Tag: Colombia

Amazing Amazonian Adventure

On Friday the 26 July, I was picked up early by the travel agency. Anthony walked me to the boat. Nobody had explained to me that he wouldn’t come with me!confusion when the boat guy asked me if I was to go to Puerto Alegria. I had no idea!After 1,5 hour on a very full boat I was dropped off. Puerto Alegria. The joyful port. Or the Happy port, take your pick.

I was welcomed by Benjamin and Freddy, who was to be my own personal guide. It took awhile before the decision was made in which room they were going to put me. What a lovely surprise, a large room, big double bed with a mosquito net, and a single bed also with a mosquito net! Plenty of space. Simple but functional. I would have liked a few hooks for my towel and clothing, but that was a minor little detail.

After a short break Freddy and I walked into the village,Irapay. There are about eight hundred people living here. The houses are mainly stretched out along the river front. Only one more street running parallel , which is set back a tad. On the 28 of July it is the Peruvian Independence Day. Eight days after Colombia. I was quite surprised that I was now in Peru, since we never crossed a border. I worried for a while that I had left my passport, and the two copies I carry, locked up in the safe at the hotel. Needless worry, as nobody else seemed to bother at all.

At the local primary school the children were practising their Independence March. I am against anything military, but this was quite funny to watch. Especially the lower grades. They weren’t marching in step with each other, which was quite cute!
As it was hot and very humid, I suggested a cold beer to Freddy which he gratefully accepted. The bar was wooden, rustic and deserted. The beer cold, the Peruvian, music blaring, a good time was had by us both.

After a very delicious lunch, I had a mini rest and promptly fell asleep for nearly two hours! Then it was time for real Amazonian explorations! We went Pirahna fishing!! Hm! I quite fancied some of these fish for dinner! My very favourite book is ” Pirahnas don’t eat bananas”, nor do they eat plums! Only BUMS! Of we went in a wooden boat, which had too much water in it for my liking! We saw so many birds! Big green parrots, birds of prey and vultures!

The fish started to bite as soon as the hook and bait were in the water! Shame they only ate the bait and kept refusing the hook!! Suddenly the rain came! So fast, hard refreshing, and on going! Within five minutes I was soaked to the bones. Just in time I managed to store my bag, with iPad, camera and note book, under the life vest! Soon it became cold. When thunder and lightening arrived, I feared a repeat of my Okavanga Delta experience, ( in Botswana) I preferred to go back to the camp!

Shower, cold, and change of clothes, it was dinner time, without fish! After my huge lunch I wasn’t really hungry. My iPad was playing up, and the camera is not recharging! Hm. Didn’t they like the rain? I met up with Manuel and Juan, two young lads, born in Colombia, but raised and living in the USA. We are at the same hostel in Leticia. After dinner, it went dark rapidly. One minute it is light and just like that it is switched off. Freddy and I went looking for caimans there were about eight of them! Could only see the eyes reflected in our spotlights! They were only small, about a meter in length, and sweet water ones, so not very dangerous at all!

I went to bed early, and although I had a nap in the afternoon, fell asleep fast, just listening to the cacophony of sounds emerging from the dark! My last thought was, oh my gosh, I am in the Amazonian jungle! I am so incredibly grateful. How fortunate I am to being able to fulfil all my childhood dreams?

I slept deeply and dreamlessly, unheard of, only waking once for a toilet break. A new day emerged as fast as the night had come! I was up early. The pond near the dining room had new lotus flowers! The flowers only last for 24 hours, but they are stunningly beautiful. The lotus leaves can grow to two meters in diameter, according to Freddy. The largest lotus leaves in the world. I take his word for it! There is now way to fact check his statements as there is no wifi in the jungle!

Today we were going to walk in the jungle. Due to a mix up, I was told to wait for the two lads, we didn’t start our walk until nine o’ clock. It was still just Freddy and me, and we were ready two hours before! Shame, because to see any reasonable bird life, you need to start early. As I got out of the boat, I lost one of my boots, which got stuck in the mud. Quite funny, as I fell backwards trying to pull it out!

Freddy literally had to slash a path through the jungle! It was so overgrown. The first thing we saw were a big family of very small monkeys, the name which I have forgotten. Lots of butterflies, enormous centipedes. A huge tree, over fifteen hundred years old, according to Freddy!
Different medicinal plants. Lots of bird sounds but no birds to be seen.

The walk took over four hours, the lads caught up with us, but since they were walking at full speed, they were quickly out of sight. Back at the camp, we had lunch, a rest, then time for another visit to the village.

One of the guides has a pet Anaconda. Why anybody would want this is beyond me, but anyway we were allowed to hold it! I wasn’t too sure if this was a privilege or a threat!! The guy held the snakes head much too close to my face for my liking!! After we all had a go, holding, looking and snapping pictures, we went to look for the woman with the sloth!

