A Travellerspoint blog

Colombia

Colombia: Medellin & Cartagena

Route: Popayan – Medellin – Cartagena – Isla del Rosario – Bogota – Santiago de Chile - London

sunny 27 °C

JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019

From Popayan to Medellin required two flights as we transferred through Bogota. Around lunchtime we left our Popayan hotel and eventually arrived at our apartment in Medellin at about 20:30. Medellin airport is about 40km from the city centre and on the other side of a mountain. Therefore the drive provided a great view of the city at night as we descended into it.
The plan was to spend nine nights and eight days in Medellin and the local area. This would include a three-night side trip to Guatape. However, because of the seriousness of Anne’s throat infection, it made more sense to stay in Medellin for the whole period to aid her recovery. This decision was made easier, by the fact that both of our apartments in Medellin were very comfortable. This plan also allowed us to explore the city at a pace that complimented Anne’s recovery program.

For the first few days, we stayed in the downtown area, Anne rested and I did some local exploration and generally relaxed. This seemed to do the trick, as Anne began to recover and we were gradually able to do a bit more each day.
Exploring a city is not just about visiting the main tourist attractions, but also, if you have time, to observe how it functions. Our extended stay in Medellin allowed us to do just that.
Medellin is set in an attractive location, nestled in an Andean valley with mountains all around. From our 12th story downtown apartment we were able to get a good view of the city lay out, central old town in the middle, getting more modern as you move out from centre and then there are the “Barrios” (urban area’s) on the hill side.

View over Medellin from our first apartment

View over Medellin from our first apartment

Medellin by night

Medellin by night

My observations during the first few days concluded that the city has two periods; the hustle and bustle of the working week, which extends in to Saturday, and the calm of Sunday. Sunday is the time for leisure, friends and family. People are out cycling, along the many cycle paths, jogging, eating and drinking coffee in one of the many bars, café’s and restaurants, even joining in the communal fitness workouts orchestrated in the local shopping mails. But that calm only lasts until nightfall, then the parties start, and that’s the same for every night of the week, or maybe we were staying in a particularly lively part of town.

Sunday work out at the Mall

Sunday work out at the Mall

When you are out shopping and walking, and observing life going on around you, you can’t help but wonder what life was like 30 years ago? Then, before the city’s transformation (see Personal Observations & Interesting Facts), there were on average two murders a day, the majority drive-by shootings, and people lived in fear. It seems unbelievable when you witness life today, and realise what an incredible job the people of Medellin have done to make this transformation.

By the time Anne was fit enough to really get out and explore, it was time for us to move to our second city location. On day five we moved to another very nice apartment in the more upmarket El Poblado district, about 6 kilometres south of centre. El Poblado is at the foot of the southern mountain slopes and is very leafy, quite a change from our previous location.

View of El Poblado, our 2nd apartment in Medellin

View of El Poblado, our 2nd apartment in Medellin

Our city exploration now really started, and first on our list was the historic centre. A taxi ride and a short walk got us to the start of a self-guide tour, the Catedral Basillica Metropolitana. Positioned at one end of a plaza, this is a massive church. It is said to be the world’s largest brick built church, using 1.2 million bricks in its construction, and you can well believe it.

Cathedral in Medellin

Cathedral in Medellin

Shoe shiner in Medellin

Shoe shiner in Medellin

Fruit sellers

Fruit sellers

From there it was just a short walk to Plaza Botero. Flanked on either side by the impressive buildings of Museo de Antioque and Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe, Plaza Botero is a celebration of Medellin’s famous painter and sculptor. Botero has been an influential campaigner for all that is good about Medellin today and the plaza acts as an open-air exhibition of many of his best works. There are 23 Botero bronze sculptures on display, tastefully positioned between trees and pathways. Also, the backdrop of the 1925 neogothic Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe makes an impressive sight with its checkerboard facade and Iron dome.

Palacio de Cultura and Metro line in Medellin

Palacio de Cultura and Metro line in Medellin

Plaza Botero in Medellin

Plaza Botero in Medellin

Botero Plaza, Medellin

Botero Plaza, Medellin

Tucked away amongst modern shops and only a couple hundred meters away from Plaza Botero is the oldest church in Medellin, Ermita de la Veracruz. Built in the early 18th century, but then fell into ruins, before being rebuilt in 1803. This was our next stop on the tour.

Iglesia de la Veracruz, oldest church in Medellin

Iglesia de la Veracruz, oldest church in Medellin

Our route then took us along pedestrian streets, where the mixed smell of diesel, cooked food and street garbage was quite noticeable. What was also noticeable was the products on sell. It seems that each section of the street specialised in a specific product, for example, there would be rows of shops and stalls all selling shoes then the same all selling tee shirts. We thought this can’t be good business practice, but it seemed to work.
Finally we arrived at the final stop on our tour, Plaza San Antonio. Split either side of a main road, the northern section is mostly paved with a few more Botero sculptures on display, whilst the southern section is full of trees and shade covered benches to sit on. It was on the north side that on 10 June 1995, 29 adults and children lost their lives and a further 220 were injured. The cause of the disaster was a bomb, and the government blamed the warring drug cartels for the attack. The bomb, 10 kilos of dynamite, had been placed by the Botero sculpture “El Pajaro”, which it partially destroyed in the blast. Although Botero sculptured another “El Pajaro” for the plaza, the damaged original remains in place as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

Nude Torso by Fernando Botero

Nude Torso by Fernando Botero

El Pajaro remains after being bombed

El Pajaro remains after being bombed

Botero wanted the destroyed statue to remain as a memorial and build a new one alongside it titled Pajaro de Paz (Bird of Peace)

Botero wanted the destroyed statue to remain as a memorial and build a new one alongside it titled Pajaro de Paz (Bird of Peace)

The transformation of the city (see Personal Observations and Interesting Facts) is most noticeable in the Barrios. The Barrios are the unplanned urban development that spreads up the mountain slops on each side of the city. Home to the poorer communities, and at one time, lacking many services, suffering from high levels of unemployment and a high crime rate. But the city transformation program has improved this situation considerably. So we thought we would spend a day investigating those improvements for ourselves. It was also a day to sample all the modes of transport Medellin had to offer.
So after a walk down the hill from our apartment we took two metros to San Javier (also known as Comuna 13) located on the western mountain of Medellín. This neighbourhood was once considered the most dangerous in the world, based off murder rates, but fortunately the transformation program has changed this.

Medellin Metro

Medellin Metro

From the metro carriage window, we could see those changes as we approached San Javier station. New sports facilities provided an alternative leisure activity instead of crime, new illuminated pathways made it safer to move around at night, lots of new growth greenery for the greater wellbeing and new schools to provide easier access to education. This view continued as we rode our second mode of transport, the cable car from San Javier to La Aurora, crossing two mountain peaks and a highway on route. As we got further from the city you could see that there was more work to be done, but we marvelled at what had already been achieved.

