Exploring a new continent

Travel time: March - June 2010  |  by Dominik Weber

31 March - 3 April Bucaramanga

For the Easter Weekend, Natalia suggested to spend some days with her sister Veronica in Bucaramanga. We wanted to take the night bus for the 8 hours overnight bus ride, so while Natalia had to work, I had a full day by my own in Bogota. Half of the day, I was at home, washing, writing and preparing my further trip, but the afternoon I was using to go downtown to the visit the two most important museums: the Museo Botero and the Museo d'Oro.
The Museo Botero is an art museum on two floors and most of the exhibits are pieces by Fernando Botero. He likes fat people and animals, paints them or put them in bronze. As I thought earlier, perhaps he got the ideas for his statues after he was visiting El Totumo...
Connecting with this museum, there is the Museo della Moneta which shows the history of money in Colombia. It was worth having a quick look, especially since there was no entrance fee as well.
But the highlight of this museum day was the Museo d'Oro with its big collection of ancient gold pieces from Colombia. I did know from my travel guide and the museum confirmed that they are having guided tours in English at 4pm. Almost all museums in Colombia are offering guided tours, some tour guides, usually students or young people, are waiting for their turn. When I arrived at the musuem, there was a tour in English just about to start, but when I wanted to join them, I learned that this was a private tour and that I have to wait for the public 4pm tour. But it turned out that I was the only person waiting for this tour in English. Instead of asking me if I could consider joining the already existing tour, I got my own tourist guide! Marie-Antoinette was a student of arts who went to a french high school in Bogota. So, I assume she was fluent in French, but her English wasn't too bad either (but she excused several times for her "bad" English. Well...). She guided me through one part of the museum, made it very nice and we talking about various things, about Europe, France, culture and of course, the gold of the museum. When I wanted to give her a tip at the end of the tour, she said that they are not allowed to accept this - but I should just invite her for a coffee. So the tour ended in a nice chat about culture, countries and languages. I was really lucky having my own tourist guide that afternoon and I enjoyed the museum even more.

In the evening, Natalia and I took the 11pm bus to Bucaramanga (with Copatran but there are plenty of busses that have a great service and are absolutely safe. Since Easter Weekend starts here on Thursday and runs until Sunday, the bus terminal was very busy and tickets prices were higher than usual. We heard that they are expecting double as many passangers that night as well. But I have to say, it was ok. Of course, there were a lot of people, but it wasn't too crowded. Our bus was a full size bus as we know them, but only with about 30 seats. Means, there is plenty of room for each and the seats are very much more reclinable. And it is necessary on a 8 hours trip.
Although I didn't sleep the entire time, I was naping most of it. What was good, since the last two hours are constant serpentines... No highway as we know it! But the drivers always rely on the Virgin Mother - of course, there is a statue or at least a photo of her in every bus. In our bus, it was a little plastic statue that started flashing in blue from time to time. Perhaps she saw difficult corners in advance?
We arrived in the morning and Natalia's sister welcomes us and brought us to her boyfriends flat where we stayed (she herself lives in a town ourside and can tell a lot about the FARC who is still active in her town). They were showing us the city, but from a tourist point of view, there is not much to see (sorry, Veronica!). There are no major attractions, but it is a city where almost 1 million people are living. But one of the tourist attraction is the paragliding hill. So, we went up to the hill and Natalia and I booked a 15 minutes paragliding trip! What an experience, hanging with a pilot under a big parachute, enjoying the wind and the view. After a few acrobatic elements - it looks crazy on the little movie we took - we landed. I was only sorry that I didn't take my camera with my up into the air, but instead of photos from the air, I am now having photos of me in the air.

