Thursday, September 30, 2010

I am amazed by the weather in VDL

Villa de Leyva is at 5.6 degrees North and 7200 feet above sea level. For reference, the highest point on the east coast, Mount Michell is just under 7000 feet. We are both doing well with the altitude, no headaches or sleepless nights. The only problem I have is when we go hiking up the hills, our "family mule" has to haul the pack the whole way up.

What took me by surprise is how cool the weather is here, considering close we are to the equator. Daytime high is around 70. We are wearing our fleece jackets in the mornings and evenings. At night we sleep under a heavy blanket. In fact, on the third day the maid added a second blanket on the bed. We were not too hot.

Tomorrow we are going to Tunja, another 1700 feet higher, 38 km away. I hope we don't freeze. Stay tuned.

The Family Mule taking a break on the old road to Tunja.
John - On the old road to Tunja, Colombia

We don't know how we will continue

We are scheduled to go into Ecuador in less than three weeks. With the latest unrest in Ecuador, the Colombia/Ecuador border has been closed, not that we want to get into Ecuador in a hurry. We should just be glad that we are not already there.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Villa de Leyva is all right

Continuing on the trail of colonial towns of Colombia, we are now in Villa de Leyva. It is supposed to be the most touristy town in all of Colombia, as it is only 3 to 4 hours from Bogota. We arrived on a Monday as to miss the majority of weekend visitors.

As we walked in from the bus station, we found the town to be fairly lively with local people, not too many tourists. When we reached the central plaza, its enormous size was obscured by the fact there was a movie shoot in progress with a cast of hundreds of soldiers, peasants, gentlemen, and ladies. It seems that everyone in town is either, a local, a tourist, or an actor.

To us, Villa de Leyva is not very touristy at all. Colombia, in spite of her natural beauty, charming colonial towns, the most amiable people, is a very lighted touristed country.

Plaza Mayor
Villa de Leyva - Colombia

Plaza Mayor with soldiers. Main movie set is in background.
Villa de Leyva - Colombia

Monday, September 27, 2010

We are finally doing some hiking

At 6 degrees north and 4000ft above sea level, Barichara has very pleasant weather. It is under 80 degrees and dry, but the sun is very strong. We decided that we were ready for some walking.

On the first day we took the obligatory downhill walk on the Old Spanish Road to Guane, a small village 10km to the north, and took the bus back. On the second day we had a more adventurous and rewarding walk to Cabrera, an even smaller village 8km to the south, and walked back.

John on the way to Guane.
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Sun-Ling on the tricky descent into Cabrera (red roofs at far right).
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Life is good in Barichara

Barichara has a dramatic setting, perched on the edge of the Suarez River valley.

The town itself is a sleepy, picturesque, and colonial, but livelier on Sunday when ranchers come into town for market.

View from the top of Barichara to the bottom.
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A typical street. That's our hotel.
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Sunday market.
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Our hotel is an old colonial house, high ceilings, and new bathrooms with hot shower!

Hotel courtyard faces the main church.
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Our room.
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Finding vegetarian food has not been the easiest. Here is a treat we came across in Barichara.

A cholao.
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

We have finally left The Inferno

In three days we went from 150 feet above sea level at Mompox to 4340 feet here in Barichara. To get here, the bus went through Chicamocha Canyon. Breathtaking views, though not so easy to capture through the bus window. [Note that the three photos below were all taken by Sun-Ling. John was concentrating on looking straight out at the road the front of the bus in order to keep his breakfast down.]





Friday, September 24, 2010

We almost didn't come to Giron

From Mompox, we could only make it to Bucaramanga in a very long day. Bucaramanga is the second largest city in Colombia. The new bus terminal is 5km outside town. Another 5km is the colonial town of Giron. So, instead of staying at the modern hotel at the bus station, we took a room with a balcony right on the square in Giron.

Sun-Ling enjoying the view from our hotel room.
Giron, Colombia

Giron has a lively colonial center. The local tourist office is run by the police. They hardly speak any English, but are extremely friendly. They insisted on sending a young woman to show us around town. We managed to decline, but not as smoothly as I would have liked, not a situation we have had much practice. Later from the balcony, I spotted a police office showing a few tourists around.

Giron is surrounded by hills.
Giron, Colombia

The white washed walls of the old colonial town.
Giron, Colombia

I was going around exclaiming what a nice town it is. John pointed out it is because we wished we lived in a town like this.

