A Travellerspoint blog

Colombia/Ecuador

semi-overcast

Calí is not really a tourist town, which is one reason we liked it. The citizens are not slaves to the tourist trade, and therefore treat us as perhaps, curiosities, but not targets. We saw old churches and squares, but the highlight was watching and hanging with the locals.
During the day, we found a great coffee shop where the old dudes hang out and solve the world's problems. Well, that's what I imagine they do.
It seems that socialism occasionally has holes in its safety net. Those not willing or able to jump through the necessary hoops or stand in the correct lines still end up on the streets. Maybe a shortage of mental health/social workers. At any rate, there seem to be homeless people most everywhere. And I don't think they choose that lifestyle.
Calí is hot, so the action starts after the sun goes down. The city is known for its hot salsa. We did see some sort of drunk dancers, but since we were there on a Monday and Tuesday, we didn't witness the real deal.
Tuesday night we had a blast drinking and laughing with a couple locals at a mom & pop place, while watching a soccer match (Caracas v. a Brazilian team). They were obviously amigos, and loved to give each other a hard time. One is a Milan fan, and the other had a great time rubbing in their 0-4 loss to Barcelona earlier that day.
The Panamericana cuts through the Andes between Calí and Ecuador, and has suffered earthquake damage recently. Consequently, we waited in numerous stoppages where the road is one-lane due to damage/repair. Made for a long day, but the scenery was the most spectacular so far. Dramatic mountains, canyons, rushing rivers at the bottom, sheer drops from the road to another world below, patchwork mountainside farm plots in all shades of green . . . did I mention we are really digging South America? I hesitate to try to describe the scenery, because words (at least the ones I can figure out to use) do not come close to capturing actuality.
We spent the night (approximately 13 hours total) in Pasto, Colombia. My favorite part was seeing a large group of older women, all dressed on matching pink warm-up suits, exercising together in a circle in the square where I walked S&C in the morning.
From there, we made our way to the Ecuadorian border. The crossing was quite easy, except we caught the SOAT (mandatory insurance) office on their lunch break. So, we ate lunch too.
Three cows moseyed through the border area as we stood in one line. They found some nice grass just over on the Ecuador side.
Initial positive impressions of Ecuador:
The US dollar is the currency.
Gas is $1.48/gallon.
The mountains/landscapes continue to be spectacular.
We drove to (close to) the coast. Great road conditions, some rain, and increasing temps as we lost elevation. We are in the funky town of San Lorenzo, and happened upon a nice hostel that has been very recently renovated. We have been told that we are the only gringos in town, and feel welcomed.
Tomorrow, the beach!

Posted by ceastburn 21:09 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Salento and Valle de Cocora

sunny

Salento, Colombia is a town of 7000 at 2300 meters.
We spent a pleasant couple days there with friendly locals. The town square has a lot of street food stalls, and one of the regional specialties is a wafer-thin patacone topped with cheese, tomato chutney, shredded meat . . . approximately the size of a stingray. The sea creature, not the Schwinn.
The folks in Salento are hard-working, mostly farmers, and hard-playing. The main drag is filled with art shops, bars, and restaurants. Local trout is a common menu item--tasty.
Our favorite place in town was Billar Danubio Hall, a bar in a cavernous room filled with billiard tables, a couple pool tables, and tables for dominos and card games. There is also an awesome coffee maker--big, tall gleaming stainless steel vat with tubes and dials and valves, letting out a hiss every time a cup was poured. The billiard players, who don't drink, are terrific. Clientele are 99.9% male. A people-photographer would love this place. Weathered faces, expressions alternating between deep concentration and big smiles. Neatly-dressed: pressed shirts and trousers, cowboy hats, boots, an occasional poncho (the real deal--not ornamental) and close-shaven, with hair combed. My favorite was a short man who wore his trousers tucked into his knee-high rubber boots and a slouchy cowboy hat. He had big hands and forearms (no doubt from hauling crops up and down steep mountains), and what a face! He was the best billiard player there, respected by and friends with all.
Sunday we went for a 10k hike in the Valle de Cocora. Stunning. We were in a lush green valley surrounded by rugged peaks and hills covered with palma de cerca (wax palm), the national tree of Colombia. The trees are tall, tall, tall and are especially beautiful towering above the green hillsides and cloud forest.
We hiked to Reserve Natural Acaime, a hummingbird reserve with at least 6 varieties present and zipping about. The trail was rugged in parts, had several stream crossings, and gained altitude. This, coupled with the fact that we were at 8000+ feet made for a nice workout.
The pups were the real champs. The stream crossings offered two choices: Indiana Jones bridges or water. I was not going to ask those little legs and feet to negotiate boards (with big gaps) connected by a cable. So, through the stream we went. My boots were really waterproof, expect not when I was in water over their tops. The pups negotiated the rocks better than I did, but the water was up past their bellies at times. Brave little girls! Always smiling and ready for more. I carried them across streams a few times. Finally, Douglas and I decided to each carry one and try the cable bridges. Normally, the bridges require both hands on the cables, but we managed with a Schipperke in one arm, and the other hand on the cable. The girls were great, and didn't squirm at all--a good thing, because the bridges were wiggly and high enough that I certainly would not have wanted to fall into the water and rocks.
We shared the trail with other hikers and a LOT of horseback riders. Most of the riders were lazy-butts who chose not to hike, but saw a couple real-deal cowboys. An experienced rider is beautiful to watch.
Today, we drove to Calí--back to the heat!

