A Travellerspoint blog

Bogota and the road to Manizales

Destino Nomad a welcoming hostel

overcast 12 °C

We arrived in Bogota and it was quickly apparent that this was a very different city then good old Medellin.
Nevertheless we were fortunate to have booked into a great hostel called Destino Nomad. Not the biggest, or the most amenities but a really nice staff, amazing kitchen and comfy beds! The guests and staff welcomed us and wanted to know much of where we had been along our journey. The well stocked kitchen creates an extravagant cooking and social environment which is rare in a hostel. Backpackers have roast in the oven, Indian soups on the stove, and marinated meets in the sizable fridge.

We hit the streets of Bogota with camera in hand, clicking away memorable buildings, statues and street scenes. Not sure why some of these did not download properly to the blog.
High over Bogota we viewed the city after riding the funicular train. Atop is also a deeply religious scene, set on a pathway, with statue after statue depicting the death of Christ, accompanied by pious chamber music blaring from outdoor speakers, culminating at a big church.

Bogota is chilly due to it's altitude of 2,640 meters high and the third highest city in South America. For some, the altitude of this city leaves them breathless with headaches. It's also a massive with an estimated population of 8 million people. Our hostel is in the Candalaria district which is a mash of old and new bohemian buildings peppered with Universities, colegios, bibliotecas and other educational facilities.

Unfortunately we can't stay long as our friend Felicity is meeting us in Solento, in the coffee region and we have a long bus ride ahead. Bus stations in Colombia are big, well organized, and clean. This is not a place for riff raff whatsoever only the orderly movement of people in and out. Companies compete for your business yet very little bargaining is accepted, and sometimes you take your chances with the next bus leaving. Will it be over crowded, will the bathroom work, air con or not, on time or not? Who knows some days.

I gamble on a bus and loose. The journey is supposed to take 7hrs but we don't arrive until 9 hours later. He has minor mechanical difficulties along the way which makes me really nervous as we spend at least 3 hours in very mountainous terrain. Our stomachs roll with the up and down during tight curves. Finally we arrive in Manizales, find our hostel for the night and we must still ride another couple of buses in the morning. The views of Bogota will be posted also as video on you tube in the next couple of days. DSC03025.jpgstone_buil..the_top.jpgleft_slopping_view.jpgnear_Candalaria.jpgBogota_Cable_station.jpgartisan_street.jpg

Posted by sostrander 06:31 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Reality Check in Cali Colombia

What's on the menu for lunch: soup, beans and bullets!

sunny 26 °C

I am skipping ahead because this story is too good to wait for sequential publishing. We will resume our regularly scheduled programing after this brief news flash.

We arrived in Cali and headed straight for the Casa Blanca Hostel and were really pleased with it.
Cali seemed quite nice although once again we were in one of the best parts of town.
The following morning we explored the city and stopped to have lunch around the corner from the hostel.
We chatted with a kind waiter who spoke some french and the food was excellent. And as I spoke to him I heard a pop then heard a motorcycle screaming around the corner, the waiter alerted me, I stood up wondering if he was going to crash. He straightened out and a man ran out into the street with a revolver firing at him. My first stupid reaction upon seeing the revolver was "maybe they're filming a movie here" a second later Ariel screamed and I told the kids to get under the table, the revolver was firing down the street after the motorcyclist but we didn't hear an accident so I can only assume he wasn't hurt.
Evidently he had been a robber and vigilante justice was taking place meters away from us.
It was all over in quickly, we were not hurt, and I realized that we were the only people who reacted to this frightening situation. Everyone else in the restaurant was looking at us!!! I have seen more public hysterics at Milner with crazy customers then what we just witnessed. The waiter told us to get up, it's over, sit down, don't worry, eat your food, this is normal here. I explained to him, while shaking, that this was NOT normal for us!!! He calmed us down and we starred at each other. Unfortunately Jordan thought it was cool and wanted to know what kind of gun it was!!
As the kids and I talked about the scene and kept the drama to a minimum they both realized how lucky they are to live in a country that does not accept these actions and these human toys.

In Medellin up on the hillside of Felicity's neighborhood we used to hear pop sounds which I insisted were firecrackers. She would insist it was revolvers firing off and she should know being a Red Cross nurse in East Africa.
I didn't really believe her and after this incident I now know that I never knew what hand guns sounded like and now I do. They sound like firecrackers. I no longer think Colombians like their weekends full of firecrackers!

Posted by sostrander 06:06 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

San Gil and Villa de Leyva

Santander and Boyaca departments (provinces) in the east Colombia

sunny 23 °C

The next few posts will be quick and dirty meaning no time for proper editing and thoughtful sentence structure and ideas. My blog is falling too far behind and I can see myself loosing a grasp if I dont' write the facts and move on.

