A Travellerspoint blog

Twilight Zone

sunny

We have experienced many places on this journey where a person could easily duck under the radar for whatever reason for however long, no questions asked. Friday's adventures added a few more.
Barichara, a 30-minute drive from San Gil, is a town of 7000 filled with 200-year-old whitewashed buildings. It has the requisite shady town square, of course, and an 18th-century cathedral, of course. The streets, made of giant cobblestones, are in the process of being torn up for installation of pipes. The workers are being careful to keep the stones whole as they remove them, making for a time-consuming project. Residents seem to be primarily farmers, artists, and on this particular day, schoolchildren.
James our GPS man seemed to be enjoying an early happy hour, and landed us in some questionable locations. One was at the top of a dirt street heading out of San Gil. However, had James not been hitting the bottle, we would have missed a spectacular view. Photos soon on Facebook.
Guane is 10k from San Gil, and is truly a Twilight Zone experience. With the Jeep and dogs, we always attract some attention, but we were the afternoon's curiosity in Guane. We pulled into the square and said hello to a few town characters hanging out on the church steps. The town dogs greeted Sunny and Cricket--all very friendly--and there was a young cow wandering around beneath the basketball hoop. A man approached us and tried to convince us to drink some of his green concoction. No, gracias.
Upon entering the church, we were "greeted" by the equivalent of the Hunchback of ND with some sort of grunt. He was not pleased that we were in his church, so we left. Maybe we woke him from his siesta.
The square was lined with a tienda, a couple restaurants, a posada, a few art shops, and a retirement home. Very sleepy. The most action occurred when a young boy started herding the cow by kicking his soccer ball at the poor creature.
All in all, it was a cool experience. These folks seem to have a quiet existence surrounded by stunning scenery. They are happy for visitors, but I doubt that many if them want to leave.
Back on the road, James had really tied one on by this time. Instead of taking us back on the same (paved) road, he decided to introduce us to a cross country experience on a dirt road. Why not? We have a Jeep. However, after 8k or so, he was instructing us to take a non-existent road down the side of a cliff. Rather than spend the night wandering around farmers' roads on the ridge (we could see San Gil in the valley), we decided to cut our losses, go back to Barichara, and find the paved road. No prob. Again, thanks to James' imbibing, we saw things we would have missed otherwise.
Back in San Gil, we enjoyed one last evening, and said adiós to our new friends the next morning.

Posted by ceastburn 06:41 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Colombiano dentistas. ¿Si, como no?

sunny

We have experienced veterinarian services on this trip, and have now decided to try out the dentists.
Douglas has had some tooth pain off and on, but since it went away, attributed it to sinus congestion. Well, the pain came back and set up camp this time. We visited the dentist down the street, and found quite a modern practice. The initial consultation was in one office. Next, we were directed to an office 1/2 block away for an x-ray. Then, back to the consult office, where they had rounded up a nice woman who speaks some English. She walked us to yet another office around the corner and partway up a hill.
There, the receptionist went through the usual series of questions using Google translate on the computer. Smart. We got a laugh at the question of whether Douglas eats nails.
Next, into the chair. The first dentist was there, and a doctor who looks to be about 25 (wearing a Real Madrid jersey--happy about today's match) explained, basically, that Douglas needs a root canal. Yahoo.
This will take place tomorrow morning, and we will need to wait 4-5 days for the crown. And the damages? In Colombian pesos:
$20,000 first consult & x-ray (full)
$80,000 for full exam, impressions, filing the present crown
$370,000 for the root canal
$80,000 for the crown
$14,000 pharmacy: 10 500-mg Amoxycillan, pain-killer shot, and 3 days of pain meds.
$564,000: total
$313 US dollars. Total.
I don't know about anyone reading this, but I have not gotten out of a dentist's office for a root canal and crown for less than $1000 IN ADDITION to what my dental insurance pays.
Makes it a little less painful . . .

