From the Coast to Bogota
After one last night in Taganga and a final dip in the Carribean Sea we took off in a direct van to the town of Mompox . Getting to this town from anywhere is said to be quite an adventure but our direct van proved to be quite easy although it did mean a very early 3am departure. We were told the journey could take anywhere between 7 and 12 hours so we were pleased when we rocked up at La Casa Amerilla right on 10am. Mompox is a town infrequently visited by backpackers and we saw it as a good chance to get off 'the gringo trail' one last time. Centuries ago Mompox was very prosperous being the main port for the transportation of goods upriver from the coast but the town is now long forgotten and very little has changed since its wealthy colonial days with donkey and carts ruling the streets over cars. There are really no attractions or things to do in town other than walking around and observing the colonial buildings set along the river and the Momposian way of life which as you might expect is rather slow. It is incredibly hot and humid in Mompox so we limited our walks to before breakfast and late afternoon and for the rest of the day retreated to the hostel's hammocks. The people from Mompox were quite curious of us gringos and we were equally curious of them lazing around on their rocking-chairs (every house in Mompox is filled with rocking-chairs). The town has a population of 30,000 which is made up of only two foreigners - one of which is Richard who owns La Casa Amerilla with his Colombian wife. Lacking restaurants and supermarkets, we only had limited choices for food in Mompox so we tried our hand at some Colombian cooking and made Patacons which is flattened plantains (type of banana) fried in a pan with a pile of guacamole and salsa heaped on top. A meal we will definitely be taking home with us to cook!
After two nights in Mompox our next stop was San Gil and we arrived exhausted after a 5am pickup in Mompox, two bumpy hours in a ute to Bucharamanga and 11 hours further in a bus to San Gil. Despite wanting an early night we went out to dinner at Gringo Mikes with a big group from the hostel including the Irish couple who we met up with again. After 3 or so weeks of chilling out on the coast we were very excited to arrived in San Gil, a mecca for extreme sports in South America. We booked in for paragliding, canyoning and white water rafting - three things both of us have never done.
Paragliding was first up and although it wasn't orginally on our must do list, for $30 we could hardly pass it up. There was a fair bit of waiting around and just when it was our turn to go up we were told the winds were too strong. We had to wait another hour for the chilly winds to die down a bit but the wait was worthwhile as it meant we went up at sunset. We got about 15 minutes up in the air taking us around the valley doing swings and twists along the way.
Next up was canyoning. We had a quick 10 minute ride out of town to reach the cave entrance and from there we would make our way by foot back to San Gil. The first 45 minutes was spent inside the cave; crawling, rolling and squeezing through tiny spaces and wading through waist high water. The guide led us through a section with our head lights off and we could hear and feel bats whizzing by our heads. We eventually saw the light and climbed out of the cave and the next few hours was spent following the dried river down the canyon towards San Gil. Along the way there were two points where we abseiled down cliff faces. During the wet season the abseiling is down waterfalls but unfortunately they had dried up. There were also two points where we had to do 6 metre rock jumps into a pool of water below. Our guide's English was of a similar level to our Spanish so we spent the day speaking Spanglish. The laugh of the day came when Georgie was unsure whether we could use the rope on the rock to lift ourselves up a section. Thinking that Spanish for rope could possibly be ropa she asked the guide 'no ropa?'. Unfortunately she had forgotten that ropa means clothing in Spanish. So she had effectively asked the guide if she could climb the rock without clothes and sent Scott and the guide into raptures. After almost four hours of climbing, jumping, abseiling, slipping and sliding we arrived back in San Gil after another excellent day.
White water rafting is something we have both had the opportunity to do in many other places (not just in South America) but have always put it off as we have been waiting for somewhere that has class IV and V rapids. Finally San Gil and the river Suaraz provided this opportunity. We went with the best operator in town who are the only ones allowed to go down the part of the river with the best rapids and they provide a guy on a safety kayak in case anyone falls out. We knew these rapids would be serious as the people we had dinner with the first night said their raft completely flipped over on one of the sections. This didn't happen to us but we had a great time descending the heavy rapids and we even swam down a section where the rapids were more tame.