Metrocable Line J from St Javier to Aurora, Medellin

Metrocable Line J from St Javier to Aurora, Medellin

View from the metro cable

View from the metro cable

Back in San Javier, it was time for our third mode of transport, the local bus. With room for about 16 people seated and a further 8 standing, these little buses transport locals, and a few tourists, from the metro station, around the steep hillside, to different parts of the local community.

St Javier bus station

St Javier bus station

Inside local bus in St Javier

Inside local bus in St Javier

Our destination was the outdoor escalators; just a few minutes ride away. The bus dropped us near, but not at the escalators, so it required a short walk to reach them. The walk up to them was steep and highlighted how necessary the escalators were to aid getting around this area. The escalators are outdoors, covered and replace the steep steps that once provided access to these areas, they were also our forth mode of transport. The escalators are in sections, linked by short pathways and zigzag up the hillside. We sampled each of the sections going both up and down, stopping occasional to purchase items from local traders who lined the route.

Newish escalator next to old stairs in Comuna 13

Newish escalator next to old stairs in Comuna 13

View of the escalators (orange framed structure) in Comuna 13

View of the escalators (orange framed structure) in Comuna 13

Top of La Comuna 13

Top of La Comuna 13

Comuna 13

Comuna 13

It was also in this part of town that we witnessed the skill of the graffiti artists, admiring their work on many of the walls and seeing how they brighten up the place.

Steep street of Comuna 13

Steep street of Comuna 13

Street Art in Comuna 13

Street Art in Comuna 13

Painted stairs in Comuna 13

Painted stairs in Comuna 13

Comuna 13 Grafitti

Comuna 13 Grafitti

Street dancing in Comuna 13

Street dancing in Comuna 13

We had now witnessed one of the city’s biggest transformation projects, the improvement of the public transport system. At one time there was no easy access to work in the city, hence the high unemployment rate, but now the escalators, cable car, bus and metro links have changed all that. And that change has had a very positive impact for these mountainside communities.
It was now time to retrace our steps, so a bus from the escalators, then the metro from San Javier back to our local station at El Poblada. Finally our fifth mode of transport for the day, our sixth if you count walking, a taxi back to the apartment. We had just experienced a very convenient, efficient and affordable transport system that has transformed the city and the lives of the people who live in it.

Our last day in Medellin was one of those admin days that need to be taken every so often. A bit of online banking, photo processing, blog preparation and post card writing and posting.

The following day we flew from Medellin to Cartagena. Cartagena is in the far north of the country, on the Caribbean coast, and is famed for its well-preserved historic old town (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The old town is still surrounded by its original massive walled fortifications, whilst modern Cartagena has grown out all around it. The contrast between the old town, and the ultramodern skyscrapers of the Boca Grande district couldn’t be more striking.
We were staying within the walled old town, close to the many historic attractions, in a two-bedroom apartment. Shops were close to hand and we didn’t have to walk far to sample what the town had to offer.

Painted cutleries on a wall

Painted cutleries on a wall

Back street of old Cartagena

Back street of old Cartagena

First on our list was to check out the wall. Still surrounding most of the town, you are able to walk on top of it for its complete length. The walls were built over a two-century period between the 16th and 18th, are up to 15 feet (5 meters) thick in places and provide a great view of the old town and the new town beyond. Locals and tourists alike stroll and socialise on them, usually late in the day when it is cooler and a refreshing sea breeze blows. Gazing out into the Caribbean Sea you can well imagine pirate galleons attacking the town, and the cannons, that still line the ramparts, being fired back in defence.

Fortification of old Cartagena

Fortification of old Cartagena

Kite surfing in Cartagena Bay

Kite surfing in Cartagena Bay

Having seen the old town from the wall it was now time to explore its labyrinth of streets. A good place to start our self-guided tour was the main gate. This leads into Plaza de los Coches, with its statue of the town founder Pedro de Heredia in the middle, and infamous for its slave trading activities.

Gates to the old walled town

Gates to the old walled town

Plaza Los Coches

Plaza Los Coches

Heading south you next reach the largest of the town’s plaza’s, Plaza de la Aduana, once a parade ground but now more of a tour meeting point next to the statue of Christopher Columbus. Then just around the corner you find yourself in Plaza San Pedro Claver, with its massive convent overlooking it. In one corner stands a statue of San Pedro and a slave, one of the many he cared for during the 17th Century. And dotted all around the rest of the plaza are small metal sculptures created by the artist Eduardo Carmona.

San Pedro Convent

San Pedro Convent

San Pedro Jesuit Monk (slave to the slaves) and a Slave

San Pedro Jesuit Monk (slave to the slaves) and a Slave

Fruit sellers in Caribbean outfit

Fruit sellers in Caribbean outfit

Our route then took us down a number of small side streets, all adorned with amazing wooden doors and balconies, together with very colourful floral displays. To arrive in the centre of the old town, at Parque de Bolivar, where large trees shade the park and provide an escape from the heat for tourists and locals alike. In its centre is a statue of Simon Bolivar (the liberator of South America) on horseback, with impressive buildings all around its perimeter. We admired the Inquisition Museum from the outside (with the aim to visit it on another occasion) and had a quick look into the Cathedral opposite, before moving on again.

Outside the Cathedral in Cartagena

Outside the Cathedral in Cartagena

Now heading back towards our apartment, and to escape the heat of mid-day, our route took us down more attractive side streets, before arriving in Plaza San Domingo. As is a common theme in the old town, the 1579 church, the oldest in Cartagena, towers over the small plaza. In fact you would barely notice the plaza at all if it weren’t for the bronze Botero sculpture positioned on it, as most of the surface was covered in restaurant tables and chairs.

Shoe shiner

Shoe shiner

Sombreros for sale in the street of Cartagena

Sombreros for sale in the street of Cartagena

Managing narrow street with a long ladder in old Cartagena

Managing narrow street with a long ladder in old Cartagena

Street in the Old Town of Cartagena

Street in the Old Town of Cartagena

Arhuacan traders in Cartagena selling traditional Mochilas

Arhuacan traders in Cartagena selling traditional Mochilas

It was then back into the apartment for lunch and a well earned rest.