Posted by ceastburn 17:40 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

City Life

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I remember my excitement when I moved to Boston in the 1980s. Finally . . . a city! I loved living in a little studio apartment in the middle of all the noise, being able to look out my front window to check the length of lines at the Stop and Shop checkout across the street, and most of all, the feeling of anonymity. Although the excitement dwindled over the course of 8 years and was replaced by a sort of claustrophobia and an annoyance with the cost of living, I still remember the time with fondness.
All that returned during our last few days in Bogotá, which is the size of 13 Bostons. We have been digging the sights, the museums, the graffiti, the wide busy sidewalks, the breweries. . . Colombianos are attractive folks and great for people-watching.
We changed hotels Thursday, and had a fun drive across the city, jockeying positions with buses, taxis, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to a soundtrack of Maurice Ravel's Bolero.
Today we are driving through the mountains to Armenia, and then tomorrow to Parque Nacional Las Nevados. Very slow-going, at least at the beginning of the trip. First, a ginormous traffic jam getting out of Bogotá. The classical music station played a lot of Prokofiev for us this time, and Cricket kept those around us entertained. Then, we endured a lot of road work, much of it in reparation of recent earthquake damage. We plunged from 2600+ meters to the triple-digits in a valley seemingly filled with military bases. Serious shit. Might be coca country.
Climbing back up to 3200+ meters the temp went from mid-90s F in the valley to 55 at the top. We crossed many primo bungee-jumping viaducts on a road that cuts through the most spectacular farmland imaginable. Potatoes, onions, bananas, plantains, coffee, big white melon-looking fruits/vegetables(?), all growing on the sheer sides of mountains/cliffs. These are some incredibly hardy folks. And livestock. We saw many Juan Valdezes. There is a big new road being constructed through this beautiful land. Tunnels blasted, mile-high bridges, undoubtedly funded largely by mining dollars. We saw evidence of roadblocks placed by farmers in protest of the destruction caused by mining. Glad we didn't buy any emeralds.
So far, traveling through the Andes, we have seen a lot of very fit, pequeño, road cyclists. I understand why Colombian racers are famous for the amount of pain they can endure. Training in mountains second only to the Himalayans in altitude makes for some strong mountain goats. Cyclists are respected here. There are big green signs on the highways: Ciclistas En La Vía, and today on I-40, we saw a separate, paved bike road running parallel to the highway for miles, approaching Ibague.
We are certainly noticing the altitude. Walking up flights of stairs brings more huffing and puffing than usual. And my run yesterday in Bogotá was a bit of a struggle. Of course, it packed a double-whammy: altitude and pollution. Not that blowing one's nose is ever a thing of beauty, but it was especially colorful in Bogotá.
On that note, I'll leave you in suspense of our next adventure.

Posted by ceastburn 17:43 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Small Town, Big City

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On a walk up from the hostal in Villa de Leyva, we met a young man who appeared to be a gringo with his dog, and exchanged "Buenos díases." Later on our way down the same route, we met him again and discovered we all spoke English (surprise). He is from Chicago, came to visit Villa De Leyva for a couple days a couple years ago, and stayed. We can understand why.
The town of 9600 was declared a national monument in 1954, and has no modern architecture, at least in the center. It is an escape for the city slickers from Bogota on the weekends, and far quieter during the week.
Spotting those city folk is as easy as identifying the Atlantans and Charlottonians in Asheville. Dressed to the nines, or in brand-new, perfectly-pressed "outdoor" gear, ample make-up on the women, maybe a scarf for the men.
Regardless, all come together for a great mix in the town square in the evening. The square is barren in terms of gardens, trees, grass, etc., but it is HUGE. It is easy to imagine festivals, parades, Christmas decorations, etc. filling the place. Back to the social evenings. The square is lined with bars and restaurants. It's ok to drink out in the open. And there are myriad dogs! Folks sit on benches and stone steps and visit. Children play, dogs chase each other and bark.
We had a nice long conversation one night with a half-dozen kids. Good challenge, vocabulary-wise, for us. Once again, the dogs were the ice-breakers. One girl loves to play volleyball, her cousin plays the violin, her brother plays fútbol, and the youngest dude ate candy non-stop. They are curious about the US, and they have beagles.
Today, we drove to Bogotá, a city of 8+ million at 2600 meters. Brrr! Thankfully, we changed out our current clothes before we got here: jeans, long-sleeves, jackets, and hiking boots. First time we have worn long pants since the US! Ok, ok . . . it's "only" in the 50s at night and 60s during the day, but still a shock for us.
Looking forward to a little city culture and a soccer match on Wednesday!

Posted by ceastburn 19:31 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

The most current version of our itinerary

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Since we are enjoying South America so much, we have decided to give ourselves more time here. Instead of driving back to the US through Central America and Mexico, in Mid-May we will ship the Jeep from Cartagena to Miami, fly to meet it, and drive back to NC from there.
Between now and then, we will spend our time in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. This plan gives us an extra month to explore new (to us) countries, towns, beaches, mountains, etc.
Of course, this is always subject to change. Stay tuned.

Posted by ceastburn 12:07 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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