Apr 242013
 

After a few days in Bogota, we had had enough of the big city and jumped on a night bus to another mountain village called Salento. Salento is in a mountain range southwest of Bogota, and is best known as the only place in the world where a special kind of mountain palm grows.

Pussycat with a good life

Pussycat with a good life

It is a village that is worth a visit in itself as it is very quiet and surrounded by picturesque mountains.
The first day we rented horses. Fortunately, the horses came with a guide who knew how to control them. I've never ridden a horse before, so was not quite ready to
Stig and Torunn on horses

Stig and Torunn on horses

tame the beast on my own. It turned out that it was relatively easy, just a little kick with my foot and it ran off like greased lightning. The first part out from the town was along the road, so we rode quite slowly. We went straight down from Salento into a very beautiful green valley with a river running through it.
That's where the fun began. We took off the road onto a narrow path that went along the river into the valley. This was our first opportunity to test out our horses. Mine gallopped as if its like was at stake, and Torunn's followed more lazily behind us. I jumped up and down in the saddle like a puppet, and I was laughing out loud all the way.
Torunn on horse by river

Torunn on horse by river

It was just like a circus attraction, only with much finer views and no barriers or restrictions. We rode across various rivers until we got deep into the woods to a nice little waterfall. It was way too cold for a swim.
The return trip went very steeply up a muddy path. It was so steep that I was seriously worried that I would fall backwards and end up with a horse on me, though it did amazingly a very good job at getting me up safely!
Torunn and Guide on the way down the mountain

Torunn and Guide on the way down the mountain


We will definitely rent horses or other cloven animals several times since it was actually a lot of fun. I've ridden some camels earlier, but they cause a bit too much pain in the backside to endure more than an hour or two.
We felt it really well in our riding muscles after 4 hours in the saddle.
The next day we got a jeep to drive us further up in the mountains so we could go up in the cloudforest to find the unique high mountain palm trees. Unfortunately the only way to get to the mountains was to take a jeep that gets crowded with tourists all doing the same thing . We met up for the first departure at 07.30, but there were 30 other tourists that had done the same. So when we got to where the trail began, we were the first ones out of the car and on to the trail. It was a fantastic (almost untouched) trek. Just like walking in the Norwegian mountains, only with hummingbirds, donkeys, tropical jungles and mountains palms. We met several dairy farmers on the way back from the milking of cows with milk cans safely secured on the donkeys. I was glad we got ahead of all the other tourists. Nature is not quite as magical when you have a group of 10 Germans ahead of you, and within hearing range.
After an hour of walking we got further up the mountain where a cloud forest started. In many places they had built bridges across the river where the trail went, but the bridges were in some places just a simple timber log.
Homemade bridge

Homemade bridge


After 2,5 hours we came to a cottage where the local Colombians served us a local specialty; hot chocolate with cheese! It was perfect with some hot chocolate in the cold mountain air. The house was surrounded by lots of different species of hummingbird that came to the cottage .
Stig and Torunn in palm mountains

Stig and Torunn in palm mountains

Trying to climb the palm tree

Trying to climb the palm tree

Strange colombian racoon - Oso

Strange colombian racoon – Oso

to suck nectar from the flowers they had planted in the garden. There was also a cute little raccoon-like creature from the jungle. The locals fed it bananas. We relaxed for a while there before we moved on to the top of the mountain.
When we reached the top of the mountain there was blue sky and sunny, but we saw some clouds in the horizon. Before we knew it, the clouds drifted along the mountain sides and obstructed our views, og fog was a fact. Maybe that's why they call it the cloud forest.
Grazing horse

Grazing horse


On the way back we took a different route that took us past the huge palm trees. Some of the giant palms can get to 80 meters tall, and grows in 100 years. It is a peculiar sight. A sight we got to enjoy all to ourselves as the other tourists were miles behind us.
We went back to Salento and tried some local food; Fresh trout in mushroom sauce with a giant tortilla (almost like a flatbread). Afterwards we went to the local pub and tasted Colombias favorite liquor - Aguardiente; a clear liquor that tastes like Ouzo (Licorice).
The other days in Salento, we had something called "Set menu". It is a combination of dishes where you first get a vegetable soup, then rice, salad, beans, fried banana, and either chicken or beef. It is enough food to get really stuffed, but rarely costs more than 15-20 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". It often also includes a fruit juice, which in itself would cost 30-40 kroner in good old Norway. Being abroad is really quite nice.
The Salento town centre