With the two main attraction of the old town done and dusted, our exploration took us further afield. And what better location than one that gives you a perfect view over the city you reside in. To achieve this we had two options, the Convento de la Popa, a large white building perched on a hill about five kilometres outside of town, or Castello San Felipe de Barajas, a historic hilltop castle now surrounded by modern day Cartagena. We chose the castle and grabbed a taxi for the short car ride to the castle car park and ticket office.
Castello San Felipe de Barajas sits on top of Lazaro Hill; therefore a steep climb is required from the ticket office to reach the castle fortifications. Once in the castle and on the battlements, you have a great view of the city, the old walled town, the new town and the high rises of Boca Grande in the distance. Of course, when the castle was built there was no new town and this vantage point was an ideal location to defend the old town and surroundings from foreign attacks. Between the 16th and 18th Century this Spanish stronghold suffered many attacks, mostly from the British and French, but although the old town and surrounding area was often occupied the castle was never breached. The ramparts we walked along today aren’t the original, but the result of two centuries worth of ever increasing fortification to meet a growing threat. Today there isn’t much left other than the massive brick structure with a few tunnels to explore, plus some old cannons still in situ. But from this it easy to imagine the historic events that took place between three and five hundred years ago.

The Fort

The Fort

View from the Fort

View from the Fort

Outside the bay of Cartagena and a few kilometres out into the Caribbean Sea, lies the Isla del Rosario archipelago, a cluster of coral islands left high and dry hundreds of thousand of years ago when sea levels fell. Rich in marine life, they are now a National Park and also our base for the next three days.
Picked up from our apartment in the old town, then whisked off out to sea, we were at the Coralina Island Resort on Marina Island in not much more than an hour. This was a bit of luxury that we splash out on every so often, to make a change from our usual self-catering apartments.
A beautiful setting, just seven secluded units, a restaurant, bar and dinning area, plus loungers on decks looking out into the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. This meant plenty of relaxations over the next few days.

View from our deck on Carolina Island

View from our deck on Carolina Island

Coralina Island lodge

Coralina Island lodge

However, it wasn’t a total chill out, we were active some of the time.
Anne did two dives, something she had wanted to do for a good few years now. And she found that she wasn’t too rusty after all this time either, and enjoyed them both immensely.

Reef Fish

Reef Fish

Diver

Diver

Tree coral? fish were hiding in it

Tree coral? fish were hiding in it

Sea bed scenery

Sea bed scenery

Colourful coral

Colourful coral

Some big mouth coral

Some big mouth coral

We swam and snorkelled in the waters around the resort. And took a private boat tour of the archipelago, which included a visit to “Bird Island”, an excellent reef snorkel, a swim from a secluded sandy beach and visited the remains of a Pablo Escobar mansion with one of his planes wrecked on the sea bed opposite.

Private Caribbean residence

Private Caribbean residence

Magnificent Frigate bird in the sky

Magnificent Frigate bird in the sky

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

Male Magnificent Frigate bird

Male Magnificent Frigate bird

Mermaid on holiday from Copenhagen

Mermaid on holiday from Copenhagen

Pablo Escobar Mansion

Pablo Escobar Mansion

Ruined interior of Pablo Escobar mansion (it is said that the bathroom fittings were made of gold)

Ruined interior of Pablo Escobar mansion (it is said that the bathroom fittings were made of gold)

Pablo's Pool

Pablo's Pool

Pablo Escobar Mansion

Pablo Escobar Mansion

Cockpit of sunken plane

Cockpit of sunken plane

Pablo Escovar sunken Plane

Pablo Escovar sunken Plane

However, all good things must come to an end, and we left the island for one night in Cartagena before flying back to Bogota. Transport back to the mainland was by speedboat, and not via the bay as it had been on the way out. This meant more time in open water, which was fine to begin with, but then we encountered some big waves. The journey became part skimming across the water and part flying off the waves. Fun to begin with, then less so as we got more and more wet and suffered body jarring crashes each time the boat landed back on the water. Finally, one hour later we arrived back to the relative calm of Cartagena harbour, wet, rattled but generally in one piece.

The two days back in Bogota were spent doing a bit of admin, laundry, etc. Whilst enjoying our spacious 17th floor apartment with great views across the city.

View of Bogota from our apartment

View of Bogota from our apartment

Bogota by night

Bogota by night

It was then back to Santiago de Chile for a day, before completing our South American trip with a flight back to London Heathrow.


Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Medellin
Medellin is Colombia’s second biggest city, after its capital Bogota. It has a population of around 2.5million and sits in an Andean valley at an elevation of 1495meters. It is known as, amongst other things, the “City of Eternal Spring”, because of its very pleasant year round climate.
It was first established in 1616 by a Spanish explorer and gradually grew in size during Spanish rule. However, it was the discovery of coal in the late 19th century that really put the city on the map, together with the railway connection in 1875. Its resources and a growing textile industry allowed the city to flourish well into the 20th century. Things then took a turn for the worse in the late 1940’s, as the country became more instable. People moved from the countryside and settled on the mountains surrounding the city, todays “Barrios”. The population exploded, and although the textile industry provided some employment, general unemployment rose sharply. Many of the unemployed then turned to a new growing industry in the city, the cocaine trade (see Cocaine below).
By 1970, Medellin had established itself as the world capital for the Cocaine trade, run by the Medellin Cartel and headed by Pablo Escobar (see Pablo Escobar Gaviria below). Gang related drug warfare also made it the most dangerous and violent city in the world.
Since then things have improved dramatically. Starting in 2000, by Major Luis Perez and continued by his successors, the city has been transformed. A lot of money has been spent on a regeneration project of social inclusion. Massive improvements have been made to the Public Transport system, Education, Parks, Libraries, Health and Employment, creating what is known today as New Medellin. A book titled “Our New Medellin – city for life” records all the city’s achievement and is accompanied by statistics. Almost every statistic is impressive, but one that stands out is the number of homicides, reduced from 6,349 in 1991 to a couple of hundred in 2018.
It is an incredible success story, and one that is being used as a template for other troubled cities around the world.

Cocaine
The indigenous groups of Colombia have used the Coca plant and its leaf for thousands of years, chewing it provides a stimulant. In the late 19th century a German physician thought he had found a medical use for the plant, but this was soon dismissed as dangerous. However, between the 1920’s and 1970’s the product he had produced soon became popular amongst the rich as a party drug. The chemical released from the Coca leaf, plus Hydrochloride, created a water-soluble salt, and is the powder we know as Cocaine today.
This product had a huge market in the USA and a growing one in Western Europe. Demand was high, but supply was higher, so by the early 1980’s the market overheated and the price fell. With the falling price, supplier’s profits nose-dived as well. To compensate for this a new product was required. That new product was the old one minus the Hydrochloride plus some baking soda, and went by the name “Crack Cocaine”. Because “Crack” is fast acting, short-lived and almost instantly addictive, it kick-started the Cocaine trade all over again.
Although Colombia is still a major producer of the various Cocaine products, its No.1 status has shifted to Mexico, where the problems once experienced in Colombia are being replicated.

