San Gil is known as the adventures sport area for tourists. For us it was another stop to make in a nice area on the way to the Carribean coast. We also wanted to meet up with Alex and Susanne again. An extra bonus being that La Pacha, the camping location is owned by Justin (English) and his wife Andrea (Columbian) and they have 2 kids, Inti a boy (7) and Sammy, a girl (5). And the kids speak English!
Keira had not had the company of children for about a month, and it is a rare opportunity to have other kids who speak English. This was enough to send us to this location and to stay for 5 days.
La Pacha camping is about 10 mins from San Gil, and has great views over the valley. It is quite a rustic campground, but that adds to its charm.
There were 3 goats that acted as the lawnmowers, although the place was pretty overgrown so they weren't doing a very good job. They had an old bus that served as a TV area and indoor living room, and a hammock area that was the outdoor living room. There was a large kitchen and dining room where we cooked all our meals.
For a few days the bus became Keira's play room, TV room and her school classroom. She loved the space.
There are always daily chores to do. They are the same chores just done in a different way
Keira had an amazing time playing with Inti and Sammy. She even had her first real sleepover with them. They all stayed the night in one of the permanent tents set up on the property. Here they are playing monsters in our roof top tent. It was hard for Keira to say good-bye.
VW WINDOW REPAIRS
Alex was having trouble with leaking windows on his VW bus. He had realised that whoever had put the windows in the last time, had actually put the left window in the right window slot and vice versa. Mike and Alex decided to tackle the project of replacing the rubber and reversing the windows.
After doing some research and consulting utube, they set to work. Not as easy as they thought! 2 hours later and many attempts at different techniques they finally got the first window in. The next was not so bad as now they had mastered the tech. Susanne and I were also there to help as they needed extra hands.
I must say I admire their persistence, determination and skill!
It was wonderful to spend more time with Alex and Susanne. Alex is one of the most genuine, honest and kind people we have met.
We also had the pleasure of meeting 2 American sisters Aubrie and Dayci from Utah. Another English couple Miles, and Gabby and a Swiss girl Jasmine made up our community. For a few days we shared space, stories and meals.
Mike always says that a good meal can bring people together, and he has proved it time and again. He is amazingly open and social. He cooks for so many people, and offers help when ever the opportunity presents. His generosity knows no bounds.
I support him in everyway, but am a bit disturbed that this generosity has often got us labelled as "travel Mum and Dad." MMMM not always appealing to be reminded that we are almost the same age as some of the backpackers parents!!
It was hard to say goodbye to everyone, but we hoped to meet up with Alex and the girls on the Caribean coast.
We took a day trip from La Pacha to a town called Barichara. From there we did a 2 hour hike on an old stone road to the even smaller village of Guane.
Both towns were beautiful and the hike although hot was very picturesque.
We spent some time just sitting in the tree shaded plazas, watching the world go by.
During our time at La Pacha, we only ventured into San Gil once to get supplies. Opting for the tranquility of La Pacha instead.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: utube for the windows, although it was more trial and error.
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- the walk to Guane; Keira-playing with Inti and Sammy/my sleepover; Riss- watching Keira playing with such ease without a language barrier
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-the window repairs; Keira-getting head butted by the mumma goat- I have a scar to prove it ; Riss-trying to relax and sleep myself during Keira's sleepover
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-,wood oven pizzas/Alex's coffee; Keira-the remaining cakes from the french bakery ; Riss-homemade gluten free pizza
BEST CAMPING SPOT: La Pacha
We finally got ourselves together to make the move from La Serrana in Salento. It was a holiday weekend in Colombia so we knew everywhere would be busy. We chose another coffee finca (estate) to stay at, but after being there 2 hours realized that the party taking place was going to be an all night event with blaring music.
Leaving there, after some great coffee we headed for some thermal springs, Termales Ruiz. We did not plan on the road being so bad on the way in. Not only was it narrow, but very rough with ditches on either side that came almost impossible to see as cloud rolled in and night fell.
We arrived at the springs and set up our tent outside the gates, reheated a soup from the night before, had a drink to calm our nerves, pulled out our warm sleeping bags, being once again at altitude and climbed into bed. The next morning with the cloud cleared we got to see the amazing view. We had the thermals to ourselves since we went in early, and soaked and swam until our skin shriveled and the crazy drive from the night before was a distant memory.