Often baby sloth fall from there mothers, who can’t or won’t go after them, so all these little orphans are left to die! This one was picked up by this woman, who recognised a business opportunity immediately! Charge tourists to hold your baby sloth! Good idea!! It was so incredibly cute! I think it was a little girl, as she kept smiling at Manuel!! When we came back it was time to pack up, go back to the pub and wait for the three o’ clock boat to arrive. Luckily we had cold beer as the boat didn’t show up until five! It had only been two days, but it seemed so much longer. Exhausted, but very, very happy I returned to the hostel.

Lovely Leticia

The trip to Leticia was fast and easy. I slept all the way! If only I could do this on the long haul flights! The taxi took me to my hostel. I had a four bunk dormitory all for myself. Not bad for twelve dollars! I dropped all my gear, showered and changed and went for a walk. The first thing I saw was the travel agency across the road! I went in to inquire about the boat to Manaus, Brasil. I forgot that I had decided not to do a tour here, I booked and paid for a two day tour. So bank, buying water, long sleeved top that isn’t a thermal one! Most important of all, anti mosquito spray! Bought one with DEET!  I had bought TWO aerogard tropical strength, but used them up on the Galápagos and in Tayrona.


My original plan was to leave on Saturday, but it seemed to much of a rush! Couldn’t possibly deal with leaving so fast. Okay, next boat is on Tuesday. Hm! Losing important days here. I had worked out that if I have more than fifteen days left over I WILL go to Suriname! Even for two weeks it is worth it, I reckon! Anyway, the tour was booked, get on with it. Do other travellers have this problem? I work everything out on paper and then there is this inner child that just takes over. I suppose it is because it really doesn’t matter one way or another.

Leticia is in the south east corner of Colombia. It is isolated. The nearest highway is over eight hundred kilometres away. It is splendid in its isolation. Motor bikes fill the streets, as do tuk tuks. There are nightclubs everywhere and I saw a few casinos too. Leticia is right on the border of Brasil and Peru. Hard to believe that just an hour away you can be in the middle of the Amazonian jungle!

I enjoyed an early morning walk to the harbour. Lots of roadworks going on. The vegetable and fish market was open. I was harassed by a motor bike taxi driver. The first time in Colombia! He wanted money, while touching me, I removed his unwanted hand and told him I was not a bank, nor an ATM. He then went out of his way to ” help” me find a coffee shop! Cleaned the table, yelled at the waitress to hurry up, got all exited that I drink my coffee black, just like he does!

In the end, I got fed up, no longer polite, and I firmly told him he could go now. I did notice that at ten o’clock in the morning the man was already smelling of alcohol. As I wandered more, I was offered drugs, thank you dreadlocks, by a very drunken local person. I declined. The bars were already full. Sunday morning ten o’clock. I had seen enough, was tired after my full on two days away and decided to go back to the hostel and work in my diary. I am very far behind.

  I did buy my boat ticket. At sunset time I wandered back to the harbour, the day was winding down. The drunks are now laying all over the streets. Not a pleasant sight.

People watching is my favourite pastime, and watching the comings and goings at a small harbour is interesting. Found a wonderful restaurant, had a zucchini boat filled with vegetables, delicious, and as it was Happy Hour, ordered two zombies! Delicious! One more day in Colombia. It is hard to leave!!

On my last day in Colombia I got up very early to watch the sunrise. Saw thousands of birds, parrots, making a racket in the Central Park. I was in awe! Never seen so many birds in one place! Today was a day of boring stuff such as migration, getting a stamp from the Colombians. Then onwards to Brasil getting an entry stamp from a very unfriendly Federal police man! My last meal was fried piranha !! All set and ready to go!!

Bogota in pictures.

The Lost City

Wednesday the 10th of July. I was picked up at 11.00 am. By now I was very excited and scared. Both at the same time. The rains have come and I really don’t know if my Keens can hold their grip! They are quite worn out by now. Anyway I had committed myself and paid for a five day hike to the Lost City! For the first day I had booked a motor bike to the top of the first very steep mountain. It was extremely scary, going on this steep road, with a gully in the centre, and lots of rocks on either side. Of course the road was also very muddy after last night’s rain. My goal was to see the Lost City, the hike there is secondary! Motor bikes, horses or donkeys, my aim is to get there and see it for myself. ( I wrote this before I started!)

My driver was really good, he kept telling me to relax, he must not have liked the extremely tight hugs I was giving him!! I have no idea how long it took, but we got higher and higher and suddenly we were at the top! This is where I was to wait for the cook, who would walk with me to the first camp, Mamey camp. I chatted away to the two men and one woman who were there. A lovely two or three year old delighted in trying to run me over with his tricycle. The more mister Bean faces I made, the more he tried. Time past fast.

Yair, the 30 year old cook, arrived and together we walked down the mountain. I had to leave my wonderful walking stick, which I found on the beach yesterday, with El Jefe, José Maron, instead I could hold Yair’s hand. This is of course much more pleasant! We passed an indigenous school. The teacher, Edward, told me he had eighteen indigenous students. Some of these students live over two or three hours walking away! Incredible. They start very early in the morning, and finish by one in the afternoon. It is probably due to the incredible humidity. The two hour walk down was no hardship, that starts tomorrow!! The camp is primitive, very basic, but has good mattresses AND mosquito-nets! This is extremely important. There are mozzies here the size of helicopters!

