San Gil

San Gil was not originally in our travel plans but we had enough good things about Colombia’s “adventure capital” that we decided to head out to the East of the country to check it out.

Our hostel was located a fair way out of town and we had to endure a fairly bumpy and hazardous taxi drive along some washed out dirt roads before finally arriving.

The hostel had some great views out over the valley, a nice hammock to chill on and a Tarzan swing!! We settled in for the night and then the next day we were off paragliding.

We bused it up to the top of the Chicamocha canyon which was over 2,000m in depth. Things got off to a bit of a slow start with a take-off delayed due to bad weather. In true South American style a make shift soccer pitch was marked out (using the parachutes we would be gliding with as goals) and a game started! A couple hours later our guides finally decided the weather conditions were right, or that they had finally had enough after two hours of soccer, and it was time to take off.
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We were strapped to our pilots, the parachutes went up and before we knew it we were soaring over the canyon! It was a very calm and relaxing flight spiralling up into the clouds. Jen and I both landed safely back at our take-off area but unfortunately one of the other members of the group got blown off course and ended up having to trek out of the canyon!

 

The next day it was off the Baricharra, “the prettiest town in Colombia”. We wandered through it’s streets paved with cobble stones, past whitewashed buildings with red-tiled roofs that gave the feeling that it hardly changed in the last 300 years. We did a short walk to nearby town of Guane before returning to San Gil.
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Back in San Gil we tried to get a taxi back to our hostel but none of the taxi drivers wanted to take on the dodgy mountain road. Eventually we had to jump on the back of two motorbikes whose drivers were the only ones game enough to make the trip. Tristan’s driver, however, didn’t seem too concerned as he took out his mobile phone to text on as he sped along. To make matters worse Tristan only had one hand with which to hold on as he clutched Jen’s bottle of red in the other!

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Bogota

Things did not get off to a good start in Bogota. After being dropped off on the overnight bus we made our way to the hostel that Tristan had insisted on booked. Jen was a bit sceptical as the hostel only had one review online but Tristan had assured her it would be fine… plus it was cheap!

Not surprisingly when we arrived the owner did not speak any english and did not have any record of our booking. Nevertheless he told us to return in one hour for a reason we could not understand. We took ourselves of to a nearby cafe and had breakfast where the owners turned out to be Kiwis!

When we returned to the hostel we were told that there was no room for us but the owner’s friends had a hostel with a room. We were asked if we liked animals to which we gave a hesitant yes. When we arrived we were greeted by a dog, some birds and a crowing rooster right outside our room! Lucky us!

After settling into our room (aka sleeping all morning because overnight buses are terrible) we headed off on a bike tour of the city. The tour had a little bit of everything as we stopped by some landmarks to take in some history, enjoyed some local fruits, played some Tejo, saw some street art and then enjoyed a freshly brewed coffee! Needless to say it was a hectic ride. As we walking home we were lured into a taco restaurant by some promises of craft beer and we met the owner who turned out to be from Australia!

The next day it was off to climb Cerro de Monserrate, a mountain that stands out 3,152 metres above sea level and dominates the city. There was both the options of a cable car and train to the top but being the suckers for punishment, we decided to take on the 1,500+ stairs.

Unfortunately, it turned out that we weren’t the only ones with this idea and being a public holiday we had to battle with what seemed like half of Bogota to reach the top. Somehow we prevailed through the crowds and Jen was able to keep her patience! At the top we stopped to take in some nice views of the city before tackling the crowds again to make it to bottom.

We had been on the road for over 5 months at this point and we decided it was finally time to take the plunge and visit our first museum! We headed to Museo de Botero which showcased the paintings and sculputes of Fernando Botero one of Colombia’s most famous artists known for his “fat”figurs, including a fat Mona Lisa! We found one painting which scarily looked liked Tristan.

The Coffee Region

Our first stop on our tour of the coffee region was a little romantic cabana set in the lush green forest outside of Armenia. We enjoyed a couple days relaxing in the tranquil setting with views from our deck out to the forest. It was a short walk from our room down to a nearby river with a small waterfall with a refreshing dip.

It was then off to the town of Salento which is nestled between the gorgeous green mountains of which the coffee region is famous for. The town itself is filled with traditional brightly coloured houses. We were “glamping” in the grounds of a hostel a short walk from the town. We were again treated with some amazing views from our tent.

In Salento we met up with our friends for a night of beers and Tejo. What is Tejo you ask? It is Colombia’s national past-time which naturally involves lots of explosions! The game consists of throwing a rock at a ring of small packages filled with gunpowder. When you are on target you were rewarded with a very satisfying KABOOM!!

 

The next day we jumped in the back of a jeep and were off to Valle de Corcora, The day did not start well as we trudged through deep mud with the rain pouring down. We eventually made it up through the dense cloud forest to a small cafe serving hot chocolate where we we could see lots of hummingbirds buzzing around and feeding!

Finally, as we began our final ascent the rain cleared and the sun came out giving us incredible views of the valley and the famous wax palms! The plans are Colombia’s national tree and are the largest plans in the world at over 60m high! The towering palms were an impressive sight set in the brilliant green valley.

Of course a trip to the coffee region would not be complete with a tour of a coffee plantation and we trekked to a nearby farm to hear about the process of growing, picking and roasting the coffee beans. At the end of tour we enjoyed a nice freshly brewed cup and then it was off on the overnight bus to Bogota!

Cali

The next stop on our Colombian journey was the gritty city of Cali, known as the home of salsa! We had told ourselves that we were having no more dancing lessons after the mangling of the Tango in  Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, we somehow found ourselves in small, sweaty room filled with about 20 other backpackers trying to follow our enthusiastic instructors as the salsa music blared. We put up a valiant effort but eventually Salsa defeated us and we retired to the cool night air and our cervazas. Once again vowing to stay clear of any dance lessons.

Earlier that day we had taken on the advice of some fellow travellers to climb the cerro de las tres cruces, three crosses high in the mountains overlooking the city. We had read that it was best to go early in the morning for the climb but for some reason decided not to heed this advice instead setting off in the middle of the day. It was a long, brutal climb to the peak in the burning sun with little respite in the shade. We regretted our early morning indolence but continued on. Along the way we were being passed by many locals running up and then somehow managing a work out at the Flinstones gym at the top.

When we finally reached the top we rewarded ourselves with a fresh juice whilst we relaxed and took in the views of the city.DSC02771DSC02774DSC02778DSC02782DSC02787

Popayan

23rd of June- It was time to say goodbye to Ecuador and head across the border into Colombia. We passed through immigration on the Ecuadorean side and then had to walk across a bridge with our bags into Colombia. Once through Colombian immigration, Tristan negotiated a price with the first person that approached him to take us to a nearby town where we would catch a bus to Popayan.

A price was agreed and the man took us to his car which turned out to be just his personal car and not an official “taxi”. Nevertheless, albeit with a growing level concern on Jen’s behalf, we piled in with our bags. The man then proceeded to drive us in a circle around the immigration building before asking us to hop out of his car and hop into another one. For obvious reasons Jen was furious at Tristan for not listening to her in the first place. We grabbed our bags and took off in the opposite direction. It was a strange and slightly concerning welcome to Colombia!

We eventually made it to Popayan and had more taxi trouble when our driver dropped us off 10 blocks from our hostel! It was with some relief that we finally checked into our hostel before heading out for a delicious Lebanese meal for a first night in Colombia!

The next day we spent exploring the small colonial city of popayan. The city is known as the “white city” as the buildings all have white facades. We took off on a run up a nearby hill overlooking the city and were rewarded with some lovely views.

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