Colombia Is a country of amazing contrasts; Caribbean beaches, 5000m snow-capped mountains, bustling modern cities and endless green hills covered in snaking mountain roads. Tying it altogether are the friendliest people on the planet.
Having been reunited eventually with the car and convinced the only grumpy jobsworth in Cartagena that she would issue us insurance on a Friday afternoon we headed straight for the hills, once again breaking both our ‘don’t drive in cities at rush hour’ and ‘don’t drive at night’ rules at the same time. 3 lanes (sometimes) with roughly 5 lines of traffic across them is always entertaining, especially when you are driving in convoy!
Cartagena is a wonderful city, so much bigger than I expected, but as usual we focused on the old (and very touristy) part of town with a highly recommended free city tour. It is strange to be in a place with multitudes of tourists though. We were ready for some cooler weather again and had deliberated long and hard about heading to Cuidad Perdida for the infamous trek but decided that we would save our trekking dollars for less humid climes further south. So, San Gil was our next destination. We had a great few days based there – mountain biking down Sucre canyon and through the beautiful villages of Barrichara and Guane with @ColombianBikeJunkies and one rainy afternoon chilled in the ‘movie bus’ at la Pacha with homemade goat’s cheese and chutney. Heaven!
There is no straight forward route through Colombia in our opinion.
And rumours of closed and insanely slow roads abound. Actually, the roads are pretty good in terms of potholes, but many are twisty turny mountain roads awash with trucks, most of which average around 25km/hr. This leads to insane overtaking attempts by other trucks and I’m pretty sure my life expectancy has dropped significantly with the number of close calls (mostly not self-imposed!) These roads are made for bikers, they can sneak past when we can’t, AND they don’t have to pay the tolls… eish, these roads are pricy! Anyway, I digress, so we left San Gil to head to Medellin… and ended up in Villa de Lleyva then Bogotá instead!
We were very well looked after on our arrival in Bogota, by Patricia, a contact from Pearson, who I have been liaising with about possible training opportunities while we are down here. Thank you for a lovely lunch, and for helping us out with the burst water pipe (who puts pipes hidden in bushes at tow bar height anyway!) We did a cycle tour around Bogotá, which allowed us to see the sights and hear the history of Colombia… it is impressive how the country is moving forward from its recent history, but also how the new found security in some areas is leading to new problems – The Colombian Amazon is some of the most untouched due to paramilitary groups in the area, but now that’s calmed down illegal loggers and farmers are rapidly encroaching on virgin forest. And visited the gold museum – amazing artefacts.
As we have hinted before, sticking to a budget is something we haven’t been very good at, although we have been distinctly better since Mexico. One of the easiest ways to drop our spending is fuel costs – travelling less and spending longer in one place, this is often the big difference with those travelling for longer periods in terms of $ per day. We looked into Workaway, which offers free accommodation and food in return for working hours – usually no more than 5 a day. We thought this would be a great way to engage more with the Colombian community and practice our Spanish. To cut a longish story short this wasn’t entirely how it panned out for us, but we had a busy week based in El Penol, just outside Guatape and definitely earned our food allowance! We squeezed in a trip to La Piedra de Penol – worth the stairs and a day in Medellin which included a superb tour of Communa 13 and a huge traditional lunch (Bandeja Paisa) with Jess Rapp who is working there. One of the reasons that our leisurely 5-hour days became 8-hour days was because we had heard from a finca (farm) further south that has been set up by a couple of ex-overlanders who were struggling to find someone to farm-sit for a couple of days. Steel Horse Finca was already on our radar as a place to spend a day or 2 in the coffee region so in order to help out we made it so we could get there on the Friday evening, enabling Yvette to leave on Saturday. We are presently responsible for 2 dogs, 1 cat, 13 chickens, 2 very large pigs and a somewhat nervy horse. At time of writing they are all still here and still alive! We’ve survived a cow invasion, an overnight power cut that turned out not to be our fault and finding the biggest rat I have ever seen at the bottom of a food barrel.
More photos and final Colombia notes to be added!
Taking advantage of our base at Filandia and hearing that Yvette would be returning we popped off for the day to Cocora Valley which is the principal location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm. The trees are the worlds tallest palms standing up to 60m straight up with a few palms on top. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon hiking round the amazing scenery and met the equally nice Marcus and Joleen from Canada with whom we shared a few well earned beers in Salento. The intended early night however did not materialise as Marco and friends arrived at the finca just after supper for an impromptu party – it would have been rude to refuse!
We made it to Cali and dropped the car with Henry for some much needed TLC, as well as issues we knew about, turned out we also had an oil leak and required new front bushes but we settled into Pelican Larry Hostel with Rochelle & Ioannis confident that ‘Uncle Henry’ would fix it all. There is not a lot to recommend Cali so we binged watched GoT – Bliss and generally was lazy! We did have a picnic on what amounted to a roundabout though! Unfortunately, due to delays with the repairs we did not depart Cali until rush hour on Friday night in the dark – we have got to stop doing that.
In quick succession we visited; Silvia famed for its market and the local indigenous people who maintain a traditional way of dress and life, Popyan- a beautiful colonial town and luckily for us home to a great steak restaurant. Finally, we stopped just short of the border to admire the stunning church at Las Lajas. The church projects out across a steep gorge and is considered the most beautiful church in Colombia – and it is hard to disagree. In the midst of all this Rachel had also managed to slip in an interview with Marlborough College Malaysia.