Tag Archives: Colombia

El Viaje

When Justin and I were in Cordoba we went to the Evita Fine Arts Museum. on our way out our heads turned and our attention was drawn to a rather dark painting of a small bus filled with passengers travelling through the dead of night, traulling through empty land depicted by grey speckles. The only color on the painting was from the two yellow headlights beaming out in front. Somehow, we understood what the painter was trying to communicate. And then we saw the title: El Viaje.

It’s now been a week since we finished our Viaje (‘journey’ in Spanish). Our itineraries have slowed down to a virtual stop, Justin staying in Petaluma, CA and me in Bromsgrove, England. The music that entertained us on the streets, in the corner shops, and in the bars has been replaced with birds tweeting, the rumble of lawn mowers, and the friendly chatter amongst the neighbours (which we can now understand fully!). The views of beaches and small, rather sloppily put together red brick houses are now views of the English or Californian countryside with perfectly put together houses and manicured lawns. The temperature has now dropped so that rather than feeling like your brain is about to boil even at 4:00 in the afternoon, you can leisurely bask in the sun at all hours of the day (surprisingly I’m only talking about England right now since it’s been raining in California). And the ever-changing company of fellow travellers and South American locals is now the solid company of family and old friends.

I posted on Facebook before leaving that I was excited, scared and sad about coming home, and I think that relates to Justin as well. We had been saving for over four years to go on the journey of a lifetime, and the fact that it was coming to an end scared us. We wondered how we would adjust to the Western World after eight months in South America; would it be too quiet, would there be too much order, would we become bored with just being in the same familiar place? On the other hand, we were also excited, dreaming of the foods we would eat first, mine a Cornish pasty, his a deep dish pizza with extra sauce, being able to communicate without any effort, having our own beds and mostly seeing our friends and family.

Over this past week I think we can both say that coming back wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be and have fit back into the more orderly way of life pretty quickly. What does seem surprising is how the last eight months seems more like a dream. It’s crazy to think that last month we were at Sambodromo in Rio, the month before we were sailing around the Galapagos, the month before that we were visiting coffee fincas in Colombia (which makes choosing Colombian coffee a little more fun now), and the month before that we were hiking the Inca Trail. The list of adventures, experiences and journeys we’ve had goes on an on, and will be memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. As well as the adventures, the people we’ve met along the way have added so much to our journey, especially the Buus family, whom we lived with in Bariloche, Carina and Carolina our Spanish teachers in Argentina, Elizabeth our Spanish teacher in Bolivia, Fabiano and Lina who took us in over Christmas so we had a family to spend the holiday season with, and numerous inspiring other travellers. The two that stand out the most we met in Patagonia; one who sailed a small boat from France to Ushuaia with his wife, another is a back country skier who went alone to Glacier National Park and had to cross a treacherous avalanche zone to get to the slope he wanted to ski down. While we thought we were cool travelling around the continent, these guys brought adventure to a whole new level. Then there were the friends we made, some of them we may never see again. And this really is the notion of travelling. One day you could be sat in a hostel chatting away with someone from Israel and the next you could be hiking up a mountain with people from Denmark. Travelling not only provides you with fun memories, but also helps you to cease the day and meet people you may normally just pass on the street.  This is one of the reasons we just couldn’t carry out our original idea of having you help us with our journey, and vote on what we should do next. Our itinerary was too spur of the moment.

Along with the good there is the bad. South America is a third world continent and I feel so privileged to come from England where I can have pretty much whatever I want; clothes, a car, a house. Simple things that we expect, rather than hope for. The governments we have in both the States and the UK are more or less for the people, vs. for themselves. Yes we could argue the other way, but we are so lucky to have education, world class health care, well built houses, roads, and a well organized waste disposal system! I have seen poverty before, but have not had time to absorb it like we did in South America. Yes, there are areas where the standard of living is similar to the UK or the US, but the poor areas are much greater with locals living in tiny brick boxes, most with metal supports sticking out of the top while they save up for a second floor. They don’t just throw their washing in the machines but do it by hand and hang it out to dry by a smoggy road. They throw their rubbish on the floor because they don’t have the education to realize what it does to the environment. Sometimes they don’t use soap, because they don’t have the education to understand about germs. And some still live in fear of guerrillas.  It’s a shame that it is still like this now we are in the 21st century, but unfortunately they were part of the new world that had everything taken from them and left to deal with what was left. Hopefully one day they will be able to find their feet and become competing countries. Brazil is showing signs of change with the upcoming Olympics and World Cup and the fact that it is one of the BRIC countries, however they still have a long way to go.