Pablo Escobar Gaviria
Pablo Escobar had both a great and negative impact on the city of Medellin. He was the high school drop out who became the most famous Cocaine Baron the world has known. He got into the drug trade in the boom years of the 1970’s, and was well established to take advantage of the second boom, of “Crack Cocaine”, in the 1980’s. In the 1980’s, 70-80 tons per month were being shipped to USA and the Escobar Medellin Cartel controlled around 80% of that.
In 1982 he was elected to congress, backed by the peoples vote. He had done a lot for the poor of Medellin, funded by drug money. The position in congress gave him diplomatic immunity and enhanced his power. Once in power, anyone who stood in his way was offered two choices, plata or plomo (silver or lead), bribe money or death. His cartel had enforcers, mostly young men on motorbikes, who would shot anyone Escobar wanted. By the late 80’s and early 90’s the violence had escalated between those supporting Escobar and those against.
Eventually, Escobar was brought to justice, when he surrendered to authorities. He gave him self up in return for a guaranteed non-extradition to USA and his own private luxury jail. However, when this arrangement was rescinded he escaped, finally being fatally shot on a roof in a Medellin suburb.

Colombian Post
Wherever we travel, we send postcards to our friends and family. Normally this is a straightforward exercise, select and buy the postcards, write them and post at the post office. But this was not the case in Colombia. Firstly, finding the postcards was more of a challenge than normal, it seems that very few shops sell them and then only in the cities. Still, we were persistent and eventually found some. Secondly, the writing, well that was simple enough. Then came the major hurdle, where to purchase stamps and where to post the cards. Colombia doesn’t have a national postal service, so there are no post offices. Postal services are operated by a number of private companies, each with their own stamps. Fortunately for our first batch, we located one of these private operators, bought their stamps, stuck them on the cards, handed them over and hoped for the best. However, the second batch proved impossible, we bought the cards and stamps from a retailer, then moved cities and couldn’t find anywhere to post them. There aren’t any post-boxes, and even if there were we wouldn’t know whose stamps we had acquired. In the end we brought them home, stuck them in envelopes and sent them from the UK.

Posted by MAd4travel 08:34 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Colombia: Archaeological Adventure

Route: Popayan - San Andres de Pisimbala – San Agustin - Popayan

semi-overcast 25 °C

JANUARY 2019

On day three of our stay in Popayan the adventure really started. Early morning our driver and guide, Tony, picked us up from the apartment to start the journey to our next destination, the tiny village of San Andres de Pisimbala. From the relative urban environment of Popayan, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the much more remote central Andean mountains.

Andean mountain Flora

Andean mountain Flora

Paved roads gave away to dirt and mud tracks as we negotiated our way over one mountain pass after another. Having a 4x4 and an experienced driver seemed a vital ingredient for this type of travel. This was born out by the number of other motorist we passed, struggling with the road conditions.

Mud road from Popayan to Terriadentro

Mud road from Popayan to Terriadentro

Motorcycle wet weather gear Colombia style

Motorcycle wet weather gear Colombia style

Slippery conditions on the road to Tierriadentro

Slippery conditions on the road to Tierriadentro

The journey took us through ever changing scenery as we gained and lost altitude. It seemed the view round every corner exceeded the one before, until we reached the small town of Inza where we took a short break. From there it wasn’t far to our final destination of San Andres de Pisimbala, and the end of our 6hour journey.

Santa on the road in Inza

Santa on the road in Inza

The village of San Andres de Pisimbala is within a region governed by the indigenous Nasa community (also known as Paez); see “Personal Observations & Interesting Facts” below. The village sits at about 1500m above sea level and is surrounded by mountainous slopes that peak at around 2000m. Most of the land is cultivated, even though at times the gradient makes it look almost impossible. Crops are varied, but the most popular are coffee and plantain. The scenery was beautiful, but that wasn’t the reason for our visit, we were here to visit the underground tombs of Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro.

San Andres de Pisimbala

San Andres de Pisimbala

Signs in 3 languages at San Andres de Pisimbala

Signs in 3 languages at San Andres de Pisimbala

Our accommodation in San Andres, Hostel la Portada, was basic, comfortable, very clean and almost completely made of local bamboo. It also had its own restaurant across the street, also made from local bamboo, serving wholesome food and run by the loveliest lady you ever wish to meet.

Restaurant La Portada at San Andres de Pisimbala and our transport 4x4

Restaurant La Portada at San Andres de Pisimbala and our transport 4x4

Hospedaje La Portada

Hospedaje La Portada

Our accommodation La Portada Hospedaje in San Andres de Pisimbala

Our accommodation La Portada Hospedaje in San Andres de Pisimbala

Humming bird feeding

Humming bird feeding

Humming bird at rest

Humming bird at rest

We had two nights in San Andres and planned to do our exploration of the archaeological sites in two stages. Stage one; on the afternoon of our arrival, we would cover the three more accessible sites, and the following day the two more remote. All of the sites are in the Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro, which also has UNESCO World Heritage status. The management of the sites is a joint function between the park authorities and Nasa council (being that they are on indigenous community land).
The first three sites were on the eastern mountain slopes and connected by a steep, but well maintained, path. But before we started our visit we called into the museum to top up our understanding of what we were about to see.
The area had been inhabited by hunter-gatherers that then turned to subsistence farming, for thousands of years. But from the period of 600 to 900AD those people started to build elaborate tombs for their chieftains. These tombs, known as Hypogea, are cut into the mountainside and can be up to 7m deep and 12m wide. It is believed that these people abandoned the area in the 13th century (around the time when the Nasa people started to arrive), and it wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that the tombs were discovered.
So as the rain started to fall we began our trudge up the mountainside to the first set of tombs, known as “Alto de Segovia”. Here around 25 tombs are accessible to the public, and closely monitored by a national park guard. The guard will open the access hatch for each tomb and you are able to descend some steep steps down into the chamber. Once you are in, LED lights are switched on to illuminate the chamber (or with your own torch if lighting hasn’t been fitted). It is then that you are witness to an amazing sight, even after 1500 years you can still see the human like carvings on the pillars and fine painting that decorates the walls. Once you climb back out of the tomb, the lights are switched off and the hatch locked to safeguard the site. After descending and ascending seven tombs we decide we should save our energy to get to the next site and the tombs there.

Segovia sites, over 25 underground tombs which are protected from the elements

Segovia sites, over 25 underground tombs which are protected from the elements

Illuminated tomb

Illuminated tomb

Looking back up the stairs from the bottom of the tomb

Looking back up the stairs from the bottom of the tomb

One of the most well preserved underground tomb at Segovia site

One of the most well preserved underground tomb at Segovia site

Descending into the tomb at Segovia (more like climbing down and up)

Descending into the tomb at Segovia (more like climbing down and up)

Access to an underground tomb on Segovia Site

Access to an underground tomb on Segovia Site

Segovia site, underground tomb, you can see the face on the pillars.

Segovia site, underground tomb, you can see the face on the pillars.

