We arrived in Colombia after a 24-hour bus ride through Costa Rica to Panama City, flying to Cartegena via Bogota early the next morning. Our few fuzzy memories of Costa Rica include being herded off the bus at 4:30 a.m. at the Costa Rica-Panama border. After 45 minutes of standing under florescent lights someone informed us, “the border authorities start work at 6:00”. Arden stumbled over to a ricktey road-side stand that produced two big cups of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee with hot milk. Miracles appear in small ways.
Our flight was delayed from Bogota to Cartegena due to “la lluvia” (rain) and floods. Flying over central Colombia we saw numerous river-lakes dotted with flooded homes. The floods and resulting mud slides wiped out major highways and caused nearly 200 deaths and millions of dollars of damage. For these two gringos, it makes travel a tad bit more interesting, i.e., inquiring if a road is intact and how many hours delay it will be from point A to B.
The sweaty tropical Cartegena heat flattened us. In Colorado, we came to the conclusion we didn’t sweat. Other people, but not us. Cartegena melted us to puddles by noon. We took refuge in the street carts selling ice chips and freshly squeezed mango/ moro (blackberry)/ orange juice or limeade. Cartegena comes alive at night and we joined in ~ napping at noon and staying up unil 12 or 2 a.m. (way past Arden’s bed-time) to boogie to live salsa bands and watch prostitues work street corners.
From Cartagena, we headed north to Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona, a national beach park. We slipped and skidded our way down muddy trails to find paradise including 2 km of golden sand beach where we kicked it for a day. Plans to return to the same beach the following day were thwarted by a solid night of “la lluvia” which made the five creek crossings flood into chest-deep chocolate rivers. Standing at the edge of the first crossing we watched a man wade across towards us, attentively looking upstream. He emerged, then trotted over to us and pointed at what appeared to be a large log laying on a sand bar 150 feet away, “It’s okay to cross here, just keep an eye on that (pointing to a five-foot caymen). If it slips into the water, move quickly.” As we watched it amble into the water, we promptly terminated our efforts at crossing, and changed our agenda for the day.
Post-beach, we took an all-night bus south to San Gil, a noisy working city of 45,000. The cooler temperatures, surrounding rivers and mountains, and endless ice cream stores encouraged us to linger for five days. We watched a night of festivities in the main square, including the locals dancing a kind of polka to regional folk bands. When we attempted to mimic the step on the sidelines, folks grabbed each of us and dragged us onto the street. Suddenly all eyes were on us (Read stood nearly a foot taller than most folks). Our utter clumsiness amused the crowd to no end as they pointed and laughed. Gringos can’t colombopolka. Even the 70+ year-old rancher lady danced Read into the ground. Next thing we knew people were buying Read beers, and encouraging more bad dancing. A little humility goes a long way. (no photos/video available thank goodness).
We also joined families visiting the annual holiday light decorations at the local park. From our impressions, Colombians take “la Navidad” very seriously ~ they give “norte americanos” a good run for our money in who decorates (and buys) the most.
We’re now in Villa de Leyva, a boutique Salida-like town of 7,000 in the mountains, four hours north of Bogota, at roughly 6,600 feet. We’ve dragged out sweatshirts and hats and have gone from sweating to shivering in the tropics. We hike muddy but beautiful trails, suck on coconut popsicles, and plan for forays to Bogota, Cali and the Valle de Cafe to the south.
We’ve loved Colombia thus far. The country is beautiful and huge ~ you can swim with caymens at tropical beachs and bungie-jump off mountain passes (we passed on both). The spoken Spanish is by far the clearest we’ve heard on this trip and the people we met are patient and good humored. We had a group of young men offer to walk us through a public park in one town, because some American’s video camera got ripped off and they wanted to make sure we enjoyed ourselves without incident. It makes us hope to extend the same to folks visiting the states one day.