weather I have ever experienced.

The park was much drier than I expected.  Little lizards were scrambling in every direction as we walked by, rustling the dry leaves.

A little blue tailed lizard we saw.

A little blue tailed lizard we saw.

The trail led through dense growth, among enormous boulders, and frequently gave way to view of the ocean.  Some parts felt like a scene out of Jurassic park.  Despite the heat, which was murderous, it was a very enjoyable hike. Needless to say, the ocean felt pretty awesome when we jumped in!

The beach is at El Cabo San Juan is secluded, but definately gets a lot of visitors on account of its awesomeness.  I would definately recommend arriving early.  There are two coves, separated by an outcropping that has a hammock house perched on a rock.  The waves approaching the cove are massive and crash into the rocks, resulting in waves in the swimming area like the wave pool at West Ed – super fun!


This iguana came out from behind a rock and scared a girl, only to get scared by a wave and scamper off.

This iguana came out from behind a rock and scared a girl, only to get scared by a wave and scamper off.

Swim, scorch, repeat for the rest of the day.  This is paradise, and a great way to wind down the trip.  Anything even remotely cold was delicious, even this crappy beer.


As the sun set, it kept getting better every second.  As many sunsets as I see, I always forget how awesome it is. We waited until a few stars came out, but the moon was incredibly bright and we couldn’t see much despite the remoteness.


If you’ve ever dreamed of trading your bed for a hammock – don’t! It is nice for an afternoon nap, but less so for an all night sleep.  It didn’t help that I was imagining millions of bugs crawling into my ears all night. My fears were unwarranted, but i was pretty excited when it was day again and jumped out of the hammock at 5:00 am.

Some of the tents and the hammock house

Some of the tents and the hammock house

We watched the sun rise and got in an early morning swim before heading out.  We left mid morning, to beat the heat.

Watching crabs throw sand is one of the greatest joys in the world.

Watching crabs throw sand is one of the greatest joys in the world.

We had a smoothie stop on the way back (I have to consume as much guanabana as possible before leaving the land of this magnificent fruit). Here we saw two green parrots! They were so awesome! One was very playfully, hanging upside down to chew on the palm fronds, the other very shy, and yawning.  We were able to get really close, and a local said they would stand on your finger, but I didn’t like the looks of the beak.

This was the shy little guy

This was the shy little guy

Just as we were leaving the park, we saw a crowd gathered around a sloth. It posed for a few pictures, then tried to get away – comically slowly.


That afternoon there was only one goal – stay cool. We swam and drank ever so much water, and got friendly with fans, but nothing helped.

Day 141: Cartagena to Santa Marta

Cartagena has a completely different vibe than what we’ve seen of Colombia so far.  The people are energetic, the music is loud, and it feels like an impromptu party could break out any minute.  It’s a well-preserved colonial town on the Caribbean sea, the walled portion a heritage site.  Across from the water is the new Cartagena, with towers rising up like the those around False creek in Vancouver.

We stated exploring neighbourhood around the hostel – a working class neighbourhood. Delightful is the only way to describe it.  Its the perfect mix of bright colours and a bit of grit that we’ve found most appealing.  There are bouganvilla vines wrapping around doorways and balconies, complimenting or contrasting the painted buildings.

Once we stepped into the old part we were overwhelmed with people pushing guided tours, but soon lost them and were able to enjoy it.

We walked along the wall that surround the old part, with views to the towers rising in the new area.  It’s the land of pirates and rum.

There are quite a few bikers around, though I suspect the motive might be to generate a breeze rather than to get anywhere.  It was sweltering – but we found some reprieve in a shady park.


After lunch we took a bus to a bus which took us to Santa Marta, about five hours away.  Santa Marta lacks the charm of Cartagena, but it’s a stopover for our next destination – Parque Nacional Tayrona.  It was a brief visit to Cartagena, but we will be back for a couple days at the end – expect more picture of weathered paint!