Bamboo bridge access to the archaeological site

Bamboo bridge access to the archaeological site

View over the Andes

View over the Andes

From the museum we had climbed about 150 vertical meters to Segovia, we now had another 100 vertical meters to reach the second site of “Alto del Duende”. Alto del Duende is a smaller site with fewer accessible tombs, but no less impressive. With all this mountain hiking and previous tomb exploration, we only had energy to see one tomb at this site, so we asked the guard which one he would recommend, and we settled for that.

Looking back over the Segovia Archaeological site

Looking back over the Segovia Archaeological site

Farmer's house on our way to the second archaeological site

Farmer's house on our way to the second archaeological site

Underground tomb unlit (had to have flashlight) at El Duende, the second site

Underground tomb unlit (had to have flashlight) at El Duende, the second site

Mountain side agriculture

Mountain side agriculture

Bamboo is a vital resource in the rural community

Bamboo is a vital resource in the rural community

It was then upwards once again, until we reached the Santa Rosa road, where we turned downhill back towards San Andres de Pisimbala, and our last site for the day, El Tablon. By now time was getting on, so when we reached the site it was closed. However, this didn’t mater as the site contained above ground statues, which we could see from the fenced boundary.
[Photo’s – Statues & surrounding at El Tablon]
Finally it was on down the road to our accommodation and a very welcomed shower and rest. However, not before we had looked in on the local church. Rebuilt after a recent fire, it stood pristine with its white adobe walls and thatched roof.

Church at San Andres de Pisimbala

Church at San Andres de Pisimbala

The following day was stage two, just two sites, but a much more challenging adventure altogether. To achieve our goal today we had six hours of strenuous hiking ahead of us. The hike started after breakfast and next to the restaurant. We first descended down to a river and crossed a bamboo bridge.

Bridge at the start of our second day hike

Bridge at the start of our second day hike

It was then up hill to our first site of the day. “Alto de San Andres” which sits half way up the first mountainside to the west of the village, and we reached there in about 30 minutes from starting out. Here we needed our own torches to explore the tombs and see the chambers, but the rewards were equal to those of yesterday.

Underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Details of a pillar in an underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Details of a pillar in an underground tomb at Alto de San Andres

Wild Bamboo plantation

Wild Bamboo plantation

Lost Valley found on our way to El Aguacate

Lost Valley found on our way to El Aguacate

From “Alto de San Andres” the adventure really began. We first climbed to the ridge of the first mountain range then descended into the valley below. The scenery was amazing, and the hills were covered in a variety of cultivated crops, coffee and plantain being the most popular. We noticed that most coffee plantations had plantain trees dispersed amongst them, this we later found out provided shelter from the sun for the coffee plant and a protection from some coffee pests.

Andean scenery

Andean scenery

Farming on the mountain side, coffee and Banana

Farming on the mountain side, coffee and Banana

Local transport from one valley to another

Local transport from one valley to another

This was very remote countryside, there were no roads in or out, the only means of transport was either on foot or horseback, and the valley seemed to be surrounded by mountains on all sides. We almost felt that no foreigner had been here before us, which of course wasn’t true but it added to the excitement. We now had an even bigger mountain slope to climb, to get out of the valley and to the last archaeological site. The task looked daunting and we spent a few moments assessing how tired we were and whether we could make it to the ridge. But even accepting how aching our limbs were, we had come this far so we weren’t about to turn back. In the end it was all worth it, as we reached the second ridge and looked back with elation at we had achieved. It was then a relatively easy walk along the ridge to our last site, El Aguacate, perched 2000m above the surrounding countryside. I can’t deny we were pretty exhausted by this time, but found the energy to explore a couple more tombs, before starting the painful (our legs and knees were shot be this time) decent down to the road back to San Andres de Pisimbala.

Tombs of El Aguacate

Tombs of El Aguacate


El Aguacate tomb

El Aguacate tomb

Multiple underground tomb at El Aguacate

Multiple underground tomb at El Aguacate

Still going down from El Aguacate

Still going down from El Aguacate

Starting our descent from El Aguacate

Starting our descent from El Aguacate

At the mountain bottom we needed a rest, so we called in to a local bar for a beer or two, before walking back up the road to our accommodation.

Fortunately the following day was mostly a car ride, so the legs would have a bit of time to recover. Tony met us at 09:20 and we started the road trip to our next location of San Agustin. The drive took most of the day as we circumnavigated mountain roads, passing by spectacular scenery, before arriving at our final destination around 16:00. But the day wasn’t all about a car ride; Tony kept us entertained with stories about life in Colombia and selected three interesting little towns to visit on route. We stopped for a short break at the central plazas of La Plata, Pital and Timana.
Each of the towns had their own character and charm, and it really gave us an insight to rural Colombia.
In La Plata we mingled with the locals and drank at a mobile coffee kiosk. It was so nice to have a really good Colombian coffee and not to have to choose between about 100 options as you do in Starbuck and similar establishments. Anne had a hot coca drink, the same leaves that are used to make cocaine, but in this instance just a refreshing and stimulating hot drink.

Mobile Coffee shop

Mobile Coffee shop

Coca Tea

Coca Tea

Sugar cane juice machine

Sugar cane juice machine

Busy High Street in Andean town

Busy High Street in Andean town

Cocoa Pods

Cocoa Pods

Road scenery

Road scenery

Pital was pretty but quiet compared to La Plata, but it did provide us with the opportunity to have a good look at a “Chiva”, a common form of local transport (see “Personal Observations & Interesting Facts” below).
Then we arrived at Timana, a town with a good story to tell. It is said that when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they demanded a gift from each of Timana’s residents. However, one household refused to provide one, so the Spanish executed the son of the family. Enraged by this the mother kidnapped the Spanish leader and cut off his head. Today in Timana’s central plaza there is a statue to commemorate this heroic act.

la Gatana who avenged her son death by decapitating the Spanish leader

la Gatana who avenged her son death by decapitating the Spanish leader

As we arrived into San Agustin, it was like entering a theme park. However, this was not the usual look of the town, but its attempt to break a world record. For the Christmas period, the town wanted to create the world’s biggest nativity display. To achieve this, their display was one that you walked through, as opposed to just looked upon. Houses had been painted and decorated with biblical scenes, the police station had Roman Centurions mounted all around it and the public places had life size figures of Mary, Joeseph, the Wise Men and all the other nativity crew. It was a bold attempt, but by the time we arrived in town it all looked a bit tired. We probably would have been more impressed to see it lit up at night.