There is a river with a small waterfall within a ten minute walk. I changed out of my completely soaked t shirt, which probably won’t dry for the rest of these five days. The humidity is enormously high. Tomorrow, Thursday and Friday as well, are the two hard days for me. I have had my freezing cold swim. Chatted with two four year olds, about horses and did lots of animal noises. Gave away one hair tie and two bracelets. Now sipping coca leaves tea!! My feet up in the hammock!! Hasta mañana.

Well, these were the last words I was able to write, while actually on the trail. That night the heavens opened and it rained all night long. Having had a taste of the rough road ahead, I was mortified! There is no way my worn out Keens are going to cope with this. After a delicious diner, Maron told me I had to be up and gone by five thirty. An hour ahead of the main group. Yair, the cook, told me to come and get coffee as soon as I woke up. Luckily I have been up every day at about five every day. I had an early breakfast and while the others were still eating and packing Blanca and I started out. The first two hours were not bad at all. Slippery but nothing to worry about.

I was over taken by the young ones quite quickly. We reached the Mutanzi indigenous village. Stopped outside the village, take some photos ( mainly on the camera! To complicated getting out the ipad! Hence not too many photos for the blog!) and walk on.I actually didn’t see much of the other group and I wonder if they visited the village? We had another hour walk before we stopped for lunch. Then another four hour hike, which took me much longer than that! Had no time to take notes, nor time to take many photos on my ipad!! So bare with me if I tell you it was a long, long hike.about 16 kilometres altogether, but Carlos, the American Colombian said his gps told him it was over 23 kilometres. I didn’t really care! I get much shorter breaks than the main group, so while they are all having a refreshing swim in the river, I have a quick shower, and didn’t even get to see the river!! The food was basic but delicious. Beans, rice and eggs is the norm, varied with fish and chicken.

The group of five donkeys carry the heavy load of supplies, while the cooks run to the next camp as soon as they have finished cooking. Maron suggested I leave my backpack behind, only grab the necessities for the night. We were spending the last night back at the same camp Mano Romualdo ( camp 3) we arrived and after dinner I went to bed as soon. As possible. My clothes were all soaked! But you are either wet because of the rain or the humidity! Should not have bothered bringing anything, just walk in one set of clothing!!

Stone Stairs in Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

I was to start very early to the Lost City, today involved a lot of uneven steps. I know from past experiences ( Machu Pichu and Chitzen Itza) that these steps are the worst. Luckily it had not rained the night before. So dry steps. When Blance and I arrived at the foot of the steps there was a young girl crying. I asked what the matter was and she told me she couldn’t do this any more and wanted to go home!

There are altogether about 1200 hundred steps, give or take a few hundred. I told her that she was thinking of doing them all in one go. Walk ten steps, than deep breathing, after I told her that I am turning seventy next year and she is only twenty three, how embarrassed she would be if she didn’t go on. There were four major tour groups on the trail, total of eighty people and I was the eldest! There was an elderly couple, sixty and sixty one. The rest was way under sixty if not fifty. Blanca had told me of this young man who arrived at the steps and refused to climb them , only a week beforehand! We had one young man who disappeared after only one day! It seemed he was not well. José Maron was quite worried about him! It is a lot of money to pay for one afternoon walking and one night in a camp!! So I didn’t feel too bad!

Slowly but surely I climbed up. Scary, hard, but with Blanca dragging me along, I managed. As soon as we got up there the group sat down and we had our talk! This is all very well arranged as two tour do their talks at night. So that at all time there is only ONE group on the top of the Lost City! Maron explained about how they discovered the Lost City, how it was robbed in the seventies. The Lost City was build over seven hundred years ago by the ancestors of the Kogui tribe. As all the houses were build in mud, and straw, they no longer exists, but pottery, graves, low quality gold and other items were found here. After much more talking of which I took disjointed notes which make no sense to me right now, we climbed to the top.

Here I met my group! I haven’t actually been able to interact with a lot of them but the father and son, Colombian Americans and a lovely couple from Ireland, and a young couple of Germany, these six people would often stop, chat or buy me a beer after a long hard day. Our total group had seventeen people in it. ( it was 18 but one left) So on the top we had recess together, took lots of photos, when I was told I had to leave. This upset me greatly as I just got here!!

La Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) in Colombia

I told Blanca and Maron that I would not be returning to civilisation. I would found an indigenous man over fifty, at least, and he had to have all his teeth, as I am losing all of mine and that wouldn’t do! But I was NOT going back!!When Blanca explained that Maron was worried about the rain, which meant the steps would be too slippery, I agreed, but wasn’t too happy about this. Afterwards I found out that the group was blessed by a shaman and all received a bracelet as a gift!

