Trip 2013 – Bucaramanga to Montanita

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Note: This is a condensed version of the pictures I took with some added narrative. The rest of the pics can be viewed in the album The Trip 2013 – Bucaramanga to Montanita. Each picture can be clicked to see a larger version and comment / like.

Its been a while since my last update, since then I have crossed into Ecuador from Colombia and traveled hundreds of miles. After my two weeks spent learning to Paraglide in Bucaramanga I was keen to get back on the road again, I had less than a week to make my way over to the coast of Ecuador where I had booked some Kite Surfing lessons.

It would have taken some 50-60 hours if I was to attempt to make the journey in one go so I broke it up with a few stops. First up was a return to the capital city of Colombia, Bogota.

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On the way there I experienced the first motor accident on my travels:

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The bus only clipped the front of the taxi so it wasnt too bad. Im just surprised I havent been in more considering how mental some of the bus and taxi drivers drive over here.

The second time around in Bogota I managed to do all the things I didnt first time round such as visiting the museum of gold and El Monserat on top of the hill.

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After Bogota it was a long 15 hour bus journey to Popayan where I had a brief one day stop just enough time to check out some of the wildlife.

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Then it was back on the road again this time it was 8 hours to the border town of Ipiales. I decided to stay the night here rather than brave the 5+ hours it would take me to get to Quito (Ecuador) from here. It helps that I made some frends with an awesome Swiss & German couple on the bus.

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Before making the border crossing the following day we made a quick stop off at a famous church that lives in an impressive valley between the hills.

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After another 5 or 6 hours of bussing I was finally at Quito, only briefly however as I left early the following morning for my destination at the coast, Manta.

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Over a month ago my SCUBA diving instructor Alejandra told me about a kite surfing school in Ecuador (her home country) called Ocean Freaks, I was keen to give kite surfing a go so I looked them up and signed myself up.

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I spent the first day on the beach learning how to control the awesomely powerful kite which was a whole bunch harder to control than anything I had attempted before. Just trying to keep the thing in the air was tricky but by the second day I was in the water with the board which added a whole bunch more complications.

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By the fourth day I thought I was starting to get the hang of it, I wasnt quite surfing yet but I was standing up for a few seconds at a time, not bad I thought considering. Big thanks to my awesome German instructor Lucias

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After that short 4 days at the coast I made my way back to Quito where I was due to meet Kelsie who was flying in from Austrailia. I had met her her LA many months ago when I started my central american adventure with Trek America. We had travelled together all through Central America together before she was forced to return home to Austrailia. We travelled well together and I really enjoyed her company so I was really excited to have her back again.

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We had three days in Quito before moving on. We spent it both catching up and seeing the sights. One of the highlights was catching the cable car up to the mountains that overlook the city.

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Quito is one of the highest cities in South America at 2800m, the cable car ride added a further 1300m ontop of that. The plan was to hike up the final 500m on foot however at that altitude you really have to work hard. Take 10 steps up a light hill and you are huffing and puffing like its the first time you have ever put one foot in front of the other. After just 150m or so we decided to call it quits and just sit down and admire the views instead.

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After Quito we took another long bus journey over to the beautiful mountain town of Banos.

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Nestled in the vally of several large hills the smallish town is really rather scenic.

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I took the opportunity while here to do some rock climbing. I havent done any in ages (excluding the climbing wall in Bogota) and forgot how much hard work it was on the forearms.

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I only managed a few climbs to the top of what our guide considered ‘easy’ runs before my arms gave up on me.

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On the final day we hired a couple of bikes and took a very scenic 20km trip down the valley.

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All along the way there were ziplining stations and cable cars that took people across. The views were pretty spectacular.

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The next and final destination for this leg of my trip was the famous surfing town of Montanita.

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We spent the 4 days there chilling out and enjoying the town. I spent one day falling off my surf board before switching to body board to mix things up a bit.

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As it was out of season the weather wasnt particularly great most of the time but for the last day we were blessed with sun.

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Despite the poor weather most of the time I had a great time in Montanita but as usual I was eager to get moving onto out next desination of Puerto Lopez.

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Think Twice Before Getting an STA Travel Cashcard

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Want to know how to loose 10% of your travel spends very fast? Get an STA Travel Cashcard.

I was sold the card by the agent in the STA highstreet store, to be honest I was a little stupid and didnt do a whole lot of research into it assuming it will be good value for money, oh how wrong can you be.

I am half way through my 8 month journey now and have just decided to check my finances to see how im doing and how much its costing me every time I withdraw money here.

The above image is a quick spreadsheet I have put together from my online bank statement for the Cashcard and data gleamed from xe.com. As you can see im getting well under the official exchange rate when withdrawing money using this card.

Okay I thought, well perhaps thats just how much it costs to withdraw money here. So as an experiment I withdrew 700,000 COP from exactly the same cash point using my VISA debit card on the 6th of September, the result was it cost me £230.76 with fees of £10.34 making a total of £241.1 which is still far shy of the £259 that I was being charged by the STA Travel Card around the same date.

Obviously I was pretty angry when I saw this so I emailed STA which forwarded me onto Tuxedo LTD which is apparently the company that manages the card. After 5 emails of me insisting I get a proper answer to my query I get the following:

Dear Mr. Cann,

Thank you for your enquiry regarding a deeper explanation into our exchange rates.

Having provided you with the way in which our exchange rate is calculated we have been doing some research regarding what we have referred to as ‘market mid-rate’.

These are the findings from looking at our competitors exchange rates online based on 700,000 COP

(These are taken from the 26th of September 2013):

Post office cost in GBP: £257.32 exchange rate: 2720.36

Thomas cook cost in GBP: £266.06 exchange rate: 2631

STA cashcard cost in GBP: £252.79 exchange rate: 2769.07

Having investigated our competitors’ rates it is clear that we are working closely to the other companies on the market and are cheaper than the Post Office and Thomas Cook.

We appreciate that the VISA debit card you hold is charging you at a lower rate. With the debit card belonging to a bank rather than a travel company this may affect the way in which they calculate and maintain their exchange rates.

If you would like to return the funds from your STA cash card to your debit card please advise of the bank details you wish the funds to be deposited in and this can be arranged for you.

We hope this resolves your query regarding the way in which our exchange rate is calculated and set.

I have put in bold the key lesson here they they themselves are admitting, the STA Travel Cashcard (or other travel cards) cannot compete with a regular bank card, i.e. they are a total sham and should be avoided at all costs.

My recommendation for those people thinking about getting one is DONT. If you are worried about having too much funds in the account (like I was) then just open another account and ask for it to have no overdraft ability then just put however much money you need in there at a time. Make sure you check the rates that the account offers BEFORE you leave!

Windows Taskbar Monitor v0.4

Windows Taskbar Monitor v0.4

Over the years I have had a great many projects, most of which have been chronicled on this blog. The majority of them I leave alone once I have finished with them and never return to.

Windows Taskbar Monitor however is one of the rare tools that I actually still use one a daily basis. So when it stopped working the other day due to a patch in Windows 8 I decided to spare an hour to patch it up.

While I was there I decided to removed the “MEM”, “CPU” and “NET” prefixes from the title bars as they weren’t needed really and just took up more bar space.

I have pushed the source as usual to GitHub, you can grab the release here: https://github.com/mikecann/Windows7-Taskbar-Monitor/releases/tag/0.4