Police station nativity decoration

Police station nativity decoration

Nativity scene in San Agustin

Nativity scene in San Agustin

Our accommodation in San Agustin was just outside of town and close to the archaeological park we had come to visit. It was very comfortable and in a beautiful setting. Therefore, as Anne had been suffering from a bad cough and loss of voice for a couple of days (caught from Malc, who had suffered with it in the week before), we decided to take it easy and have restful first day, leaving the exploring for day two. However, we did briefly venture into town for some medication for Anne. In fact the pharmacy was very professional, administered an injection to relax the nerves aggravating the cough and proscribed some cough mixture and lozenges to sooth the cough going forward. All of this for only £10.00.

Hotel Huaka - Yo our accommodation in San Agustin

Hotel Huaka - Yo our accommodation in San Agustin

With Anne feeling better, our second day in San Agustin was dedicated to exploring the “Parque Arqueologico Nacional San Agustin e Isnos”.
Like Tierradentro, this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and contains the largest group of monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. The structures stand in a wild and spectacular landscape, protected by the Colombian park authorities, but displayed in a fashion that all can enjoy their magnificence. The site is covered in hundreds of tombs, some up to 30m in diameter, and once contained the remains of the societies elite. Each tomb is guarded by rock statues, skilfully carved in the shape of gods or mythical animals, some weighing several tonnes and standing up to 4m high. These works of art display the creativity and imagination of a northern Andean culture that flourished from the 1st to the 9th century. Although this creative period started in the first century AD, the chiefdom society had been in the region from around 1000BC. It is believed that this society remained in the area until around 1350AD, and then left for reasons unknown. What can be seen today is the result of archaeological work carried out in the 19th and 20th century, all that is missing is gold burial finery that has either been looted or moved to various Colombian museums.
Although the area around San Agustin contains lots of archaeological sites the one we chose to visit had the biggest collection and the best-preserved structures. Unlike Tierradentro, the access to the various tombs was relatively flat and good under foot, so we were able to explore the entire site in an enjoyable 4-hour visit. What we saw was quite mind-blowing, for which the photos will do greater justice than any explanation of mine. People make comparisons of the San Agustin statues to those on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and you can see why. But for us, they are very different, but equally as impressive.

Zoomorphic statue of a Jaguar (not a Vampire)

Zoomorphic statue of a Jaguar (not a Vampire)

Open tomb

Open tomb

Eagle with Snake statue

Eagle with Snake statue

Ornemental Statues

Ornemental Statues

Tomb entrance

Tomb entrance

Stone coffin in San Agustin Archaeological Park

Stone coffin in San Agustin Archaeological Park

Statues

Statues

San Agustin Archaeological Park

San Agustin Archaeological Park

Caiman Statue which covering a tomb, but there is no Caiman in the Andes. How did they know about it?

Caiman Statue which covering a tomb, but there is no Caiman in the Andes. How did they know about it?

The following day we left San Agustin and made our way back to Popayan. The original plan had been to visit some outlying archaeological sites on our way back, but as Anne’s health had got worse and consequently neither of us was sleeping well, we decided not to stop. The four-hour drive back was another spectacular one, as we crossed mountain ranges, drove through a national park and negotiated a variety of road conditions from flat concrete to muddy, slippery and potholed tracks. And as with each of the drives on this trip, the scenery was amazing.
It had been an amazing few days, and one we shall never forget.

Main road from San Agustin to Popayan a bit narrow sometimes

Main road from San Agustin to Popayan a bit narrow sometimes

Main road between San Agustin and Popayan

Main road between San Agustin and Popayan

Magdalena River

Magdalena River

Andean scenery

Andean scenery

Back in Popayan, Tony located a doctor for us, so Anne could get that cough sorted out. It turned out to be a throat infection and a variety of medication was prescribed to get her fit again.

We had one more day in Popayan before moving on. The original plan was to visit a local market up in the hills, but as Anne now had a second appointment with the doctor and had been ordered to rest, we decided to relax instead.


Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Nasa Indigenous Community
Long before the Spanish arrived in the Cauca region in 1537, the Nasa people (also known as Paez) had lived in the area in harmony with their environment. But since then, and up until more recent times, they have suffered at the hands of their intruders. The Spanish killed many through forced labour and other forms of brutality, and in more recent times they have been caught up in the conflict between government military and paramilitary groups such as FARC. Add to this, their land is ideal for growing Coca and Poppy, which meant a further intrusion from drug groups for the production of cocaine and heroin respectively. All of this has meant that the Cauca department and much of the Nasa lands have been one of the most violent regions of Colombia.
Fortunately things have slowly begun to improve. Firstly in 1970 when the Regional Indigenous Council was formed (CRIC) and secondly in 1980 when a local priest initiated the Nasa Project. Today, the 186,000 people who identify themselves as Nasa have a much-improved life. They have recovered 140,000 hectares of ancestral land, which they now cultivated as they see fit. They produce corn, beans, potato, blackberry, coffee, plantain, cassava, etc. on the steep alpine slopes that make up most of their land. They have overcome the environmental, social and economic damaged caused by the chemical spraying of their land by the government (to destroy coca and poppy plantation believed to be in the area, without consideration for the affect it would have on other crops and the environment). The provision of education has improved significantly, they work closely with national park authorities as a number of parks encompass their land, and they have welcomed tourism as another income generator. They also manage their own affairs within their land, including law and order, where only serious crimes (Rape, Murder, etc.) are handed over to the national police. It is also interesting to note that 70% of all of Colombia’s fresh water has its source in the Andean mountains around Nasa land. Four main rivers start their life here; the Magdalena (Colombia’s longest) flows north to the Caribbean Sea, as does the Cauca, whilst the Caquetá and Putumayo flow south into the Amazon Basin.

Chiva and other forms of rural transport
Probably the most noticeable form of rural transport, especially in the mountainous regions, is the Chiva. The Chiva (Spanish for goat), or sometimes known as the Escalera (Spanish for ladder or stairs), is a bus. The buses are varied and characterised by being painted colourfully (usually with the yellow, blue, and red colours, matching the flags of Colombia), and adorned with motifs. Most have a ladder to the rack on the roof, which is used for carrying people, livestock and merchandise. They are built upon a bus chassis with a modified body made out either metal or wood. Seats are bench-like, made out of wood, and there are no doors or windows. The owner (often a village co-operative) or driver usually gives the vehicle a unique nickname.

Chiva front end

Chiva front end

Chiva back end

Chiva back end

Chiva

Chiva

In addition to the Chiva, motorcycles are the other main form of transport (replacing the horse in many regions). Whole families and a huge variety of goods can be seen being transported by motorcycle.

Room for one more?

Room for one more?

Less common, but equally versatile is the Jeep. Rugged enough to cope with Colombia’s rural roads, and adaptable enough to meet the varied needs of a family. Once again, usually painted in bright colours and adorned with motifs.

Jeep

Jeep

Jeep front end

Jeep front end

Popayan Airport
The town of Popayan has a small but fairly modern airport, and only about a 10-minute drive from the old town. However, what makes it unusual is what goes on around its terminal car park. Car parking is shared with cows grazing, some common land agreement no doubt, that keeps the grass cut and fertilized.