Giron, Colombia

Bus Ride From Hell or Amazing Journey?

Leaving Mompox turned out to even more adventuresome than we had expected.

One minute we were enjoying the bus ride through the river country of northern Colombia (cows, cowboys, water birds, flooded plains, free range pigs, sleepy villages, lush blue and green as far as the eye can see), the next we unexpectedly found ourselves out of the bus, one backpack on the back of a burro, the other on the back of the driver, walking down a muddy road in the blazing sun to a ferry landing where we boarded a wooden canoe for a 15-minute upstream trip across the Rio Magdalena to a waiting 4X4 that took us the rest of the way to the El Banco bus terminal.

Walking down the muddy road. The burro is ahead in the distance.
The road to El Banco - Colombia

The canoe and the driver (with Sun-Ling's backpack on his back); my pack in foreground.
The road to El Banco - Colombia

Sun-Ling adds:
1. This special program is only available during the rainy season, August to January.
2. I saw more birds in this one morning than in a whole season of paddling in Florida. John thinks this must be what the Everglades was like 100 years ago.
3. I have never seen better lives for domestic animals, free roaming in beautiful landscapes, abundance of luscious food, total respect from cowboys and drivers. Maybe I will eat some meat here. Only kidding!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mompox

Mompox is a tiny town that comes with high credentials: UNESCO World Heritage and movie location for Chronicle of a Death Foretold. John and I had read the book quite a few years ago, reviewed the notes, and watched the movie in Spanish right before we left. I was really charmed by the movie.

Unlike Cartagena, I was a little underwhelmed by Mompox initially. While it is not as gleaming as the movie, the town is special in many ways.

1. The town seems to be surrounded by water. Our "direct" bus from Cartagena had to take a 30-minute ferry across a river or rivers, plus another 40-minute drive through swamps to get here. It looks like we can leave by hiring either a 2-hour boat or a car through the swamps for 2 hours.

Ferry (before loading)
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Mompox waterfront
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2. The colonial buildings are a little run down, picturesque nonetheless.

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3. It seems like we are staying in the best room (#10)in the best hotel(Hostal Doña Manuela)in town; something that never seems to happen to us.

Hotel Pool
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Room #10
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Spanish is bad

That is to say I have some Spanish. All the months I have been studying I have avoided speaking. I hate to do things not well. But in order to get shelter and food for us, I am forced to come out with atrocious Spanish. As I suspected all along, people have no trouble discerning my meanings. I rarely have to repeat myself, sparing everyone of my awful Spanish. Discerning what I get back is another matter. Beyond simple numbers and positive/negative answers, I am pretty pathetic.

I am continuing with my lessons and studying. I didn't bring along any English books to read, only a few audio books, so I can concentrate on Spanish. I am working towards "My Spanish is not so bad."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I cannot tear myself away from the balcony

I am a sucker for rooms with 2nd story balconies.  I can just sit there forever and watch the world go by.  A lot of the time I do not even spy on a particular person (John does that well).  I think I just let myself be mesmerized by the flow of people, as some people do with ocean waves. Does this have to do with how I grew up in Shanghai on a busy 5-way intersection?  I whiled away many summer evenings at our neighbors' 2nd story balcony, trying to catch some elusive breeze....




Friday, September 17, 2010

I LOVE Cartagena

I love places on the water, surrounded by water. I love balconies and courtyards. I love interesting old buildings. By all indications I should like Cartagena. For trip preparation we watched "Love In the Time of Cholera" which was filmed on location.

This is our third day here and Cartagena has exceeded my expectations. It has the MOST beautiful historical center I have ever visited with many well maintained or restored colonial buildings; patios and balconies overflow with tropical plants. The locals are lovely; relaxed yet hard working. There are a good number of tourists here, but it's not overrun. Very lively.

The downside is that it is VERY hot and sticky here. There is an ocean breeze so it is not muggy. The direct result is that we sweat by the buckets.

City Wall


Convento Santo Domingo


Clock Tower and Square


Hotel Room Balcony

Friday, September 03, 2010

The world is my pond

Our route is complete. It looks like we'll be traveling into May. This week John and I are rereading "Walden"(HDT) for book group. While I still find the book overwhelming, I did have a revelation. Traveling around the world is my living on the Pond. It is my way of being free, contemplating the ways of the world, and meditating on the essence of life.