Day 140: Escalators and Gondolas – More Medellin

This morning we packed and headed out early to explore the rest of the city before our flight to Cartagena.  The more we saw of Medellin, the more impressed we were at how progressive the city is, and how far it has emerged from its not so stellar past. The state of the art transit system includes a gondola to the favelas located on the steep sides of the surrounding mountains.  From here there was a great view of the city, long and narrow, wedged into the Aburra valley.  The brick houses hugged the hillside, perfectly formed to the topography.  Some had painted their roofs for our viewing enjoyment from above.  The gondolas were safe, clean and seamless and included in the price of transit!

Next stop was another innovative addition – escalators to provide better access for more neighbourhoods on the hillside. There were about 10 flights of these bright orange, covered escalators.  There are security guards from the neighbourhood and lighting at night.  

It seemed to have a very revitalizing effect on the community as the surrounding houses were brightly coloured and there was some great murals. There were bright flowers and lots of places to sit.

We headed downtown to check out the Botero plaza.  There were over a dozen sculptures of chunky people and animals in Botero’s iconic style. They’re fun to look at and imitate and are great for energizing the plaza.  We spent an long time here watching people and eating watermelon.

Though it was a Monday, the streets were insanely crowded.  There were market stalls set up – mostly fruit and soccer jerseys.  There are still fruits we don’t recognize, and we took a risk on one that tasted like a shot of tequila, minus the tequila.

The downtown is surprisingly the least sophisticated part of the city.  It doesn’t scream cutting edge city the way the other areas do. None the less it certainly has energy.  There is an eclectic mix of building styles, from art neaveau to decrepit brick with corrugated roofs.

In the afternoon we headed out to the airport – it was a long journey over the mountains to reach a flat place for it. When we stepped off the plane that night in Cartagena, we were hit with a blast of hot moist air.  We had been looking forward to this weather since we were shivering in Bolivia, but now that we feel it, its going to be a sweat fest. On the way to the hostel we saw people crowding in the plazas and streets, reminding us of our first stop in Hanoi.

Day 138 & 139: Medellin

It was an early morning and breakfast at Brunch before catching the bus to Medellin. Another ride with hairpin turns, coupled with scenery that makes it worth it.  We arrived in Medellin in the early afternoon.

We are staying in the neighbourhood near Parque Lleras, an extremely trendy place (I didn’t think I’d say it but it might be too trendy) oozing with cool looking restaurants and shops.  The park is a reserve that was retained in the middle of the neighbourhood, and gives the feeling that you are in the jungle.  You can hear the creek and the cicadas, and the air around is much more temperate.  We grabbed a late lunch and checked out some of the shops.

The neighbourhood is so lively with music, and drunken locals and tourists alike.

The neighbourhood is so lively with music, and boisterous locals and tourists alike.


The streetscaping makes the sidewalks very enjoyable.  There is separation from the cars, beautiful,  exotic plants, and lots of seating.  The temperature is perfect here – it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular expat locations.


In the evening Thea and I went to Son Havana for Salsa.  It’s said to be the best place for salsa in the area and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Couples in casual clothes were amazingly talented, and so non chalante.  We were nearly the only gringos, so it was an awesome place to observe some of the local traditions. Eventually a nine piece band came on, with drums, trumpets, gourds and cowbells.

The next day we took it pretty easy and ate our way through the neighbourhood, having some of the most delicious food (and worst beer) of the trip. For lunch we went to Verdeo, a funky vegetarian place with quirky decorations.  We had the fathers day special – Happy fathers day! Reading the menu was inspiring – can’t wait to get back and cook.

Later was chocolate gelato, so chocolatey it was nearly black!


For dinner we had pizza that topped the pizza chart for the trip – and we’ve had a lot of pizza.  It was a spinach balsamic pizza from a plave called Zorba, an off beat restaurant, nearly imersed in the jungle in the neighbourhood.

Colombia was playing Peru in Copa America, and it was pretty chaotic.  The restaurants were putting up yellow, red and blue balloons, people were selling garb, and tv’s were being set up, so the game could be seen from every location.

We watched the game and got caught up in it, though in the end it was a tie and we were disappointed in the Colombians for their shameless diving.