Popayan Airport

Popayan Airport

Posted by MAd4travel 14:29 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia: Bogota & Popayan

Route: Bogota – Popayan

semi-overcast 25 °C

JANUARY 2019

Following a two night stop over in Santiago de Chile, after an amazing week on Rapa Nui, we continued our South American adventure and headed north to Colombia. Our flight to Bogota required a transit stop in Lima, Peru, and took most of the day. Our arrival in Bogota airport was quite strange as we, the passengers on our flight, seemed to be the only people in arrivals. Although unusual, it was very welcomed as we raced through immigration, baggage claim and customs, and was at our accommodation an hour earlier than expected. However, it was New Year’s eve, and I expect everyone was where they needed to be for their celebrations.
We had rented an apartment in the centre of Bogota, close to all the attractions, and began our exploration of the city the following day. That day was New Years Day, a public holiday, so the streets were quiet of traffic but full of families enjoying their day off. We strolled around in the warm sunshine, visiting first Plaza de Bolivar where people were feeding thousands of pigeons and street traders were selling balloons to children and photographs with Llamas to adults.

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar on the 1st of January

Plaza Bolivar on the 1st of January

The Plaza is surrounded on all sides by impressive buildings, including the Cathedral Primada with the city’s mountains looming up in the background.

Cathedral on Plaza Bolivar

Cathedral on Plaza Bolivar

Next stop was Casa de Narino, the parliamentary building. Here security was very tight, you even had to have your bags checked by police to walk past it. Casa de Narino is another impressive building, with rich colonial architecture, lush gardens and a presidential guard at every entrance. Although we were allowed to photograph the guards, we weren’t allowed to photograph the building itself.

Presidential Guard

Presidential Guard

Near Plaza Bolivar

Near Plaza Bolivar

Our self guided city tour then took us around some of the adjoining back streets, with something of interest around every corner.

January 1st walking around in Bogota

January 1st walking around in Bogota

Bogota Street

Bogota Street

Old Town street

Old Town street

A church in Old Bogota

A church in Old Bogota

Street decorations

Street decorations

Our second day in Bogota was another lovely warm and sunny one. This time it was business as usual, and the street were much more busy. So we decided to get a view of the city from a higher elevation and this required a trip to the top of Cerro de Monserrate. Cerro de Monserrate is a 3,152meter peak that towers over the city on its northern flank.
Access to the peak is via one of three routes. Firstly, a steep hike up from the city, this we didn’t fancy due to the heat, altitude and a moderate degree of laziness. Secondly, via a cable car which has a station just out of the city at the foot of the mountain. However, this was closed, due to a recent accident (break failure on Xmas day caused a gondola to crash into a pillar and another gondola, injuring a number of occupants, mostly tourists). So ours was the third option, the funicular railway that started close to the cable car station.
First opened in 1929, the funicular follows a very steep track up the side of the mountain, disappearing into a tunnel just before arriving at the upper station. As the name suggests it was great fun (FUNicular?), with spectacular views of the city through the glassed roof 2003 model, and much better than walking.

on our way up to Cerro de Monserrate in the Funicular

on our way up to Cerro de Monserrate in the Funicular

On our way down via the Funicular

On our way down via the Funicular

From the upper station there was still a bit of a walk to the top, along a path lined with Xmas decorations (which are lit up at night). At the top there is a church, restaurants, gift stalls and a spectacular view over the city and its surrounding neighbourhoods. We spent about an hour up there, taking in views and watching gas cylinders being delivered by donkeys.

Cerro  de Monserrate

Cerro de Monserrate

View of Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

View of Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

Donkeys and mules caravan carrying gas for the restaurants at the top of Cerro de Monserrate

Donkeys and mules caravan carrying gas for the restaurants at the top of Cerro de Monserrate

View of the mountains behind Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

View of the mountains behind Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

Our last activity for the day was to visit the oldest church in Bogota, the 16th century Iglesia de San Francisco. We were told that the pews were pretty amazing, in fact the pews were unusual but the rest of the interior was the amazing bit. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures. Also, all around the church interior were Xmas lights that were flashing on and off the whole time we were there.

San Francisco Church

San Francisco Church

As with many cities these days, graffiti artists have been encouraged to brighten up Bogota with their creations. We are told that there are over 100 wall paintings by both local and international graffiti artist in Bogota, and today we set out to see some of them. Known as Bogota’s murals, they are spread out all over the city, but the biggest concentration is in the La Candelaria district. Luckily for us La Candelaria is where were staying, so we were able to start our self guided tour right outside our door. Wondering around the narrow back streets of the northern sector we found loads, which wetted our appetite to look for more in the coming days.

Bees

Bees

Face on a wall

Face on a wall

Cats

Cats

Double dog

Double dog

The Kiss

The Kiss

Dragon on a wall

Dragon on a wall

Panoramix made it all the way to Columbia- As a French and fan of Asterix et Obelix (i even have a tattoo) I had to indulge myself

Panoramix made it all the way to Columbia- As a French and fan of Asterix et Obelix (i even have a tattoo) I had to indulge myself

With today’s theme being paintings, we thought a good way to finish it would be a visit to the Museo Botero. Fernando Botero is a Colombian painter and sculptor, and born in Medellin in 1932. If you are not sure of his work, the photos below will remind you of his style. As Botero is one of our favourite artist, the museum was a must visit for us. Although the museum is only small, it was very well laid out, with lots of Botero’s work plus a few other exhibits from famous artists. It was an enjoyable way to finish a fascinating day.

Botero Museum

Botero Museum

Botero selfie (painting one of his subject)

Botero selfie (painting one of his subject)

Botero master piece

Botero master piece

The following day we did an exercise that we do in most cities, that is to go walk about and see what we discover. We have a destination in mind, but the route we take will change depending on what we find.
Today we hadn’t gone far, when we realised we were in the emerald-trading plaza. In Colombia, and specifically Bogota, emerald stones are traded in the street, and generally in this specific plaza. We stood around for a while, watching sellers and buyers negotiate over the price of a selection of stones enveloped in a folded piece of white paper. We then got talking to a few of the traders and they showed us what they were selling, they often had many envelopes, all containing emeralds of different sizes. Prices varied a lot, depending on the size and number in each envelope, all well out of our price range.

This plaza is where the Emerald trader come to sale their goods, today is New Years Day so no trading

This plaza is where the Emerald trader come to sale their goods, today is New Years Day so no trading

Emerald Traders

Emerald Traders

Emeralds for sale (and not the biggest one)

Emeralds for sale (and not the biggest one)

From emerald plaza we continued on our way, stopping on route to talk to some lottery ticket sellers. They were supporters of English soccer, both of them, and Arsenal FC in particular. Again, when I say we chatted, Anne did the talking for us with me understanding most of what was said, but only acknowledging with a nod and a few standard phrases.