The Salento town centre


After 5 weeks in Colombia we thought it was time to move on, although we easily could have stayed there 2 months longer. Unfortunately, we have a kind of schedule to stick to. It's not so easy when you only have 15 months to travel, It's tough to decide where to go and where to skip. It's simply hard to be us.
Next, our goal was a town called Otavalo located in northern Ecuador. It was the longest travel distance we had done so far on the trip. It took 5 buses, one taxi and 20 hours to get to Otavalo. We passed the spectacular mountain ranges in southern Colombia on the way, and crossed the border into Ecuador without problems.

 Posted by at 2:09 pm

Part 19 – Good days in Bogota

 Colombia, ODDS AND SODS, South America  Comments Off on Part 19 – Good days in Bogota
Apr 222013
 

The next stop on the trip was the capital of Colombia - Bogota.
Bogota generally has a pretty bad reputation, and our first impression was not of a charming town.

Torunn cycling in Bogota

Torunn cycling in Bogota

There was a lot of fast food and pollution. We found our hostel in one of the most central areas of the city; La Candelaria. There was no sign or anything, just an anonymous door in the dark. They let us in and accommodated us in one of the most pathetic rooms we have had so far on our journey. The roof had holes in it, and it was freezing in an old, decayed and dark room. There were 2 small mattresses on the floor with lots of blankets on.

Bogota from above

Bogota from above

Bogota is on a high altitude (2400m), and therefore very cold at night. The morning after a night in this room, we were both totally icicles, So the first thing we did was to move out.

Street in the oldtown

Street in the oldtown

That's what you get when you choose the only room in town that costs 7$ a night when all the others costs 12$.
The first day we went on a bicycle tour of Bogota. It was a very nice way to see the city. We had a guide who explained the history of the city at various stops along the way. My bike collapsed after 15 minutes, but he sent an assistant to retrieve a new bike for me. On the main squire in the city there is a cathedral, and 2 houses of parliament on both sides. One is the house of the president of Colombia, a relatively well-liked guy. On the square the guide was talking about the history of the city when I saw a group of teenagers standing close to our group. While we were taking pictures of the buildings, they wanted to take pictures of us! It just shows how few tourists there are here, when people want to take pictures of us in the middle of the most touristic place in town.

Guided tour at the central plaza

Guided tour at the central plaza

We stopped to visit a shop with local sweets, and bought assorted candy. It was quite nice and extremely sweet, .They are difficult to eat as it is almost 100% pure carbohydrate. They call the sweet recondensed milk Maneja.
We rode not only to the tourist places, they also took us to the ghetto. It was a great way to get seen many parts of the city that we would never have seen otherwise. The guide said that we could go to these places during the day, but not after dark. We were instructed to put away the cameras as we cycled to the whore district. It quickly became very clear why the local whores don`t like to be photographed..; they were incredibly unattractive, I would rather sleep with a fish.. I've seen more attractive zombie-women in zombie movies. They were out in the streets wearing thight, transparent fishnet dresses and thongs. The fat squeezed its way out between the mesh of the dress, and through all the other places they had stuffed it. How anyone would pay for anything on that street is very difficult to understand.

Stig buying fruit

Stig buying fruit

egg anyone ???

egg anyone ???

It was a really good advertisement for celibacy .
We also visited the giant fruitmarked where we got to taste 7-8 fruits that I have never even heard of.. One of them was a yellow fruit with white pulp surrounding a large seed. They were nice and sweet to suck on. The seed was actually a cocoa bean , So all that is needed is to dry the bean for a few days and voila;; Chocolate!
They also sold eggs there in vast quantities. Thousands upon thousands of eggs strewn about.
Our guide took us on a tour to see plenty of local graffiti, some of it politically inspired. Then we visited the mandatory coffee roasting factory where they served lovely fresh Colombian coffee...hmmmm...coffee lovers unite !…hmmmm…..