One of the travellers we met described South America as a wonderland and I couldn’t agree more; from a continent long mountain range, to wide, flat salt lakes; from jungles to deserts; from the world’s largest glacier to tiny hot pools; coffee, wine and cachaca; friendly wildlife and unsure tribal people; South America has so much to offer. I hope that Justin and my journey has educated you, inspired you and one day maybe we shall meet somewhere in the world. We only get one life, and we only take with it memories so go Shadow Travellers and explore!

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Colombia: The Fiesta

It’s been a while since I last posted a blog, and while I am sorry, I’m pleased to say that we have been enjoying the fiesta life of Colombia…maybe a little too much!

After travelling through Peru and Bolivia, it was refreshing to arrive in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. While we did not have any luck with the weather (terrential rains in the dry season) we had great experiences with the people and the city. The second of December kicks off Christmas season down here with the turning on of the lights. Justin and I strolled through the elite section of Bogota called Zona Rosa. The modern buildings are filled with trendy clothes stores, restaurants offering high end cuisine and bars packed with Colombians ready for a party. The vibe here, and in all of Colombia is so alive and exciting to be a part of. The people are friendly and have a sincere interest in other travellers. Tourism is still new so they are not sick of us yet! That night we got right into the swing of things and headed on out meeting up with a friend, Alan, who we met in Cusco. He was staying with his friend Fabiano, a Colombian, who, along with his friend Lina ended up being our tour guides while we were in Bogota. They took us to the amazingly colourful eight story salsa club called Andres! This was a melting pot of different generations just having a good time and doing what they do best, Salsa!

As I mentioned above, Fabiano and Lina became our tour guides taking us to see the different Christmas lights in a small town called Usaquen, which has now been swallowed by Bogota’s urban sprawl. The Colombians go all out with the festive decorations, and parks all over the country are full of Alice in Wonderland multicolored lights. They even have fake snow that is sprayed every now and then which both children and adults alike go crazy for. Fabiano also invited us over to his Uncle and Aunt’s house where we enjoyed Onces. Onces happens every Sunday. Family and friends get together and enjoy hot chocolate, cheese and bread. They even enjoy dipping their cheese in the hot chcoloate as we would dunk biscuits. As with all Colombians, the family welcomed us in and we spent the evening chatting away.

While we were in Bogota we also visited Monserat, a cathedral over looking the city.Unfortunately we chose to visit on a Sunday, along with 90% of Bogota. We could only stand the crownds for 15 minutes. We also visited the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira. The cathedral is in a mine which is still functioning today and was initially built as a pilgrimage. The new cathedral was built in 1995 and has an artsy feel to it with well designed lighting. Now the cathderal is mainly a tourist attraction and is part of the Salt Theme Park.

Leaving Bogota we headed north to hit the colonial towns of Bogota.  First stop was Sogamoso, not really a tourist town, but was worth checking out for Lago Tato, the biggest lake in Colombia. The bus route from Sogamoso around the lake takes you out into the country and through all of the onion fields. We stopped at Aquitania, which is full of the pungent smell of onions and men in ponchos and cowboy hats riding around on motobikes. After checking out the lake for a few minutes before the rain hit us again, we headed to Iza the sleepier, prim and proper cousin to Aquitania.

Carrying on the Christmas celebrations the seventh of December was Dia de Las Velitas where families line up little candles in the street and light them at dark. In true Colombian style there is a fiesta consisting of fireworks, a salsa band, aguilla beer and dancing. The larger fiesta is in Villa de Leyva, however we stayed in Sogomoso for the more intimate version.

Our next colonial town was San Gil, further north halfway between Bogota and the coast. To get here we decided to take a day bus, which we regretted after the first ten minutes. I’ve complained about the driving before but Colombia takes it to a whole new level. They really do not care about overtaking on blind bends, overtaking when a semi truck is blundering down the road towards them, or driving right up behind another car or bus so close that they could almost touch. I think I’ve probably grown about another 10 grey hairs in the past month. We have now decided that we will just try and do night buses so you can’t see what is going on. However the night busses are freezing and you typically will need a jumper, a coat, a rain coat and a wooly hat to stay warm.