This peeved me off big time, but then I have to be honest, I got to sit down with a family of Kogui children, who allowed me to take photos! On the way down we also met a young family with a baby. The father didn’t want to be in the photo but the the baby was okay. One of my best photos, which I will print and enlarge. ( it is on the camera, not iPad) at the bottom of the twelve hundred steps, I slipped in the one and only small wet patch. Nearly knocked Blanca over! We laughed about it. Jarring my knee just a tad. Bit of a wriggle and rub and all was well. Back at the camp I changed into my dry clothes, packed up the rest and walked back to the camp of the day before, there we had lunch, I picked up my back pack, and all was well.

Until after lunch. The cold, the sitting still, the moment I got up I knew I was in trouble. I put my knee brace on my other knee and tried to do some warming up. Still a four hour walk to go! Well, to be honest I have no idea how long we took but it seemed like it was forever and ever. The knee ached constantly, and every stone jarred it with a stabbing pain. To top it all off the rains came down, heavy. We made up the end of the group, the couple in their sixties, the crying, fat girl and me! In the end it was me who was last!

However I did get to see toucans, only the small ones, but six of them very close up! Also many vultures and one big fat bush turkey. I have made it sound as if it was just one big hard slog, but Blanca and I joked a lot, laughed a lot and talked.

Maron was very funny, he tried to give me stern looks, like my father used to do! I told him off for looking like that at an old lady! He is the same age as my son and as he called me mami, I called him mi higo. The two of them had been married for eighteen years, I believe, and still as much in love as ever. On easy stretches the would walk ahead of me, hand in hand, smoothing when ever they could! Turtle doves they were! So sweet. So it wasn’t all hard slog, the three of us bonded very strongly. Though the  joking, laughing became harder and harder, not one dry stich on me, cold, in pain, slogging on. I needed my glasses to see where I was putting my feet, but I was in need of windscreen wipers! Maron kept telling me only five minutes more, but he did this for hours!

When I finally was ready to drop, my legs refused to move, the camp was in sight. It was dark! The main group was eating. I plonked down, and when the wonderful Irish man came to congratulate me and offer a me a beer, I burst out in tears! So embarrassed I was! Couldn’t stop at all. His wife came up to me, Saoirse is a dentist and carried painkillers, which she gave me. Then she gave me a talk that I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day. I told her I wanted to see how I felt in the morning. Sometimes it gets itself right.

However, Maron came to put some magic cream on my knee, and in a very sweet way told me that the walk had ended right there and then for me. I was deeply disappointed, couldn’t stop crying, embarrassed as well. Mind you poor Maron and Blanca have been dragging me up and down these mountains, it has been so hard for them as well. I was blubbering my apologies for being old, slow and a burden for him, his wife and the complete group really. He kissed me on the top of my head, called me mami, and said the nicest things, I was the ” light of the group”, I was positive, helping others along the way. Cheerful, helpful and positives!! Yeah, sure! I blubbered even harder. Just couldn’t stop. So incredibly embarrassed I was. That evening Maron gave a talk about the customs of the indigenous people. I missed most of it. But people from the group came, hugged me and then said nice things about me!!

The things I do to get attention! ( not on purpose believe me!) there was a strong déjà vue, as I had damaged my knee on Machu Pichu as well!! Hmmm!! There is a lesson in there somewhere! I can walk on flat ground forever, but up or down seem to be a problem for me. Of course I owe an apology to the young man I booked the tour with, as he told me my hiking sandals wouldn’t do! He was right! The uneven ground really means you need to support your ankles, so I made it extra hard for myself! Hiking poles are an other great invention, and I will buy both items when I get back home. More practise would have been good too! I mean sun baking for ten days is great, but no good preparation for a four day hike! A donkey for me!

The whole group formed a circle, and waved to the queen of the donkeys! Mind you, after this Keto weight loss, I was glad that my bottom still has sufficient padding on it! Because, man, my arse hurt more than both knees together. The last stretch was on a motorbike like I did on the first day. They say you are only as old as the man you feel! I hugged my twenty nine year old rather tight!

Although on dry ground it was much better than on day one, when we slip and slided all over the place! Then a beer at the end, waiting for the others. Lunch, shared stories, lots of hugs and promises to keep in touch. Mental note to self! Never again!! ( which I will promptly forget about!) back to El Viajero, were I rested up, drank a lot, and turned my knees and ankles back to the normal size again!! One of the boys asked me if I enjoyed my hike! I couldn’t answer him then, but now I can say I enjoyed the bonding with Blanca and Maron, I loved the beautiful surroundings, the birds, butterflies, I enjoyed interacting and meeting all these wonderful people! The food, all was a great experience! Would I do it again? NEVER!

But I am extremely pleased and proud that I did this, I got to see the Lost City, not in a photograph, but in real, real life! Was it worth all the suffering? Oh god, yeah, yeah for sure! All the hard stuff is forgotten! It was even hard to remember it for this blog. It is the kindness of the people I met, the beauty of nature and the magical, magical Lost City which I will remember for EVER
P/s some of the photos are from the google search! I took quite a few, but mainly on my camera!