kid hanging upside-down inside of graffiti

kid hanging upside-down inside of graffiti

Last stop on the trip was to a bullfighting arena. We had no interest in watching bullfights, but fortunately there are none displayed in this arena. The mayor in Bogota have, as the only mayor in Colombia, closed all bullfights in the city as it is the torture of animals for entertainment. Unfortunately there is still bullfighting in all the other major cities in the country, as they consider it as a part of their culture, a "tradition».
In Bogota they have an iceskating rink for the kids therenow, much more fun for people, but minus the torture and unnecessary suffering.

fat naked woman

fat naked woman

Typical Picasso

Typical Picasso

Bogota has come further than most European cities when it comes to pedestrian and bike-friendly measures. Every weekend they close down one of the main streets in the city so that people can walk and cycle in the middle of the street.
We met a lady from a blog community that I have been active in for many years, as she happened to be in town on the very same day that I was there. She is also from Norway, In fact, the first Norwegian we've met on the whole journey. She stayed in a hotel just outside of the center. Those who worked there was always talking about how scary and dangerous Bogota is. According to them the only safe cab was the one they provided for her, that happensed to cost twice as much as all the other taxis. Not very nice to be scaring tourist in that way, and tricking people to pay way to much.. In Bogota there are a lot of taxis everywhere, and all of them are yellow and have phone numbers on the side of the car, .It is quite safe to take any taxi. We never felt unsafe in all the time we were there, and the onlything we avoided doing was going to the ghetto neighborhoods at night. Other than that we walked around freely in downtown after dark without anyone trying any funny business .

After a few days in Bogota we had had enough of the big city, and jumped on a night bus toward a mountain village called Salento.

 Posted by at 4:36 pm
Apr 142013
 

San Gil – a quiet mountain village Ha Ha

We said goodbye to the shore and jumped on a night bus going south, to the mountains. We were going to a small village called San Gil. It is Colombia's extreme sports capital offering everything from abseiling down a 100 meter high waterfall to paragliding, rafting in degree 5 rapids, mountain biking and canyoning.

San gil

San gil

We found the best hostel we have ever stayed in. It had a porch looking across the main plaza in San Gil in addition to having a pool, sauna, blueray player with HD TV, massage and a restaurant with the most succulent filet steak I have ever had. Filet steak with mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetables for 50 Norwegian kroner(14$) " (including a glass of beer) is pretty unbeatable.
Our plan of one night quickly turned into 3 nights. One advantage with travelling long-term is that one can always stay longer in the places that one likes..

Shell from insects

Shell from insects

San Gil is a nice little town with narrow streets, old churches and good food-traditions. One of the things they eat there, that for us Europeans do not seem like food, is ants. They are very fond of a particular type of ant with a huge backend that they like to fry and eat as a snack. Unfortunately it was outside of the ant season when we were there so we did not find them no matter how much we were looking.

Cow herder in Villa Nuevo

Cow herder in Villa Nuevo

One day we took a bus that went further up the mountain to an even smaller village where the locals are doing their own thing, and tourists are scarce. From there we walked a trail that went through a dry mountain terrain with breathtaking views of the area. At the end of the trail we found an even smaller mountain village that looked like it had not developed for the past 200 years. It was very nice, and quiet there.

We strolled through the unpaved streets without meeting anyone other than the occasional goat or cow.
Our plan in San Gil was to try rafting as we had never done it before. The rafting company meant that it would be fine rafting in rapids grade 5 (maximum strength) even though we had never been rafting before.
We waited for 2 days,

Sleepy dog in Villanueva

Sleepy dog in Villanueva

the first day there were not enough people, and on the second day there were 10 people that all wanted to come. We drove out to the rapids, and when we got there they said that we were not allowed to go rafting that day because the river was too high. It was quite disappointing as we had spent most of the day to get ready and to drive out to the river. The rest of the day we were drinking beer in the pool along with 1 dutch guy, 1 american and 2 Swiss that we had met.
In the evening we went outside the city to a bar that also had a TEJO hall. Tejo is the national sport in Colombia. It consists of throwing a heavy lump of lead about 20 meters to hit a small box of clay. In the middle of the clay there is a small packet of gun powder. The point is to get closest to the gun powder with the lump of lead. If the lump of lead hits the powder then it explodes with lots of sparks and loud bangs. This is why they put Tejo courts far from the city center.