From Bucaramanga we hit the road for San Gil but made a stop in an interesting national park called Chicamocha.
The drive was spectacular as we reached high elevations and could see only mountains everwhere in the distance.
The driver let us off and headed for the park entrance with a strange structure looming way above. It was to be a quick hike, take pictures, have a bit to eat and flag down another bus. But the views were just too awesome for rapid fire photography/walk. On top of this park is the wildest statue I have ever come accross see pictures below. It is easily a place to spend the day with a dramatic cable car which crosses the valley and lots of hike but a half day would do for us. We were also fortunate to have met a lovely couple named Hector and Martha. They were typical friendly chatty Colombianos who wanted to know all about us, I hope our timelines will gell for another meeting with them.

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San Gil is a cute hilly town in heavily wooden countryside, it reminded me of Nelson, BC. It's focus is outdoor activities such as paragliding, rafting, bungee, rampeling, hiking, etc. This is were you come for some action. Unfortunately we had planned to rapell a waterfall but the water was too strong for little folks. Next is was bungee, not the mightiest but I have wanted to try it for a long time at a reasonable price. Bungee was closed for maintenance, glad I wasn't bungee jumping before the maintenance work. So no big activities except a good hike and some terraced river for the afternoon. The Macondo hostel is rustic and barely has a kitchen but definitely one of the best vibes. The owner is really friendly and loves to organize activities for everyone. The kids and a bunch of big British guys play soccer one night at Shawns urging as Mom watches on. Although we had a nice little party in Medellin for Ariel's birthday, I buy a cake and all the backpackers sing Happy Birthday to Ariel. I will try to load this video on you tube.

kids_in_the_falls__2_.jpgAriel_at_Maconda.jpgtypical_neighborhood.jpgSan_Gil.jpgsteep_steps.jpgkids_in_the_falls__2_.jpgsteep_roads.jpgWe hope to come back to San Gil as two days was not enough.

Next town is Villa de Leyva with old whitewashed low lying buildings, beautifully maintained and laced with cobblestone roads. The countryside of the Boyaca department is cool highlands and dry vegetation. We arrive at pristine, tranquil Colombia Highland hostel in the countryside 15 minute walk from town. What a great place to relax and the price could not be better. The owner is suppose to be a wealth of information and a wonderful guide but unfortunately doesn't socialize at all with the guests. We do meet some great folks there such as Cesco (Italy) and his wife Marie (France) who live in Western Australia. And there is Emily from New York who we hike with and get lost in the hillside but luckily Pal a local dog is with and finds the way just like Lassie! We buy him bones that night for his much needed assistance. Emily and Jordan come across a big tarantula on the trail. I cart Ariel away as she has a complete screaming meltdown and starts to hyperventilate. The spider was not endangering us at all. Emily has written a very complimentary description of us in her blog which we later find on the internet by accident. Her name is Emily J Levy if you google you might also find the blog but I never downloaded it.

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Posted by sostrander 05:31 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Bucaramanga: Up Up and Away

The Santander region of Colombia

sunny 27 °C

The night bus to Bucaramanga is comfortable and uneventful. We arrive at 5:30am and even at that hour this city is bustling, I wonder what it will be like in rush hour. There isn't too much to see here but it's a good day stopover to the mountain town of San Gil which we will hit tomorrow. For Ariel's birthday I treat her to an afternoon at the beauty salon for a toes, nails, and a haircut. It's really inexpensive here and I now understand how 99% of Colombian woman can afford to look marvelous. Impulsively but without regret she decides to cut her hair short! The poor Colombian hairdresser was upset and felt it was criminal to cut a ninas hair as most woman under 40 have long hair. While in Medellin we had a birthday dinner with favorite meal, cake and gifts with our friend Felicity from New Zealand.

At hostel Kasa Guane we meet a very friendly fellow, Ritchie, who owns and operates the paragliding center outside of town. He reminds me very much of Kim Faulks, one of the EPL drivers. Although I never knew Kim when he had hair I imagine he probably looked like this fellow. As well the demeanor and voice are oddly similar.
It's far cheaper than in Canada so I decide to take us all on tandem paragliding flights with guides. Our flights will take us above the city of Bucaramanga. As we arrive at the launch I notice how beautifully all the sails/kites/parachutes glide through the sky. They sail peacefully across the sky like birds and I am not struck with any fear at all. We sit and wait our turn and watch the tricky take offs and landings some rough and some effortless but no one gets hurt so we are ready.