We were headed north towards Villa de Leyva, but ran into a traffic jam due to a bad accident, so needed another overnight stop. We pulled into Tobia a small adventure sport town near Bogota. The campsite was busy with Colombians camping for the long weekend. Setting up we became the attraction of the campsite with people calling by to talk with us and take photos of us and of the vehicle. After a good nights sleep we arose early to get on the road to avoid the traffic returning to Bogota after the long weekend.
Mike had another repair to do as our ladder on the roof top tent shredded from metal fatigue and constant use. Our tent has taken a beating and has needed multiple repairs.
We had decided when we arrived in Colombia that we had seen enough of big cities, so we avoided Bogota. We enjoy the smaller towns more and after awhile all the cities seem the same. We would leave our city exploring until we got to Cartagena.
Wanting to do something to break up our journey, we decided to stop by a salt cathedral. We knew nothing about it, but a friend had mentioned the church as being a place to see and it was a red mark on our National Geographic map as a place of interest. We soon found out that it was extremely touristy, and we would have probably missed it had Keira not been totally excited about seeing a salt church. The cathedral is in fact underground in an old salt mine. It is 75 meters long, 18 meters high and can accommodate 8400 people. I don’t think I would like to be underground with that many people at once! The stations of the cross were set up at different points in the tunnels with the main cathedral being in a large open chamber deep inside. It was interesting but after 10 mins we deserted the guided tour and explored ourselves. It was quite eerie actually and is definitely like nothing we have seen before.
Villa de Leyva was all we had hoped it to be. It is an old colonial town with beautiful white colonial style buildings, cobbled streets and a huge plaza. It has a very relaxed atmosphere with minimal traffic. We found a great hostel to camp and stay at called Renacer, a 10-minute walk from the plaza, set in a beautiful location. We were happy to have a real kitchen, and sofas to hang out on again. We felt very spoilt.
We explored the town, which was really beautiful and very relaxed. Mike couldn't get out of there quick enough!
During our exploration we discovered the French bakery we had heard about from multiple people. AAAAAAHHHHH!!! Cakes, flans, cookies, breads and delicious pastries! We visited everyday. Obviously we were missing some of the luxuries of the western world.
We completed a day trip to the town of Raquira, a quaint town with painted houses and shops. It is known for pottery and the work of local artists. We thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the town, and enjoyed walking through the shops, making several purchases including hammocks and some pottery pieces.
On the day trip we visited a dinosaur museum, home to one of only two complete kronosaurus dinosaur fossils in the world, the other being in Australia. The fossil was left where it was found and a museum was built around it. The fossil is 120 million years old and its sheer size was so incredible, measuring 10 meters long (33 feet). The museum also had a great collection of other fossils. Keira loved it!
A clay house is one of the other tourist attractions. It reminded us of the eco-homes we had visited near Taos in New Mexico. Keira loved exploring the interior and the many balconies. She actually wanted to move in!
Markets in Sth American countries are really interesting to visit. We usually go to the local markets to buy our fresh fruit and vegetables. The Villa de Leyva market was no exception, with its many colorful stalls exuding wonderful smells and fragrances of local produce. They were even selling ice cream and fish from the back of trucks. (not the same truck) Keira not liking the odor of the fresh fish, held her sensitive nose as we explored these areas.
There are so many images that come into your immediate environment whilst traveling, some just "flashes" as you pass by and others that linger long enough for you to take a mental picture. There is the odd occasion when you actually have your camera handy to capture a photo.
Once again we had the pleasure of meeting some very cool people, including a group of Colombians from a band called Caribe Funk, and a girl from Germany, Susanne. In the course of our conversations we realized that the friend Susanne was going to meet up with and travel in his vehicle was Alex. We had met Alex in Copacabana in Bolivia many months ago. We had kept in contact with Alex, hoping we would see each other again. We made arrangements to meet up with Susanne and Alex at San Gil.