Posted by ceastburn 16:34 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

A new day

sunny

What a difference a day makes!
The drive from Bucaramanga to San Gil was spec-tac-u-lar. Photos will be up soon on our Facebook pages.
We climbed and climbed into the Andes through a dry landscape full of cacti, agave, and cool scruffy, tough trees, with goats and cows beside (and in) the road. Rushing rivers and a small village were visible waaay down below in the canyon. Even at altitude, we saw 107 F, with intense sun. It is evident that we are getting close to the equator.
As the road made its way to the other-facing slope, the vegetation was more lush and green, including coffee farms, and the temp dropped to the 80s.
We reached a high of 2000 meters before dropping down into San Gil, a bustling little town with a feeling of stepping back in time. It is set on a hillside beside a river. We entered on the high side, and in finding our way to a hotel, were faced with some incredible descents. The sorts of streets that often appear in my nightmares, better suited to be steep staircases. The locals had a good time watching us negotiate the narrow streets--the Jeep always attracts a lot of attention.
We are staying in an OLD (18th century?) hotel. High ceilings, courtyard, window opening onto the street. Next to the town square and a cathedral whose nice bell rings every 15 minutes. And . . . our first hot water showers in South America!
Found a great place for breakfast. Killer coffee and huevos. And it seems to be the morning hangout for all the older men to come shoot the shit over coffee. They all loved the pups and made a fuss over them.

Posted by ceastburn 08:26 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Colombia = big

sunny

Colombia is a big country.
We made the 600k drive from Santa Marta to Bucamaranga yesterday, and it took 9 hours, with very few stops.
The countryside in this part of Colombia probably doesn't make any top-10 lists as places to vacation or retire. It is extraordinarily dry, and the temp did not drop below 97F until sundown. We saw a high of 107. There are many Brahma Cattle farms. It is remarkable that these beautiful creatures find enough to eat in such a harsh environment. Whenever we are in a place that might be described as an armpit, I remind myself that this is someone's home. There are folks who raise families and enjoy their lives in these places. Except border towns. Those are armpits.
Back to the journey. Douglas was a real champ. The 2-lane road was full of trucks as far as the eye could see. He viewed it as a challenge, though, and passed truck after truck in true Frogger fashion, dodging the motorcyclists who seemed to come at us from every direction. There were toll booths at least every 50 miles. There is evidence of road work, and in fact expansion to 4 lanes in some places. Maybe all those tolls will result in better roads. Gas is very expensive, especially in the cities. $4.89 at one place yesterday!
We recently had to purchase a new Garmin. Since we bought it in Colombia, it has Colombian maps, and--bonus--it warns us of the speed bumps (reductores, here)!
To keep things interesting, the highway passed through many small towns, all with the requisite reductores. They are really tough here. The speed bumps are preceded and followed by rumble strips from hell. Reverse speed bumps.
After driving for hours in the above-described conditions, as the sun was setting, we started climbing a windy mountain road. Just as I thought, "what next?" it turned to gravel. Up and down mountains, switchbacks, in the dark (our bad--gotta plan shorter days), with the trucks and swarming motorcycles, on gravel. No complaints--just bragging.
We have programmed our new Garmin with the voice of James, an Englishman. He speaks in such a storytelling voice--it sounds like we are listening to a book on tape, or commentary on a nature program. Anyway, James narrated us straight to our hotel in Bucamaranga.
Today, a stop in San Gil, a town known for its adventure sports.

Posted by ceastburn 07:12 Archived in Colombia Comments (2)

On the road again

sunny

We have our Jeep and are nomads again!
Sadly, the vehicle was broken into sometime during the shipping process, and many items were stolen. Nothing of huge monetary value (we didn't leave anything of huge monetary value inside), but certainly enough to be an inconvenience. And enough to cause disappointment. People just shouldn't steal.
But most importantly, we are fine and the adventure continues.
We are currently in the Santa Marta (Colombia) area for a few days. It is another hot (yay!) coastal town, but unlike Cartagena, it is dry. There are cacti growing here. As well as the foothills of the Andes.
The drivers in Colombia, especially the motorcyclists, hold our current prize for worst drivers on the planet. Thankfully, Douglas enjoys the challenge and doesn't hesitate to jump into the fray. It doesn't hurt to be driving a big-ass, somewhat beat-up Jeep with big-ass bumpers.
Back in Cartagena, while Douglas was purchasing auto insurance, I decided to stay with the car. Good thing, because the Transito Policia visited periodically and asked me to drive it around the block. So, I got to try my hand at negotiating incredibly narrow streets filled with taxis, motorcycles, bicycle-driven vendor carts, and pedestrians. Drive with intent and don't hesitate to use the horn. And smile. The cop got a good laugh at my reappearing, and I had a chance to practice my Español.
The drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta included a causeway of sorts. It was incredibly windy, and the ocean looked like something off Maine or Nova Scotia. But, the temp was around 90F.
Soon we will head inland, experiencing the Andes for real, towards Bucaramanga and Bogota.
¡Hasta luego!

Posted by ceastburn 15:19 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

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