San Gil is set on a hill meaning the streets are steeper than those of San Francisco. I didn’t think that would be posible! While this is the adventure capital of Colombia we chose to chill out and enjoy some sun! Here, surprisingly, they were fiesta’ing as well . Justin and I shared a few beers with some local linemen (Justin couldn’t help himself) and watched the festivities in the park and across the way in a packed corner shop while the crowd was watching a tense football game.

Finishing off our tour of the Colonial towns we headed to Barichara, a very artsy town a day trip away from San Gil. Here the buildings are a brilliant white, the flowers are stunningly pink, the streets a intricately cobbled. You can tell that the people take pride in their pueblo. We wandered round here for a few hours then headed back to San Gil to get the night bus north. We were heading to the coast!

The next part of our journey were the beaches of Colombia’s carribean coast. We first stopped in Taganga, a growing fishing village. Here life is more tranquilo. Walking down the main strip you see the locals hanging out on the corner chatting with a bottle of Aguila and the beats of salsa music flowing through the air. The beaches here are OK (unfortunately the tranquilo goes a little too far and the beaches and water do have the odd bit of rubbish floating in them), but you really come here to either do the Ciudad Perdida trek  or to go to the beaches of Parque Tayrona. We decided to do the latter option because of time (Ciudad Perdida takes 6 days) and because the idea of more mozzie bites scared us. We joined a couple from San Francisco, Dallas and Peter and headed to the park. They told us it take 2 hours to get to the beach you can camp at, but as usual it took longer. We weren’t complaining as the views of the dense forest, the golden sand and the blue wáter was a nice change to being inland. The easy trail took us through the forest, along the beaches and through the mud pits which I loved! You would probably have top ay $200 for that mud back home. There were ladies selling orange juice and arepas (arepas are like a small corn tortilla and are widely used for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Colombia. I’m now over them!) which curbed our thirst and hunger after the hike. After 4 hours we made it to the Cabo San Juan. We took in the views of the cove, but our dreams of a nice refreshing dip were quickly taken away when the rain started pouring down. We settled in our tents (you can also rent hammocks, but they aren’t such a great idea in the rain) and then went and played cards while we were entertained by the thunderstorm over the ocean.

The next morning was picture perfect and we spent our day swimming in the wáter and sunbathing, well Dallas and I did, while Justin and Peter went on an adventure. Rather than hiking out we decided to get the boat back, which was an adventure in itself. I think we almost tipped it a couple of times!

After roughing it in Parque Tayrona, we were ready for Cartegena, the famous walled city of Colombia. Unfortunately again the rain was on the same itinerary and welcomed us on arrival and was still hanging around to wave us off when we left four days later. Sadly too tourism is a well established industry here and the people are either not so friendly or love to hassle you on the streets trying to sell coral necklaces or the product of the other well established industry. We still made the most of our time walking round the colorful streets, sunbathing over on Isla Pirata, a part of Isla Rosarios, (we only had 40 minutes of rain that day!) and eating some delicious food at a french bakery and La Cevicheria which Anthony Bourdain visited.  We also tried out Vulcan Totumo, a mud volcano. This was a strange but fun experience. The volcano is more of a mound shaped hill. They are very organized and have someone to take your photos while you wallow in the mud, men to give you a rub down and women in the lagoon to wash you off if you so desire. We just went for the photographer. As soon as you arrive, you are told to strip off down to your bathing suits and climb up the wooden stairs to the top of the volcano. At the top there is a pit just a bit bigger than a hot tub, and when we arrived it was filled with giggling geriatrics. After waiting for a while in our swimming cozzies, shivvering as the rain decided to sprinkle again, they were all pulled out and it was our turn to glide in. It was a very weird feeling as you can’t touch the bottom and the staff literally push you around. After twenty minutes, and maybe feeling a few years younger, we headed down to the lagoon for a quick wash off before heading for lunch.

Our last beach stop was in Tulu, a town full of loud Colombian tourists. Fortunaly our hostel was quiet and we were able to make the most of the hammocks. The beaches in Tulu are tiny and are backed up to a road, so we headed to El Calao Beach in Covenas.  To get here, we needed to take a local bus and then a moto-taxi. When we arrived in Tulu we were picked up by a pedicab, so I figured that a moto-taxi was the term they used for a car. Nope…it was a motorbike. I’ve never been on a bike before and here I am clutching on to my driver along the roads with no helmet and wearing only a top and shorts. I mean really, leathers are so last year. Fortunately we made it safe and sound arriving at the beach with no one else in sight. It was a nice change to the beaches of Taganga and Isla Pirata where every 5 minutes you are being bothered about something. We spent a few hours there and then hopped on the bikes back to town.