In the afternoon, we went to the small town of Girona. Since it was Good Thursday, everybody was on the place in front of the church to celebrate the day: Men dressed like the Khu-Klux-Klan were carrying platforms on which you could see the last days of Jesus. Most of the figures were wood, but some were played by young children. So, for the last supper, Jesus (in wood) was sitting at a table and 12 childrens were surrounding him. Or two "Roman soldiers" were guarding him while in prison. Colombia is a very religious country and so everybody was there that day and the plaza was crowded. There was so much going on that I didn't pay so much attention to the beautiful buildings all over the city.
The next day, we were driving to the great Canyon Cañon deñ Chicamocha to a place where you could take a mountain railway to the other sice (built by the French) - as a snack on our way we bought fried ants, a speciality from this region. In the gondolas, we went from 1600m down to 500m in the middle of the canyon and immediately up to 1500m to the other side. It took us almost 30 minutes and gave us a great view. On both sides of the canyon, there is an amusement park and we stayed a little bit at this (Parque Nacional del Chicamocha. We continued our travel by regional bus to the small town of St. Gil which is know for its adventure tours. We went there, because we wanted to do a rafting trip that afternoon and wanted to stay there overnight. Although we got a name of a tour operator from the information in the parque, we realized that there were a lot of operators in St. Gil. We decided for the first one and we didn't regret to do our tour with (Aventura total. We paid and they were rushing us since the next tour was about to start. But once in the shuttle bus, we had to wait for other guests. That's Colombia... We were dropped off upstream, got instructions and then off we go. We were 8 people in the boat plus one instructor and it was a lot of fun. At one point he threw us all into the water, we went through some rougher parts of the river and calmers ones, were allowed to swim for a short part before we finally arrived in town, the point where we started. I enjoyed these two hours very much - I love water! I was wet from head to heels.

We had to look for a hotel for the night, but didn't know exactly where to go and how to decide. And it was Easter Weekend, so some hotels were already booked out. Since we didn't have any plans for the next day in St. Gil, we simply decided to travel back to Bucaramanga that night. We took the last bus at 6pm and went down the serpentines again - the same two hours that we had to take on our way from Bogota to Bucaramanga. Since the bus (a small Mercedes-Benz van) was full, Natalia and I had to sit in the front next to the driver. So, we had the best view and no problems with the serpentines. Only sometimes I stopped breathing once the van was overtaking despite a double line and a lot of signs like "curvas peligrosas" and "alto riesgo de accidentalidad".
For the last day in Bucaramange, we didn't plan to do to many things. Natalia was enjoying seeing her sister and I was enjoying the internet access. We were scheduled to go back to Bogota that night, but before we did so, Veronica and Freddy invited us to join them for a Bolo game. Bolo reminds me at bowling, with the difference that there are three sticks and in a row on the other side and you have to hit them with a fist-size metall ball. Instead of rolling the ball, you try to hit the sticks directly - not an easy task since the sticks are about 15 meters away. This sport is a typical men's sport and you could only see men playing. You could beer only half or full ream-wise and there was a big sign that it is not allowed to carry weapons. Well, we all had our fun that evening and I was proud since I was leading our game for quite a while.
A few hours later, we were sitting in the bus back to Bogota. Freddy's mother who was also in Bucaramanga was traveling back to Bogota with us. But we didn't had tickets yet. However, a few phone calls where enough and she found out that a friend of a friend of a friend (or so) was the bus driver and we get the tickets cheaper. Well, we actually did, because we didn't had a ticket for the entire way to Bogota but only to somewhere else on the road. But of course, it was no problem to stay until Bogota. That's how it works sometimes.

It is hard to see, but that´s me

It is hard to see, but that´s me

Jesus and his 12 kids.

Jesus and his 12 kids.

It goes down...

It goes down...

One of my first trows. Of course, I was unsucessful for a while.

One of my first trows. Of course, I was unsucessful for a while.

© Dominik Weber, 2010
You are here : Overview The Americas Colombia 31 March - 3 April Bucaramanga
The trip
 
Description:
After working for too long without a real break, I decided to go on a long planned backpack trip. After changing the departure date and the destination several times, I decided to go to South America. Starting in Colombia, then Peru and finishing in Bolivia. At least, this was the plan but once on tour, you never know what to expect. This report is for all people asking how I am doing, but also for those who are thinking about doing something similar. I hope I can inspire them.
Details:
Start of journey: Mar 19, 2010
Duration: 13 weeks
End of journey: Jun 15, 2010
Travelled countries: Colombia
Peru
Bolivia
The Author
 
Dominik Weber is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 11 years.
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