Sunday, October 19, 2008

Barranquilla, Tayrona, Bogotá, Villa de Leyva, Florencia and back again

I've not been keeping up with my blog at all lately... a lot of stuff has happened, and I can't possibly go back and fill it all in now. So this will be like if you missed a 2-part episode of a tv series before tivo: I'll just quickly recap what happened last time and you'll deal with it.

I finished my three weeks of language school in Cartagena. I had a lot of fun and made some good friends of other students - mostly europeans, teachers and other colombians. I was pretty sad when I left Cartagena. I wasn't sure I'd gotten what I'd hoped for out of the past few weeks. My last week of classes was a little tiring and we just weren't going nearly as quickly as I wanted to. I had stopped doing my homework or really enjoying the classes. I was ready for something different.

My friend Kim suggested I give a call to some people we'd met one night at this salsa club called Habana. They lived in Barranquilla which is a major port city without many tourist attractions about two hours from Cartagena. So I checked into a hotel in Barranquilla and gave them a ring. It was really good advice - I had a great time.... and I started the next phase of my traveling. The way they put it is that there's nothing to do in Barranquilla except drinking and dancing, and so that's what people do all the time.

We did make it out to a bull fight, one day. This was exactly nothing like the bullfight I went to in Mexico. The "bullfight" was chaos, with hundreds of people in the ring, people in the stands throwing bottles and stuff. It's still brutal, sure, but it's actually really dangerous for everyone, not just the bull.

These are the people I was hanging out with and some of their friends


This is the construction of the stadium (one of these collapsed recently)


And here's the bull loose chasing people in the field and in the stands. That bull below on the right is running and within about 2 tenths of a second those guys in the red and blue sitting in it's path will disappear behind the fence just like the others, closer to the bull, just did 2 tenths of a second ago.


There were some other antics going on too like an insulting clown and naked torreros


After hanging out in killa for a few days it felt like it was time to go so I headed off to the beaches near Santa Marta and to Tayrona park. I stayed in a town called Taganga at a place called Divanga, which I can fully recommend. Taganga is a pretty minimal town that gets a lot of backpackers.


I took a boat to Cabo San Juan in Tayrona. I'm not sure why I have just a picture of an empty boat, there were a lot of interesting characters in it. This was a very different scene then I'd been in before - it was the backpacker scene. About half of them were Israeli... the rest were from various european countries. (I've met like 2 american's in Colombia and about 50 europeans - when I was in mexico I met 50 americans an zero europeans). The boat ride is great because it's beautiful and because you meet people on the 2 hour ride, so when you show up at the beach you have some friends already.


I went for a hike with this just-retired professional volleyball player from Latvia to an indigenous town called Pueblito



I stayed up drinking with this Scottish dude Stefan and some really cool medical students from Bogotá, where I was headed next


My next stop was Bogotá, where I tried couchsurfing some more. I stayed with two different people, Isabel and Erika. They were both so amazingly hospitable... introducing me to their friends, taking me out, showing me around the city and everything. Couchsurfing is really cool... it's like having a friend-of-a-friend everywhere in the world.

I went to the national museum


we took photos from above the city with Erika (left), her son Nestor, and her friend Gloria


Erika also took me to Monserrate which has amazing views of Bogotá.


This is some platos tipicos from Bogota. Avocado, bean soup, rice, eggs, sausage and fried corn cakes


Next I headed off on my own for a while to visit some towns north of Bogota including Zipaquirá and the Catedral de Sal, Tunja, Villa de Leyva, Ráquira and the Monesterio of Candelaria. This was different... I was using my lonely planet guide for the first time, asking lots of people for help, and had everything with me in my backpack. I actually liked this a lot because the countryside and places were so beautiful, because everything was at a totally different pace than Bogotá, and because it was fun to be self-sufficient, asking directions and always being able to find help for how to get from one place to another. A lot of the travel was super random - for example, sit on this corner and wait, eventually someone drives by in a car and asks if I'm going to wherever, and hop in. It's not really that weird, I've just never seen normal people using their cars as tiny buses before as a kind of side-job.

So the first stop was Zipaquira and the Catedral de Sal, which is carved out of a huge salt mine hundreds of yards inside a mountain



Next I took a bus to Tunja, a relatively big city with some really nice churches with Islamic-based designs. I really liked the vibe on the street there... people seemed really warm and there were a lot of nice places to go out. I could see myself spending more time there. It's a little like Barranquilla - a place where normal people actually live, but it's close to the major beautiful tourist spots.



The next stop was Villa de Leyva, which was the nicest place I've been so far in my travels. It's set on this hillside with original buildings from the 1500's. The streets are so warm and alive and peaceful at the same time... I wandered around a lot and took a lot of side-shots with my camera, I was so enchanted.



Next up was Ráquira, which was kind of an odd town with lots of stores full of pottery... I guess some of it was local but the stuff I liked was from Peru. I decided to wait until I was in Peru.


And finally the Monesterio


After I returned to Bogotá, Erika took me to Florencia, a town in the south of Colombia near the Amazon.


She and her family took me to see their finca in the mountain




And then her dad took me up the mountain further on the back of his motorcycle to meet a monkey




The next day we went the fair with her cousin and her family



After this we returned to Bogotá on another 12 hour bus ride. I had had a ton of fun, but was ready for yet another change. I decided this time change was going to take the form of actually going back someplace. I made a last minute decision to head back to Barranquilla....