Colourful Cartagena

The bus trip took eighteen hours, not thirteen! The Lonely Planet as well as the bus station told me it was ” only” thirteen hours! They both lied. I actually wonder if the travel writers actually ever catch a local bus? Just wondering. Totally exhausted I arrived at the Viajero hostel. It was extremely hot! A cold beer went down well! The American cup was playing! Happy hour was filled with young people on their mobile phones! Interesting concept. A courtyard full of young people and nobody talking! After the match finished, it was Salsa class! I was too tired to do anything else but shower and go to bed. Explorations will start tomorrow!

What a town, what a wonderful, wonderful town. People had told me two nights is sufficient. It probably is, if you are not an artist. I just loved, LOVED the colours! All the houses are in different colours, bright and different! Each house a different combination. Every where huge Bougainvilleas, adding extra colour to the colours. The town historical centre was built in 1533. Compared to the lovely Spring like climate of Medellin, it is stinking hot!

It is just a fairy tale city, and according to the Lonely Planet, and every tourist I spoke to, Cartagena de India is the most beautiful city in Colombia. I have a tendency to agree! It was a main Spanish port, it was from Cartagena the Spanish shipped their stolen gold and treasures back to the Motherland. This of course attracted the Pirates, who were looking for an easy “take away” treasure system. Lots of sieges where fought here, one of the most famous battles was led by the British pirate, Francis Drake, in 1586. Of course the Spanish responded, they made Cartagena an impregnable port, that is when elaborate walls around the old town were build and a chain of forts was constructed. Plenty of old canons and guard houses decorate these walls. A pleasant coolish Caribbean sea breeze is blowing. A lovely place to walk around and stay cooler. It is hot, it is very, very hot.

My favourite place, plaza de la Inquisición, or plaza Bolivar, after Simon Bolivar’s statue on a horse in the centre of the plaza. Plenty of huge old trees, which could have been planted by the first Spanish invaders, give a welcoming shade. The plaza is surrounded by some of the most beautiful, balconied colonial buildings. Everywhere you look you see post card scenes. Lemonade, ice cream, coffee and bracelet sellers try to get rid of their products. Beggars galore. A foreigner is an easy target, especially one who spends a week here! I bought one bracelet, to stop the hassle of all other sellers! This is NOT the place to buy anything. Over priced, very expensive, extremely touristy, but early in the morning explorations worthy of every drop of sweat!

All the churches were closed, although I did enter the Cathedral during mass. It was not appropriate to take photos. Work on this Cathedral began in 1575, but while it was still being built, the prates, Francis Drake used his canons to destroy it! It took quite awhile to finish it, 1612. I did visit the Convent of San Pedro Claver, a monk ( 1580-1654) who lived and died here. He was called the “apostle of the blacks or the ” slave of the slaves” as he spend his entire life helping the enslaved people from Africa. He was also the first Saint in the New World!(1888)

The gold museum was closed for renovations, but as I will visit the gold museum in Bogota, I was not too upset! I did visit the Castle of San Felipe de Barajas. It is the biggest and greatest fortress ever built by the spaniards in any of their colonies. It was quite small when they began construction in 1630. Then in 1657 they built a fort on top of the 40 meters high San Lazaro hill. It was then extended in 1762, which resulted in the entire hill being covered with this powerful bastion.

Beaches are promoted by every tour seller in Cartagena. I visited the tranquila beach! I did a tour as local transport was complicated and ended up nearly as expensive as going on a tour. I had met a lovely woman from Denmark, Julie, and we decided to make this tour together! Tranquility was the last thing to be had there! It took over an hour to pick everybody up from their hotels. The drive to the beach was a lot n one de t the congestion in the traffic. It is school holidays, so every Colombian and their dogs went to the same beach! Then, finally, after all the Colombians on the tour spend nearly an hour in the little shop, buying snacks, sweets and shoes, we finally walked to the beach!

I wish somebody could have filmed my face!! The beach of tranquility! It was anything BUT tranquil! Beach bars were touching each other as far as the eyes could see! Each and every one blaring Latin American music, none of it the same though. Then people on the beach playing their own Colombian rap. It was an absolutely, unbelievable scene. It took me about ten minutes to adjust, drop the expectations, and enjoy this complete chaos. There where thousands of sellers, ice cream, bracelets or massages, each an everyone blowing whistle or a horn.

Jet skies roaring so close to the swimmers it was a scary experience. People with no experience at all losing control of their jet ski. At one stage, two people swimming, were nearly beheaded! A young girl on a jet ski had no idea how to steer or brake her machine. I had just come out of the water and watched in horror, there was just nothing I could do. My brain was desperately searching for the Spanish sentence ” get the hell out of the water”. The owner of the jet was running along the beach, jumped in and yelled at the young girl, he somehow managed to grab the brakes and turn her away from the disaster. The two teenage girls on the jet ski thought it was hilarious, and kept laughing and giggling, until the man took the jet ski away from them. I was completely horrified. As a former life guard and swimming instructor this is just not acceptable. Occupational health and safety is not a big issue here in Colombia! I stayed out of he water for the rest of the day, enjoyed my lunch and couldn’t wait to get back to the backpackers!

It was time to move on! Santa Marta next, then hike to the Lost City!

