I had a harrowing arrival into Colombia, where I was nearly deported for having a faulty bank card (there is an entrance fee for Canadians, and I didn”t have the cash to pay, and my debit card only works with some banks!), and I could only imagine Joe, who doesn”t speak Spanish, waiting and waiting and waiting for me in the airport. Luckily, I saw him a moment before the grumpy border guard was going to process my deportation, and he had cash on hand! Thanks Joe! (Also, YES, there is a lesson for me in this story!)
We spent our first few days in Bogota. Overall we really enjoyed the city, with its beautiful architecture and coolish climate. One day, we braved a very steep mountain climb, Monserrate, along with thousands of other people, to get a view of the city.
On our way down, we got caught in an unbelievable hailstorm, with the path quickly turning into a river, water gushing down the pathside ditches. We were completely soaked through, and left trying to run down the slippery stone steps, shrieking with everyone else!
We did a little daytrip from Bogota to a small town called Zipaquira (locals call it just Zip, which I like), famous for its unbelievable salt mine cathedral. I would never be able to describe the immensity of the place, 80 metres underground. Apparently, as you pass these huge gaping dark spots, you could take any one of them and walk for an hour. They have extracted enough salt from this mine to cover the entire continent of Australia. It was heavily Christian, with crosses of salt left at the front of each cavern. There is even a cathedral, which has a congregation and regular services, underground at the base of the mine! Pretty mind-blowing place.
From Bogota, we started our journey south, with our first stop being Parque Natural Chicaque- a cloud forest just an hour outside of Bogota. To get there required braving some very complicated systems of transportation, and three hours of carrying our packs down a very steep, slippery path, with much guidance and help from friendly locals, and we were so relieved to arrive to a magical paradise, with the opportunity to hike and just hear bird sounds, and watch the clouds move through the woods, revealing and obscuring the beauty around us. We barely encountered anyone else while there, and really soaked up the majesty of an untouched place.
San Agustin was our next stop. We REALLY enjoyed this smaller town, and spent many hours wandering the streets, going to the market, enjoying fresh coffee, and visiting the funereal statues. It was a funny place, quite small but just ROARING with motorcyclists, who compete for the roads with taxis and horsedrawn wagons. Every night we were there, there was operatic battle music blasted, which we could hear from our hilltop hostel.
Most people come to San Agustin for its archaeological park, a beautiful forest that houses funereal statues from 500-900 AD. Archaeologists found many statues over graves all across the region, but nothing is known about the culture that left them behind, as they had disappeared even by the time of the Spanish invaders” arrival.
It is presumed that the more animalistic, the bigger the teeth, the bigger the eyes, the more revered was the person for whom the statue was made.
We rented bikes one day, and did a 28 km route from Coconuco to Popayan, where we stayed for a few days. The bike ride was a big adrenaline rush, with storm clouds threatening, monstrous trucks and buses zipping past, and an enormous speed in the downhill sections!
We were in Popayan during Semana Santa, Holy Week- the week preceding Easter is a big deal in Colombia! There were parades every night, concerts, and the streets were closed off while streams and streams of people enjoyed the historical town of white buildings with their families. The parade we saw was very strange, with traditions that were quite new to us. Such as the pace; I would describe it to be at about 1/4 wedding-aisle pace. Very slow. It was composed of children in traditional clothes carrying crosses, or with praying hands, police in very fancy uniforms on drums and xylophones, and many men carrying gigantic float-like structures depicting Jesus at various stages of struggle, crucifixion, and resurrection.
The last place we visited was the very hot Cali. On the trip from Popayan to Cali, the bus we took broke down, and despite the workers” attempts to solve the problem by pouring water onto the steaming engine, it needed towing. So all the passengers got off. Minutes later, we were on a new bus that had been on its way to Popayan. Shuffling passengers to a third bus, this one just turned around and loaded us all up. Not a huge problem for us, after all!
My favourite thing about Cali was the number of people who swarmed to the park near our hostel every night after dusk. The air was much cooler at night on the hilltop (La Colina), and there were fire breathers, comedians, artesans, and food vendors everywhere. It felt so lively and great, to be in a public place at night, wandering through crowds of people who were just enjoying eachother”s company, outdoors, as their evening”s entertainment.