Next we were off to Medellin, well after a long night bus that broke down for 4 hours and was like the antartic! The city was big, yellow bumper car taxis honked away in the streets, the center was crowded with people getting ready for Christmas. It was all a little overwhelming for us. So we headed to Poblado, again the more upscale side of town and enjoyed some relaxing beers with a couple of other travellers we met in Bolivia. This side of town though may be chill in the day, but at night the bars and clubs are pumping.

In Medellin the big tourist attraction is the Pablo Escobar tour. Pablo Escobar was a famous drug lord and now his family do tours of his house and where he was killed. We decided against it since the money goes to his family, and they probably have enough funding from his drug habit. The other backpackers who have done it have said it was really interesting and worthwhile.

Christmas was drawing close so we decided to head down south. Fabiano and Lina, our friends from Lima had invited us to spend Christmas with their families in Ibague. Fabiano’s family welcomed us with open arms during their traditional celebrations. They celebrate Christmas more so on Christmas eve, going round to see different friends, and practicing Novenas. Novenas are prayers that they read every evening the nine days before Christmas. The Novena we were a part of lasted for about 45 minutes. Afterwards they serve dinner at midnight, which is meats, potato salad and little desserts with peach, and then they open their presents. On Christmas morning we had tamales for breakfast, which are slightly different to the mexican kind and then went to church. It was striking to me how casual the church ceremony felt, probably because they go more than once a year unlike most of us. They didn’t even have a hymn book and everyone knew what was going on. Later on in the day we went round to Linas for lunch and then took a drive out of Ibague where the locals were all partying in the streets and bars. It was a very different experience to our traditions at home and we feel very lucky to have had a real Colombian Christmas.

After Christmas, we decided to head for the Zona del Cafe! We had already experienced the Coffee park, which is a small theme park mainly for kids, but Justin and I enjoyed the rollercoaster and racing each other round in karts. But we were ready for the real coffee park, so we headed to Salento, a beautiful small town right in the heart of it all. The hills here are illuminous green, and the town is decorated with funky coloured buildings. The coffee, they argue here, is the best in the world, and while I am not a major coffee connoisseur it did the trick for me. We did a couple of coffee tours here and watched how they make the coffee by hand from start to finish. Unfortunately for the colombians, while the coffee is produced here the good stuff gets exported, while they are left with the leftover beans that have been damaged in some way. However, in Salento you can find a good cup at a local café.

We also did the hike to Valle De Corcora to see the tallest wax palm trees scattered through the valley. The hike also takes you up to a hummingbird reserve, where you can watch the birds zoom around and listen to their wings beating over a hot chocolate and cheese.

The nightlife in Salento is quite lively despite the size of the town. We were staying at Casona de Lili, along with Lili’s daughter and her friends. One night we bumped into them at a bar and joined in with shots of aguardiente and salsa lessons.

Our last stop in Colombia was Cali, the salsa capital. We arrived to catch the tail end of the salsa festival and for New Year.  We only booked our hostel two days before arriving, not normally a good idea when it’s new years, but lucked out and got a superior suite and an amazing hostel, which is more like a mansión with a pool, sauna and steam room. The owner is also a michelen star chef so we enjoyed a very nice meal the day we arrived for his birthday (we gave him the bumps in return). I think the owner before hand had some dealings with the white stuff based on the black and gold decor choices in our bathroom.

We had three awesome nights out in Cali. The first was a mix of our friend Carmel (who we did the Pampas in Bolivia with) and I in a dressing room trying on salsa costumes, a petrol station with fast and the furious style cars and a random bar. The second we were on a Chiva, which is a Colombian party bus, and then ended up at a bar dancing with a guy and a girl who compete in Salsa until 5 am. And the third was New Years. Again it’s different here, where most people enjoy New Years with their family and then go out after. Everyone at our hostel grouped together and headed on a missión to try and find something open. First we found the Intercontinental, and were tempted but then opted for the tienda on the side of a main street with patio chairs, bottles of Andres champagne and make shift fireworks. It was a hilarious way to ring in the new year and was then followed by, what more than a salsa club till 4 am. As you can imagine we were all wrecked yesterday but fortunately we had a pool to chill out by.

Tonight we head down towards the equator for some fun in Equador! Hope everyone had a great time over the holidays and Happy New Year!