Marvellous Medellin

Marvellous Medellin was a complete surprise. A huge crowded city which at first encounter fails to impress. Crazy traffic, polluted, encounters with homeless people, refugees from Venezuela and drug addicts it was a shock to the system. The history of this city is one of murders, drugs and complete violence. Since the drug boss, Pablo Escobar, was murdered by the police in 1993 the city improved immensely.  I started to explore the city.  

The Plaza de Esculturas, with 23 huge sculptures by Fernando Botero (1947)was mightily impressive. So was the museum on the same square. Medellin has a spring like climate, so it was lovely weather to explore. There are lots of green parks. The city has striking public art!

I had seen one of the large human sculptures of Botero in Armenia. Not realising the artist was Colombian!

Barrio 13 with its huge murals, is a showcase of social engineering! Not so long ago it was the most dangerous place to wander through. Disappearing people and children was a daily occurrence. Gang violence, drug dealers and other unpleasant practises were the order of the day. The government decided to step in, offered electricity and other bribes, I believe free education was one of them, and managed to turn the whole area around.

It is now a huge tourist attractions and a stark contrast to the other Barrios, who haven’t been so fortunate to get a make over! I thoroughly enjoyed myself exploring all the art on display. I visited the Arvi park which you can only visit by cable cars! Not a pleasant experience! I did an hour tour through the jungle, looking at different orchids, plants and bird life.

Afterwards I decided I better start practising for my hike to the Lost city, and walked for about five kilometres to the waterfall. This lovely family stopped gave me a lift. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon together. They were even kind enough to drop me off right at my hostel! The kindness of Colombian people is overwhelming.

I decided to make a day tour to Guatape, catching the local bus. It is a lovely historical village with a huge monolith, that you can climb. It has 740 steps, I looked at it, decided in this heat 1580 steps was too much for my knees and my overall well being! So no go! According to the opinionated Hungarian woman on the bus next to me, I MUST climb it, why else did I go to this village? I am totally allergic to the word MUST, so I immediately declined the climb altogether. This lady had just spend the last two hours telling me all about Australia and Cooper Pedy, how to get there, how to go “noodling” and overall HOW to be Australian! Interesting woman!

Some people you can not have a conversation with, so I just let her talk about her experiences of the two weeks she lived in Australia, and let her believe she was now definitely an ” expert” on everything Australian! She was shocked I travelled ” without a plan”!! This was NOT good in her opinion! I would only have BAD experiences! I smiled a lot! Didn’t say much, definitely becoming “Zen” like! No longer have the need to go into discussions with people, who have strong opinions! Not that long ago I was one of them myself!

Guatape was lovely. A colourful little town, which is famous for its reliefs on the facade on all the buildings. Apparently they were made to deter chickens from pecking at the buildings, and to discourage children to play ball games against the fragile concrete facades. Whatever the reason behind it, it makes for a very attractive display in the small town.

I also made a day trip to Santa Fe de Antioquia. A wonderfully perserved colonial town, which was founded in 1541. It was the start of the Colombian holiday season, so the bus station was chokker block full. Two bus companies had no buses going, or they were full, didn’t quite get what they meant! I went to a mini bus company who told me that there was a one hour to two hour wait before the next bus! Hm. What to do? I decided to wait for one hour and see how it all went. I had no other plans for the day anyway. After less then half an hour the men called me and asked me if I was travelling alone? Okay, they had one seat left for a bus which left in five minutes!

The traffic was absolutely shocking! Big traffic jams, bottle neck near the toll booth. I decided to just go to sleep and see what would happen! Santa Fe is, according to the Lonely Planet, famous for its carved doors! I walked for over six hours and I saw only one carved door! So that was a bit of a disappointment! However the town was filled with over fifty attractions. I manage to see only twenty, but in the heat that was quite a good effort!

Also there is an old bridge, 1895, designed by Jose Maria Villa, who also designed the Brooklyn bridge! I had no intention of going there, but as I had over an hour to wait for my return bus, I managed to get a cheap offer to visit the bridge on the back of a motor bike taxi. So off we went!he asked if I wanted to walk over the bridge, which I didn’t, so he actually drove the bike over it to the other side! I took some photos, and did not want to visit the souvenir stalls and buy crap I didn’t want!

So back we went! A lovely “slow” drive through a forest. Wind blowing, cooling me down. Here in Colombia speed is a macho exercise, the faster you go, the more macho you are! Especially if you actually make a phone call or text while driving along! I have seen more accidents in the four weeks I have been here, then in my whole year living in India! I had planned to fly to Cartagena from Medellin, but due to the holidays, prices had tripled! Okay, the bus trip was “only” thirteen hours, so I did that! Cartagena , I am on my way!

Tierradentro, San Andrés De Pisimbala, Colombia

Tierredentro, a national park, near the village of San Andrés de Pisimbala. I had e mailed Alejandro,  the owner of Tierradentro Hostel, and booked a room. Two may be three nights. The place was lovely and I was the only guest. It was quiet, warm and so peaceful. It was still early, about four thirty pm, so I decided to look for something to eat. There was a restaurant nearby, where the woman told me rudely she didn’t open till six pm.