We did a last stop by the French bakery on our way out, spending more on cakes than we had spent on our previous nights accommodation. (Which in fact was only about $12 USD, but a lot on our travelling budget)
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: Mike and his tools for being able to repair the tent ladder
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- meeting great people; Keira- the dinosaur museum; Riss- morning walks in the town of Villa De Leyva/shopping in Raquira
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-repairing the ladder; Keira- wanting to eat every cake; Riss-leaving Villa de Levya/resisting buying every cake at the French bakery
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-real flans, Keira- everything at the French bakery; Riss- chocolate tart at the French bakery
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Renacer at Villa de Leyva
Salento is the heart of Colombia’s coffee region.
In order to get there we once again crossed the country from East to West. The journey there was via the scariest road we have driven during the whole trip. This is my opinion anyway.
The road itself was a major highway, well paved and well maintained. It was high in elevation and had many twisting and very tight turns. The challenge came when you added an abundance of semi trailer trucks that require a wide berth when taking the turns in the road. Add impatient drivers and cloud at the higher elevations and it was quite terrifying. Mike did really well negotiating the road conditions and the crazy drivers, but was really exhausted when we finally made it to Salento.
The coffee region of Colombia is magical. The rolling green hills covered in vegetation, and coffee plants provided beautiful vistas. The atmosphere of the region was relaxed and as the Sth Americans say “muy tranquil”.
We headed to Hostel La Serrana, about a 15-minute walk outside of the town of Salento. It provided camping in its garden area and had all the amenities. We loved having the luxury of a kitchen and a living room area. And the views were spectacular.
The other overlanders we met there and the travelers staying in the hostel were friendly and interesting people. There was a real sense of community as we shared meals; stories and every one took turns playing with Keira. I have never seen so many grown-ups succumb to the charms of our 5 year old. She had people playing monsters, princesses, music bands, and dinosaurs just to name a few of the imaginative games.
We did a lot of relaxing whilst there, and Mike did some graphic design work. We wandered into town a few days, really enjoying its atmosphere. Despite being quite touristy, the town had a certain charm and quaintness. We found a favorite coffee shop where we treated ourselves to cappuccinos with amaretto and baileys. With the help of the staff at the hostel we found Alcymaria, a wonderful Colombia lady who ran the best fruit and vegetable shop in town. We left there many days with 2 large bags of produce for the equivalent of $2 USD.
The other find was a restaurant called Brunch, ran by an expat from USA. The food was delicious and huge portions. But the real crowd pleaser is there chocolate peanut butter brownie served warm with vanilla ice cream! Word spread through the travelers’ grapevine whilst we were there, with daily excursions to town just for dessert.
Of course being in the coffee region we had to do a coffee tour. Not wanting to do a commercialized version we sought out a smaller organic family run farm, called Don Elias.
In order not to use pesticides, the organic farms grow bananas, plaintains, and citrus fruits around their crops. These trees not only provide shade for the coffee plants but are a deterrent for bugs. They also use natural remedies like garlic and hot pepper sprays to kill off and deter insects. The tour was really informative, and the coffee tasting at the end was delicious.
The other adventure we had in the area was completing a hike in the Cocora Valley. It is a 5-hour hike that follows a river with many river crossings on rickety bridges. The scenery is beautiful. The hike leads you to a hummingbird sanctuary, where you can see many varieties of hummingbirds. The highlight is hiking through an area of 30-60 meter tall palm trees. It is quite spectacular. We were so proud of Keira; she hiked well only needing a piggyback from her Dad for a short distance. This was quite impressive as many adults struggled.
I took an opportunity in Salento to take a mini “me” break, the first in about 10 months. I went for a wander around the shops, bought a few things and had a coffee. It is amazing what a little “me” time can do.
Unfortunately whilst in Salento, I got a really bad cold and felt unwell some of the time, but at least I had a great place to re-coup.
We were a little sad to move on from Salento. It was the longest we had stayed in one place for the whole trip. (Excluding the times we were forced to stay put for car repairs) It felt good to stop and we made a decision to do more long stops in Colombia.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION:
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- socializing with other travelers; Keira- having English speaking people to play with/seeing the hummingbirds; Riss- the hike and my “me” time.
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-trying to force myself to get some work done; Keira- wanting a brownie everyday; Riss- dealing with my cold.
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- hamburgers from Brunch, Keira- the chocolate peanut butter brownie; Riss- cappuccinos with baileys, and of course the chocolate peanut butter brownie
BEST CAMPING SPOT: La Serrana, Salento
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.