I am first up and there are barely any instructions. Run for take off and put your feet up for landing, let the pilot, Jimi, do the rest. It's wonderful and for a half hour we sail around the country without any sense of fear for heights.
He does a trick, spiraling downwards and this is scary for a moment. For anyone thinking about trying this I recommend it although I know it's quite expensive at home. My landing is effortless and I am excited to watch the kids take-off. They too have a wonderful unforgettable ride and also experience the thrill of the downward spiral.
As I sit watching them in the sky I was struck with strong feelings of how incredible this and our entire trip has been and why this was the right thing to do. My eyes welled up and I also realized how lucky we are to have come all this way. The world away from home is incredible and friendly, people are the same everywhere beyond what the news tells us. A little courage and a few bucks can take you and your kids anywhere to experience these wonders.

I hope we have the opportunity on our trip to try this again. I have uploaded some videos to youtube and our account for viewing is banff1503.

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Posted by sostrander 05:37 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Medellin: Poblado is a guilty pleasure

Last notes on Medellin before we lift anchor again.

sunny 22 °C

After the flowers wilted it was time to see surroundings areas of Medellin. On Wednesdays, our day off from school, we boarded local buses for small picturesque towns within 2 hours. Guatape is a pretty town with a giant meteorite impaled beside it called El Penol. We climbed it's 200 meter staircase to view the beautiful landscape of the man made Embalse lake area.

The next town was historical Santa Fe only an hour a way but much lower and therefore hotter. We were blessed with a pool for the day and did our exploring later. The buildings are all original Colombian architecture without direct Spanish influence meaning they didn't build it even if their design principles were used. This town features the Puente Occidente, a magnificent bridge outside of town built about 150 years ago by the same Colombian bridge designer and builder as the Brooklyn bridge. Apparently he was fired shortly before completing this bridge because he was often drunk. But they had to rehire him because he never made any formal drawings of the bridge, he built it from mental images only. How's the Brooklyn bridge standing these days? When I checked Wikipedia for information on the Brooklyn bridge there is no mention of him at all. So the Colombians may have the wrong bridge in mind and therefore shouldn't hand out or sell the little brochures with this tale.

Poblado is the upscale neighborhood we live in and I am glad we are finally heading out. It's been nice but overpriced and over comfortable. The real Medellin, for travelers, lies in other barios. Where people sit outside instead of insular apartments and comfortable cars. Polbado is a great place to start to gain a sense of comfort and security. It's also a wonderful place to bring tourists for shopping and dining.

While in Medellin I notice that it is the most inclusive city we have visited for services to people with disabilities.
On the cyclovia they are as much apart as abled bodied cyclist, and where there are stairs there are non-invasive lifts, slow but existent. The wheels (wheel chairs) people own are more modern and this is a good sign. But like anywhere I am sure it is the privileged with disabilities and not the disenfranchised who own the right equipment.

The public libraries here have different categories. A public library is different than a library parque. Library Parques are big structures in low income neighborhoods that house books but also provide a gathering place for the community. There are meeting rooms, literacy classes, child care, after school programs, lifestyle courses, employment information centers, etc. The smaller public libraries are the purpose of books. More on this when I return in December.

As a Canadian woman I am often reminded of how lucky I am to have (fairly) equal rights. This is definitely not the case in Colombia, a machismo society. Maybe that's why western woman still must value the importance of feminism because of the unfair values outside of our own borders. One world right?

So standard of living seems quite high here therefore access to health care and literacy rates. There is a price to pay for that and it's called taxes. I notice on airfares, electronics, and clothing that it's somewhat high and depended on type of goods. But food and lodging is quite reasonable.

This is a mecca for dental and cosmetic surgery and even in hostels backpackers line up for dental visits. Crowns, laser eye, braces are cheap and abundant services. I am sure other uplifting surgeries are readily available and very reasonably priced. On my return trip I will pay a visit to the dentist with the kids, and I wonder how much my dentist will charge if the kids come home with braces to be tightened and later removed.

While in Medellin we meet a woman named Flick (Felicity) from New Zealand. She is here on holidays from her job with the Red Cross in Sudan where life is most interesting as you can imagine. We've attend Thursday night salsa lessons which are fun but wouldn't it be lovely to have Chris here? Not too long now Chris!She also helps us celebrate an early birthday dinner for Ariel as we will be on the road on the 27th of August. I am proud of Ariel for not making a big deal out of the lack of buds at her celebration. I know it must be hard for this kids to be away from there friends for so long.

I love it here but it's time to pull up the anchor and see more of Colombia before we head to countries south.

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Posted by sostrander 05:08 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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