I walked on to the village, gorgeous old church, lots of murals. Looked around, walked back, and saw a young couple at the restaurant. They were from Holland. I ordered my food, and had a beer. The young couple received their food, while I waited, waited and waited some more! When I went to ask what happened to my food, the woman was down right rude!  No idea what all this was about, I paid for my beer and left.

I woke up rather late, about eight o’clock, late for Clombians, who are all up at the crack of dawn, and when Alejandro asked how the dinner was the night before. I had to tell him that I had not eaten anything the day before! He apologised for the behaviour of the rude woman, and came down with a coffee, fruit and two empanadas!! Mind you, I was glad to meet one rude person, all the people here have been so incredibly polite and wonderful, it is good to see that there are other kinds too!

At nine o’clock I was in the park, looking at the two musea, before starting my climb upon the mountain. It had started to rain! This made the cobble stone path extremely slippery, and rather hard to walk on. I stopped several times on the climb to watch the amazing view. There was nobody else on the path. This is something I delight in, normally touristy sites are so very crowded, but not here, not yet!

The burial sites are just amazing. They have been discovered in about the seventies. Very little is known about the Indigenous people, who have created these amazing chambers.  These underground constructions are called hypogea, created by the NASA people, who have all but disappeared. The experts think they were created between 600 to 900 BC. The first cluster of burial chambers is called Loma de Segovia, sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the overall place!! It took awhile before I caught my breath.!

A young German couple were already climbing in and out of these tom So! I took one look, and freaked out!! There are steep, and I mean STEEP, spiral staircases, without any handrails or supports what so ever, a BIG black hole you need to step into! Oops! This is an absolute NO GO zone for me!

The lovely young man, who was guarding the place, called John, ( not Juan!) offered to help me. There were about six to nine tombs if I remember correctly. I suggested he just help me into the ones with the paintings and carvings! I climbed in and out these contraptions with enormous difficulties. I saw four stunningly beautifully decorated burial sites! I could not take photos on the iPad, due to the lack of light. Here are just a few taken from the information boards. It was awesome, just awesome! Mind you, my knees are never going to be the same again!

The next stage was a steep hike up, up, up to Alto del Duende, where the guide was an old man, with worse knees than me, so I didn’t go into any of the chambers here. The young German couple, told me that their knees were hurting too, and they were in their twenties!! I did read all the information, sat down with the guide, and enjoyed the stunningly beautiful country site.

Time to move on down the mountains! One more stop to make! A place with several sculptures like the ones in San Agustin, but not as old. By now I was quite exhausted. My minuscule breakfast had worn of and I needed fuel if I was to keep on going on! So I stopped in a wonderful restaurant, La Portada, the owner Leonardo , I had met the day before! Lunch was delicious. Leonardo offered to take me up on the other mountain the day after, so he could help me to climb into the burial tomb up there. This burial tomb is decorated with stars, the rainbow, the seasons etc. But……..it is a two hour hike UP the mountain!

Hm! Can I get back on that one, after I wake up tomorrow morning?? I need to see how my legs and knees are holding out! The next morning I woke up, stiff and sore and to more rain! Hm! Time to move on to warmer parts! The desert!




Cool Colombia

On the road to Colombia. The border crossing was very easy! When I worked out that the enormous queues had nothing to do with tourist, but were hundreds of people from Venezuela, I calmed down! At first the signs, or rather the non signs at the Ecuadorean side, made me need to ask at least three times, where I needed to go. The Colombian side was very straight forward. When I stood in the wrong queue, the police man directed me to the two person queue instead! The old man and I started talking, just to pass the time. He shook my hand when it was my turn!

The young man stamping my passport was extremely friendly. Welcoming me to his country. Even obliged by putting the stamp at the back of my passport, where I have lots of empty pages! Across he border, there were only taxies, no collectivos to be seen. I took a taxi to the Santuarion de las Lajas. A church which is famous since 1768. As lots of miracles have happened here! Never one to let a miracle slip by, I burned my nine candles. My driver was delightful. Juan, was sixty and flirted like mad! Which is so funny as he has four grandchildren and has been married for forty two years, he told me! It is a magical place. Stunningly beautiful architecture.

Juan dropped me of at the terminal, where I caught a collectivo ( mini bus) to Pasto. Pasto is famous for it’s beautiful lake. The 64 kilometre drive took nearly four hours. Due to extensive road works. They are building a double highway, with huge bridges over the valleys. Lots of waiting time, which served the people selling food and drinks really well. Their business thrived. Finally we arrived in Pasto and my driver pointed to an hotel across the road. It was a ” safe” hotel he told me! This left me wondering if they have non safe hotels too? The hotel was reasonably priced and close to the bus station. This is all that is important when only staying one or two nights!

I woke up freezing, under my very thin blanket, and watched the down pour! What to do? Stay in bed all day? Go to the lake? By ten o’clock the rain eased up, and I walked the five blocks to the collectivos stand. Half an hour later I was in the Venezia of Colombia.

Two of the local children I played with.

