Saturday, August 18, 2018

More Boyaca and Heading South

February 5, 2018, the day we published the last blog update, also was the day we started another round through Colombia. We again had stayed in Girardota visiting friends and being visited by Monica and Mike from Eugene, Oregon. They invited us to stay at their house when we visit Eugene, and little did they know we would take them up on that a few months later.
OR visits Girardota

For now the plan was to visit the state of Boyaca in the eastern cordillera north of Bogota.
Traveling east out of Medellín once more, we first stopped at Rio Claro, a place we hadn’t visited before. We stayed two days, and in general we traveled slowly. For example, we spent the whole weekend parked behind the restaurant Juanito in Villeta which is open only during the day and therefore quiet at night.
That’s how it took us nine days just to get to Raquira, a small town in Boyaca famous for its pottery. That also was one of the few occasions where we chose to spend the night parked at the village plaza.
RC flying at Sajonia

From there, it was a short drive to famous Villa de Leyva, a tourist trap with white-painted colonial buildings and bumpy cobblestone streets and a huge cobblestone plaza. We kind of knew what we were getting into, but decided to stay anyway at the edge of town in a popular overlander site. From there, it’s an easy walk into town.
Villa de Leyva itself is pretty, made up for tourism. There are restaurants, hostels and handcrafts everywhere. And not much else. But where do the local people live? Outside the historic center, we suppose, because at least there still is a local market which offers a good variety of local produce and products once a week.
F3F practice

We wanted to see some “real” Boyaca, so we took the back roads to Garagoa, a small town not (yet?) on the tourist radar. For six days and nights we stayed at the Balneario Canahuay. It’s an easy walk to town from there with a daily local market. The charcoal grilled “Arepas Boyacenses” are a real treat.
An immense and spectacular Ceiba tree dominates the central plaza which also features an “interesting” (Is it art? Is it kitsch?) sculpture of Mamapacha, the indigenous version of Mother Nature.
A local taxi driver we hired for a day took us around nearby villages. He knew roads not on our maps, printed or digital. These small towns are typical of the region, and all are clinging to the Andean slopes. They appeared tranquil and authentic, but really, a brief visit such as ours, can merely offer a glimpse of life in the area.

Now we pointed the Toyota south again and snuck past Bogotá, this time along its western perimeter. Our way went past Apulo and across the Magdalena River to Ibague. We were headed toward Colombia’s main coffee region, and that meant crossing the central cordillera. 
The 45-mile drive across the pass called Alto de la Linea took us seven hours! This was mostly because of too many big trucks on too narrow a road with lots of tight curves. Through many of these curves, only one big truck fits at a time coming or going, and so they wait for each other, stopping all traffic behind them.
Given the sheer number of trucks, long jams form quickly in both directions. We had been particularly unlucky, though; usually this trip takes “merely” three to four hours.
white moth

Eventually, we did reach the towns of Salento and Filandia. Both cater to tourists visiting Colombia’s coffee region. Within walking distance of Filandia, we stayed at the Steelhorse Finca. This used to be a “caballeriza,” horse stables, now converted and run by a young British couple. They are doing an outstanding job creating a welcoming place for overlanders like us. And more than that: two young Australians returned there from an extended trip into Colombia’s remote back country using saddle and pack horses they had rented from Steelhorse.
Rio Claro, Cigarra

About then, we had booked a flight to the US from Quito in Ecuador. This always changes the character of travel, because now there is a fixed place (Quito airport) to be reached at a fixed date (April 17).
With a tad more urgency, we drove to Cali and visited Marcela’s cousin and talked about Garagoa where his wife is from.
Red dragonfly

From there, it was a routine trip across the border to visit German friends in Ibarra and Ecuadorian ones in Tabacundo in Ecuador.
The trusty Toyota camper got stashed away in Tabacundo, while we spent two months doing some bureaucratic errands and visiting Marcela’s uncle and many friends in Oregon and California.
overlander camping

Finally, here is a quick summary of our impressions of Colombia from the perspective of overlanders like we traveling in a camping vehicle.
Colombia is an expensive country to drive a car in, despite favorable exchange rates. Besides the mandatory insurance SOAT, which may cost about US$100 for three months, gas and diesel cost $3 to $3.50 per gallon.
There are frequent toll booths, which typically charge about $3 a pop. For example, the toll fees between Medellín and Bogotá, just 260 miles, total about $30. Despite these fees, road conditions often are bad, even though there is significant new construction. Especially in the mountains, the going can be very slow with heavy trucks crawling up and down the steep slopes.
We won’t comment on politics, especially not on the so-called peace agreement with the FARC. It provided  ex-president Santos with a Nobel Peace Price but left some areas in the country in worse shape than before.

Otherwise, Colombia is a favorite among overlanders. The country offers great diversity, both scenic and cultural. Most Colombians are very friendly, helpful and accommodating. And that makes traveling through Colombia really interesting and enjoyable.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Saludos desde Chile(Osorno). Mauricio, Sandra y familia. Un gran abrazo, se les recuerda siempre. ;)