Lottery tickets for sale

Lottery tickets for sale

Onwards we went, watching Bogota daily life going on all around us, until we needed to leave the main street and head south again for our final destination. Now, our goggle map had shown us a number of different routes, but we thought it only made sense to take the most direct. To begin with the street had lots of things going on to interest us, guys waving chequed flags to encourage passing motorist to park at their lot, for example. But as we got closer to our final destination, the area became a lot seedier. Now bars and brothels had replaced shops and cafes, we had found ourselves in Bogota’s red light district. Trading was very open, we had ladies of the day, scantily dressed and sitting outside their place of work. Trade seemed to be pretty good, but we didn’t hang around to look too closely.

Road to cemetery

Road to cemetery

To our relief, we soon arrived at our final destination, Cementerio Centro. Once passed security and inside we felt safe. Main cemeteries of major cities are interesting places, and we seem to have visited quite a few. They give you an insight to the city’s history, show you the people that have been important to the city, indicate the division of wealth and many of the tombs are amazing structures. They are also very peaceful places, often due to the amount of greenery that is present, plus the lack of load noise. We weren’t allowed to take photos, so you will have to use your imagination. Upon leaving the cemetery we decided to avoid the red light district on the way back, otherwise re-tracing our footsteps. That is until a local indicated that it wasn’t safe to venture anywhere in that area, not with words, but with a knife across the throat mime. So we stuck to the main streets all the way back to our apartment. Not a normal touristy day, but a very interesting one all the same.

Business district

Business district

For our last day in Bogota we visited its main indoor attraction, Museo de Ore (Gold Museum). A fascinating museum that covers the history of metal, focusing mainly on gold, and the story of gold in South America. The top three floors are packed with displays of gold in every form you could imagine, but mainly ceremonial pieces from cultures long since gone. As you progress around the displays you get a history lesson from a gold prospective. Some exhibits were over 3000 years old and it never cessed to amaze us how skilled the craftsman were to make such intricate pieces.

Gold Funeral Mask, Gold Museum

Gold Funeral Mask, Gold Museum

Regalia of the elite

Regalia of the elite

Gold Jaguar, one of many many gold artifacts

Gold Jaguar, one of many many gold artifacts

Just a few gold artefacts thrown together at the Gold Museum of Bogota

Just a few gold artefacts thrown together at the Gold Museum of Bogota

Three hours after entering the museum, we emerged much better informed about South America’s indigenous people, their culture and their amazing skills in working gold. Also pretty hungry, so we made for a recommended restaurant close the apartment, “Sant Just”. A very enjoyable late lunch followed, as we sampled their Colombian/French cuisine.

Tasty lunch

Tasty lunch

From Bogota we flew southwest to the small town of Popayan. Our apartment was in the centre of the old town, so well located to explore on foot. Still in the Andean foothills, the weather was quite pleasant, although we did catch a bit of unseasonal rain. On the day we arrived it was the Sunday before epiphany, so celebrations were already in full swing. The streets were full of people, music was playing and if you didn’t watch out you were liable to get sprayed with water or covered in some sort of white powder (we never did find out what that was all about). The partying went on into the night, with dance music blearing out from the other side of town and more traditional music being played in the plaza close to us. We checked out the plaza, and were impressed with the quality of music being played, a quartet with both Spanish and Classical guitars performing traditional songs on a small stage facing the plaza gardens. The gardens themselves were also a sight to behold, illuminated with hundreds of coloured lights, all adding to the spectacle.

Concert in the Plaza

Concert in the Plaza

Epiphany Celebration

Epiphany Celebration

The reason for coming to Popayan was two fold, firstly because it is the best location to launch a visit to the archaeological sites in the region and secondly to see the town itself.
To begin with we spent a couple of days chilling out and exploring the old town of Popayan. The old town is known as the “White City”, due to the colour of most of the colonial building. It is also known for having more than its fair share of churches, due to its religious importance, and for its politics, having provided more Colombian presidents than anywhere else.

White town of Popayan, very quiet as it is another bank holiday. Columbia has 18 bank holiday

White town of Popayan, very quiet as it is another bank holiday. Columbia has 18 bank holiday

Popayan

Popayan

On our third day in Popayan the adventure really started, as we relocated to a much more remote part of Colombia, to visit some of the countries archaeological treasures.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Colombia
The country of Colombia is located in northwest South America. It has an area of 1,141,748 Km2 and a population of 50 million, 8 million of which live in the capital Bogota. Bogota sets high up in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andean Mountains, and at 2640m above sea level is the third highest capital in South America (only La Paz and Quito are higher).
Before being occupied by the Spanish in 1499, the area we now know as Colombia was home to three main indigenous communities, the Muisca, the Quimbaya and the Tairona. As with most South American countries, the indigenous inhabitant suffered greatly at the hands of their European invaders, to the extent that very few true indigenous people survive today.
The Spanish remained in control until 1819 when Colombia gained its independence. However, the borders at that time were not the same as today, most notably in respect of the Panama Department. The Panama Department became the country of Panama in 1903, an agreement brokered by the USA, due to their interest in the Panama Canal.
Since independence, Colombia has had a somewhat violet history. Firstly due to warring political parties and then from the 1960’s, a long running government guerrilla war. However, things have got much better recently, with a peace agreement signed by the government and main guerrilla group (FARC) in November 2016.
The country is now looking forward to a peaceful and prosperous future, and is developing quickly towards that goal. Already the World Bank ranks Colombia’s GDP(PPP) as 32nd (40th GDP Nominal) in the world and 3rd largest in Latin America.

Flag of Colombia

Flag of Colombia

GDP Nominal v GDP (PPP)
A nominal measure of GDP does not account for changes in the relative purchasing power of a good across time; it ignores inflation and deflation. Purchasing power parity (PPP) compares how many goods and services an exchange-rate-adjusted unit of money can purchase in different countries.

Bedding
It seems that somewhere down the line, the suppliers of bed linen weren’t talking to the suppliers of beds. Because at most places we stayed, lower middle range establishments, the bedding was a bit too small for the bed.

Car Alarms
I don’t think we have been anywhere that there has as many car alarms going off as in Colombia. They must have been either poorly fitted or supplied by Trotters Independent Traders (TIT will only make sense to lovers of the UK comedy “Only Fools and Horses”). Either way, they seemed to go off regularly and not due to attempted theft.

Chess
The game of Chess seems to be a common pass-time. Most towns and cities we visited would have competitions going on in the street. Usually a table and two chairs would be placed at the side of the street, where the players would sit a play. Sometimes there would be multiple games going on at the same time, all lined up in neat row, with an audience looking on.

Posted by MAd4travel 11:50 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]