I arrived into Bogota at around 6am and caught a taxi to a hostel I had found on the internet the day before. I rang the doorbell to Alegria’s Hostel and a friendly man answered and welcomed me in. I think he was a little surprised to see somebody checking in at 6:30. Although I had loved my time in El Cocuy I was very sun burnt and a little run down, all I wanted to do was sleep so I spent the next few hours doing exactly that. That afternoon I met a friend, Milena, who I had made in Santa Marta and we went for some lunch. We wandered around La Candelaria which is the old part of the city, steep and narrow streets with many picturesque buildings.
The next day was more of the same and I spent the majority arranging my Spanish classes for the week and sorting out my apartment. I was annoyed at the price I was paying for a room in La Candelaria which is where most tourists stay. I knew a few people in Bogota so didn’t feel the need to meet lots of other travellers so I used www.airbnb.com to find an apartment in the north of the city. Conversations with taxi drivers told me the area I was moving to was cheaper, more residential and safer than La Candelaria. I paid about the same per night as I did for my room in the hostel but I got a lounge, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. Airbnb worked well for me and if the opportunity arises I’d like to use it again. That night I met Milena again in Parque 93, it was a lovely spot which had just been decorated for Christmas. It turns out they start getting ready for Christmas just as early as in the UK.
I moved to my apartment early the next morning and at 10:00 my Spanish teacher, Lucia, arrived. I had 12 hours of Spanish lessons that week and also got lots of practice with the friends I had made in Colombia. Although I spent almost a week in Bogota I didn’t do a huge amount of sightseeing. The more I travel, the more I realise that the big cities aren’t what I’m here to see. I want to see mountains, beaches, volcanoes and jungles but I know that I should make the most of every place I visit too. Friday night soon came around, I had finished my Spanish lessons and really felt I had learnt a lot. I had been invited to a birthday party by Leidy who I had also met in Santa Marta along with Paula. Last time I met them I hadn’t had any Spanish lessons and although we all got along well the conversation was definitely limited. I was excited to put what I had learnt into practice.
In true Colombian style I arrived nearly two hours late and it was honestly a privilege to attend. I met lots of family members and friends who, without exception, were welcoming, friendly and great fun. Despite the language barrier we enjoyed ourselves immensely. We played a drinking game and with a few unlucky roll’s of the dice I became best friends with tequila and agaurdiente, the drink of Colombia. The next few hours are a little blurry but I awoke the next morning still in Leidy’s family’s apartment. After a lovely breakfast and a great chat with her family I made my way back home for a short period of time before I was off sightseeing with Leidy and Paula again. We made our way to the bottom of Monserrate, a mountain towering over Bogota. We caught the teleferico up which was the third city I had done this in so far. For me, it’s an easy and sensible thing to do, plus I guess I like views. From the top you get an impression of the size of the city, it’s just huge stretching as far as you can see.
We enjoyed the views, strolled around and caught up with each other before heading back down. We stopped off at their university before making our way to La Candelaria where we had an absolute feast of a meal. We shared four or five dishes, all local to Bogota or Colombia and finished with chocolate and cheese. I’m not totally convinced by the combination but it was a great meal and once again I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of Colombian’s. After a stroll around La Candelaria and past the President’s house Leidy took me back to my apartment. It was great to see them again especially as we were now able to talk, albeit slowly, especially when it was me doing the talking.
The following day was my last day in Bogota and I met up with Milena again. She’s the best Spanish teacher I’ve had so far and even better because she’s a friend and I don’t have to pay! I was sad to leave Bogota, although I hadn’t ticked all the tourist boxes I had met many lovely people. It finally felt like I was leaving Colombia. I used my newly learnt Spanish to catch a night bus down to San Agustin, arriving early morning. I didn’t have much time there as the race was on to meet Rob and Ed in Ecuador before I missed Pizza Night at the farm. I wanted to go and see the ancient statues in San Agustin and was persuaded to do it in traditional style on horseback. The last time I rode a horse was a good 15 years ago and I don’t think the locals were too impressed with my riding style.
We made our way to El Tablon to see the first of the statues and then to La Chaquira where the views down the gorge were incredible and the waterfalls were aplenty. I managed to overtake a group of Aussie’s on horseback, it was a couple of days after the first Ashes defeat so it was a small bit of revenge. As we arrived at the park I said goodbye to the horses and my guide and was a little relieved to be taking the bus back. It wasn’t the comfiest method of transport I’d had over the last few days and I also discovered I must be allergic to them as I sneezed and spluttered my way across the countryside.
The park itself was very impressive, very few vendors to bother you, well kept in pristine condition and full of statues that date back several thousand years. It was almost a little hard to believe that these had been built so long ago. I chose not to get a guide but spent a few hours strolling around the park before catching the bus back into town. The earliest of the statues date back to around 1000 BC. I took hundreds of photos but here are a few to give you an idea.
On the way back I got talking to an American and we went for a few beers and some food. He was an interesting chap having spent a few years in the US Army as a medic before leaving to become a biologist. He had spent the last six months trying to stop Puerto Rican’s from eating all the turtle eggs that are laid on their beach. Quite a turn around in career paths!
The next morning I was up at 5 and caught a minibus from San Agustin to Popayan. It was easily the worst journey I’ve had so far, it was an 80-mile trip but took nearly six hours as we bounced and swerved our way along the road/track. There was a lot of work being done in places where landslides had destroyed the road. It was impossible to sleep as we bounced around the back of the bus so I was pleased to get to Popayan. I spent a grand total of 10 minutes there before catching a bus to Ipiales, a border town between Colombia and Ecuador. It was another 8-9 hours before I arrived into Ipiales and any chance of crossing the border that day had been dashed. Fifteen hours on buses that day was enough for me and I found the closest hostel to the station for the night.
Before I crossed the border I took a collectivo taxi to Santuario de las Lajas, a grand church built into a canyon. I must have now been to more churches in South America than in the last 25 years in England. This one was pretty special and from what I’ve seen of The Lord of the Rings (not much) it looks a bit like it’s from that.
After catching another collectivo back to my hotel I made my way to the border point. I was finally leaving Colombia and although exciting times lay ahead including meeting up with Ed and Rob, I was a little sad to be leaving this amazing country behind. Still, I know there’s a lot more to see so after a quick stamp of the passport I arrived into Ecuador. Another collectivo later and I was on a bus heading towards Quito. From the instructions Rob had given me I knew I had to go past Otavalo but stop before a placed called Guallabamba. It was a bit tricky because it was just a kilometre marking but I kept my eyes peeled and four hours later I stepped off the bus with a little trepidation. As the bus drove away into the distance I took in my surroundings. There were arid mountains but not another person or building in sight. I stood at the side of the road with my thumb out waiting for a vehicle to pass but within five minutes two people appeared down the road. I managed to have a conversation with them and was relieved to discover there was a bus coming in twenty minutes.
The friendliness I had experienced in Colombia continued into Ecuador as they helped me with the bus and asked the conductor to drop me off at the taxi point. Ten minutes in a taxi and I had finally made it. After three days of buses, taxi’s, truck’s and a horse I walked into the farm and was shown down to Rob’s house, built by Rob. I had last seen them in Birmingham a few months ago just before we all set off in different directions and it was amazing to be reunited with them, even better that it was in the mountains of Ecuador, minutes from Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). We sat and caught up, enjoying homemade pizza and swapping stories from the last few months. All was good in the middle of the world.