We had one final day in San Gil before catching our first overnight bus since Peru and our last long distance bus for the trip!!! Hooray! This day was pretty uneventful and quiet after our three consecutive days of adventure sports but that night we did go out to dinner where we could sample ants, a delicacy in San Gil. The place we went is famous for the best steaks in Colombia so we were sure to order the ant sauce on the side in case it was horrible and ruined our meat. The ant sauce had several massive crunchy black ants within a white creamy sauce. It was good to try but we were still glad we got the sauce on the side as the ants were a tad charcoaly.
We arrived the next morning in Colombia's capital Bogota which is the coldest place we had been since Quito, 6 weeks earlier. At least it served as a good transition for arriving back in Australia in the middle of winter. We checked in the Aussie run Cranky Croc hostel and got a few more hours sleep before checking out town. One of the top rated things to see is El Museo de Oro (the gold museum) and we spent a few hours here learning about the history of gold and other metals in South America and marvelling at the impressive collection. We have never been surrounded by so much gold! We also went to the Botero Gallery after being quite impressed with his works in Medellin. The collection set in a beautiful old colonial mansion included over 100 paintings and sculpures of Botero's as well as some Picasso, Dali, Matisse, Miro, Monet, Degas and Renoir. That night we had a farewell dinner for Luisna and Michael who were on the last night their trip with another Irish couple Siobhan and Harry who have also shared a similar route to us for the past few weeks.
The following day we went on a street art walking tour run by an Aussie street artist Christian (street name Crisp) who has been living in Bogota for the last three year. Bogota has a thriving street art scene and many of the world's top street artists are relocating there as many neighboorhoods in Bogota not only tolerate, but support street art. Also, the legal implications for illegal street art are far less severe than other prominent cities like Berlin and New York. Crisp knows most of the street artists in Bogota so was able to explain the often cryptic messages of the pieces which are often political and left-wing. We really enjoyed this tour and got a good insight into the street art scene and was a great way of seeing the city. We weren't expecting much of Bogota but found it to be quite a trendy, upcoming capital city.
On our last full day we had planned to do a city bike tour but we felt we had probably covered most of it already so we caught the teleferico up a near by mountain for a view of Botota which is one of the biggest in Latin America. It was Colombia's Independance day so we had planned on watching the parades with Siobhan and Harry but when we went online that arvo to check in for our flights we discovered that it was now 10 hours later the next day so that completely threw a spanner in the works. This meant we would miss connecting flights so we had to call LAN and eventually got our flights changed but it meant a 17 hour transit in Santiago (rather than 1.5 hours which we originally had) and a 24 hour later arrival in Sydney. For our last night we luckily had a great group at the hostel who gave us a good send off. A crew of about 12 of us went to a club and although we had to queue an hour to get in (apparently the Colombian Presidents son was there which upped security) it was a fun night.
Our flight the next day now wasn't until just before midnight so we (along with half the hostel) spent the day nursing our hangovers in the tele room watching endless episode of The Inbetweeners. We finally started our looong journey back to Australia. On arrival in Santiago our fortunes changed somewhat with the flight situation as LAN gave us a generous compensation for our troubles in the form of $200US each, a room in the very nice Holiday Inn opposite the airport with a complementary incredible buffett breakfast and lunch of seafood and cheese platters. By the time it came to dinner we could barely move so we ordered room service of fillet of eel and tiramisu. Everything complimentary. From Santiago we had anothere 13 hour flight followed by a stop to refuel in Auckland and three more hours to Sydney we were parted ways to have a few weeks at our respective homes.
So after 392 hours of bus travel and staying in 69 different hostels we have come to an end. Thank you to everyone who has been following our blog over the last 8 months. The entries have been much longer than we expected so sorry for that! Our journey has been a real adventure and while it hasn't been smooth sailing the whole way, we have had an incredible time seeing amazing sights, experiencing different cultures and making new friends along the way. Hopefully we have inspired some people to explore the continent of South America and if you are thinking of going, you know who to ask for tips!