Stig playing Tejo

Stig playing Tejo

After we had drunk some beer and observed the local pros for half an hour we ventured down to the field to see if they let us play a little. The fat middle-aged tipsy Colombians were happy when we came down to the pitch. Not so much because of me, but more because of the 4 girls who were with me. The girls quickly gave up on the Tejo game as it is simply a mans game. To throw a piece of lead on gunpowder while throwing down lots of beer is a perfect sport for Male bonding.
Eventually a bunch of other tourists arrivd, so I played Tejo with them for 2 hours while Torunn and the other girls sat on the side and were drinking wiht the locals. One beer after another appeared in front of the girls, and occasionally also small shots of Aguardiente, which is the local spirit. The poor Swiss girls we were with could not say no to beer to be polite, but gradually they began to take beer with them to the bathroom so they could pour it out.
Tejo is an amazingly primitive sport, but curiously enough, very addictive. I was obsessed by hitting the gunpowder, but in most of my throws I could not even hit the clay box!
We were 10 people that went on for 2 hours, and only 2 times someone managed to hit the powder. It's harder than it looks like!

Villa De Leyva- The finest city in Colombia Feeling Good

After 3 days there we moved on to a village called Villa De Leyva. It was definitely the nicest town we visited throughout Colombia. It is the only original colonial city in the country. Being colonial ultimately means that the original architecture of the Spanish who built the city is kept. There are no tall buildings there, and all the streets are made of cobblestone. Villa de Leyva also has the largest plaza in the country; a giant cobbled space with a small wishing well in the middle.
Villa de Leyva is only 3 hours from the capital Bogota, which means that the city has become a favorite place to go on weekends for many of the rich people from Bogota. That in itself has made the prices in the town quite high, especially on weekends. We went out one night and ate something that I can only describe as the worst meal I've had on the entire trip (perhaps even my entire life) for a relatively high price. I paid 80 kroner for a dry, burnt, chewy and relatively unedible beef of unknown origin. It was sickening. Their cat got 80% of my meal, so he was satisfied.
High on a mountain above the town stands a Jesus statue, like the one in Rio De Janeiro, just not quite as big. It was worth a small climb for a spectacular view of the Villa De Leyva Valley. We were pretty much 3000 meters high when we got up there. We took some pictures together with dear Jesus, and went down again just as it started to pour down with rain.
Safely back in town we met the American Nick again by coincidence, the same guy we had met in San Gil a few days before… very random.

Torunn in stylish colonical streets

Torunn in stylish colonical streets

We went to a pub with Nick and got to hear all about his trip and life. Nick worked as campaign manager for one of the many Barack Obama campaign offices, so after Obama won the election there was not much to do there anymore. He then decided to rather travel around South America, which to us seems like the most logical thing to do.
The second day of our holiday in Villa de Leyva we rented bikes and rode around half the valley. It was a nice area, but very hot and dry. Almost like desert-landscape. We went to a penis-park.

Stig hugging big penis

Stig hugging big penis

There were lots of penises, of all sizes. Torunn was ecstatic !.
The native built all the large penis-statues for more than 2000 years ago in the name of fertility. When Christians arrived to the area, obviously there was trouble. They broke some of these statues, and ironically, they built a monastery with the same stone.
Luckily they had not demolished all of the statues, so there was still plenty of cock there when we visited the place.. It seemed to be a couple of hundred statues there, some were probably over 5 meters tall, while others were very thick. All sizes and thicknesses in one place. There were no balls there, but they would probably be more challenging to build.

Gigantic Chronosaur

Gigantic Chronosaur

We also visited the fossil museum in the middle of nowhere. It is located there because the house was built around a giant dinosaur fossil that was not moved since it was excavated. The dinosaur was very cool, and was more than 10 meters long. It is the best preserved fossil of the dinosaur-kind Chronosaurus- in the world. The Chronosaur was a sea creature that resembled a giant shark, only with huge fins resembling limbs. When we stood right at its head and looked at the giant 30-40 cm long canines it was very easy to imagine that this monster terrorized the prehistoric oceans. It was about 200 million years old. Very cool.
The rest of the museum had various other fossils, mostly ammonites, but also an occasional prehistoric fish. It is impossible to imagine that anyone can believe that the earth is 5000 years old when there is such concrete evidence like these amazing fossils. I guess people just believe what they have been told by others, even if it is demonstrably wrong.
The next stop on the trip was the capital of Colombia - Bogota.

 Posted by at 9:36 pm