Due to the heavy duty rain, all the roads were flooded. It was amazing. A pretty place. I had hoped to walk to the lake, but this is impossible. One needs to take a boat. Since I am on my own, the price per boat was too high for my liking, and after hanging around for about two hours to see if I could share with other tourists I gave up. It is busy on the weekend, but that was too late for me. I had a delicious lunch of fresh trout in a garlic sauce with salad, chips and plantain ( fried green bananas).

When I came back I walked to the bus station to find out about the bus to San Agustin. Ah, there was one at 6.15am. Do I need to book? Ah, NO, señora, this is NOT necessary! Okay!

Had an early night with an extra blanket. Rocked up at 5.45 am to buy my ticket, and guess what? Yeah, you are right! It was FULL! Okay, lesson one, buy the ticket the day before anyway, what ever they tell you! I took money out of the ATM from the Bogota bank, which charged me A$5,50 for taking out A$86,00 !! So this morning I thought I try another ATM!! I tried the bank of Colombia, again it would not let me take out more money than A$86.00 ! This bank charged me A$7.50!! Doubly great! So they won’t let you take out large amounts, but they charge you BIG money for small amounts! I won’t tell you what language I used! But is was NOT good at six o’ clock in the morning. After a delicious coffee and two corn breads, I felt better! I should start a book, the Zen of travelling!

What a horrific journey we had today! Pasto to Pitalito. Eight hours of solid horror. The mini bus was driven by an absolute mad man! The road is through high mountains, unsealed, sharp Devil’s elbows, rock slides, mudslides, crosses at every corner. Every barrier in every sharp corner is damaged or broken. Advice of twenty kilometres per hour was totally ignored. Going eighty through the sharp corners, cutting them severely wherever possible. All the while driving with one hand, texting on his phone, talking on his phone, coming close to disaster too many times for me to recount. I did my deep breathing, told the driver several times to slow down, these requests were ignored. I was sure I would end my life on this road today. Saw two major accidents, which at least got the driver of the phone for a little while! Four ambulances with blaring sirens and flashing lights passed us. Eight hours of pure hell! ( in Spanish this road is called the trampoline to Death!)

In Pitalito I had to change over to a ute with cover, which was the local bus. Finally at six o’ clock I was in San Agustin. It took awhile before I could climb out of the back of the ute. This lovely young woman helped me. She was the owner of Diamanta Real, a hostel, across the road. I had planned to go up the mountain, but the thought of another ride on any kind of vehicle made me stop. Paula, the young woman, had lovely clean accommodation. An hour later and I was fast asleep. I slept solidly for over twelve hours. Strangely enough I had no nightmares what so ever after this horrifying ordeal.

As soon as I arrived at the hostel, Paula explained where all the archeological sites were, and I booked and paid for a tour. I was picked up at nine in the morning, to go and see the special sites. Our group was seven people, all Colombian, and the driver. No English was spoken. This is actually very good for me. It forces me to understand the fast speech of the locals. I do miss a lot, though. San Agustin is famous for its burial grounds with the unusual sculptures. These burial grounds are between five to two thousand years before Christ. The significance of the sculptures is debated, but they seem to be guides, protectors or guards.

The first stop was a museum. Again everything in Spanish only. Beautiful mural explains the history of the place. The graves were discovered and opened up in 1972. They were already looted. The thought is that the graves have been looted since the mid seventeen hundreds. Some of the gold is in the museum of Bogota. Still the site is very impressive. Several big burial sites and lots of different sculptures. We visited a museum, two sacred sites and a wonderful waterfall. It was a great day. A slow driver made it ever so enjoyable!

The ticket I bought was valid for one more site. The next day it rained cats and dogs. What to do? Stay in bed or face the elements? I faced the elements. Took a motor taxi, promised to pay extra if he went slow! Another beautiful site. Met a lovely young man on the way down.

He kindly offered me his arm, as the path was incredibly slippery and I had fallen already twice. Osman, the kind young man, gave me a lift back into town. By now he rain had stopped, so I decided to walk to the museum about two kilometres up the mountain. A lovely private museum, where they served great coffee! Colombian coffee is one of the many nice things! It is absolutely delicious!

Here I met a young couple from French Switzerland. Alas, they did not speak English! Chatting away in Spanish, I did manage to ask what was wrong with the local ATM machine. They had e same problem and gave me he name of a different bank, which is in Bogota! Okay! Will see if I can solve this eighty dollars a shot problem.

There was an older man sitting there, who spoke wonderful English. His name was Juan, and he spend the last thirty years in the US as a truck driver. We ended up chatting and Juan was kind enough to drop me back into town! I like this place, with its friendly people! Only one more place to visit. I organised my bus trip to Tierradentro, for Wednesday

The next morning I took a motor taxi most of the way to the sculptures which still had most of their colours! When I arrived, there was a film group making a documentary. I waited until they had finished filming before I climbed up to see the sculptures. Very impressive they were too. Walking back I asked the police man if he was going back to town, and yes! I got another lift!! Life is good!. In the back of the police ute with the film crew, we talked, laughed and time flew by.
I like Colombia, interesting places, friendly people and great food! Moving on tomorrow!

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