Back To Bogota, Back To Work

After nearly six months of holiday I returned to Bogota on the 10th January to start work. During October and November I’d applied for and got a job from January until November teaching English in a public school in Palmira as part of the Colombia Bilingue program that is being run by the Colombian Ministry of Education.

http://aprende.colombiaaprende.edu.co/colombiabilingue

Having spent six months travelling independently, first with Vicki and then alone, it was a novel experience to be met at the airport and transported to an upmarket hotel for the first weeks of training. Having got used to being on my own, organising my own plans and spending time on my own I was suddenly plunged into sharing a room with four strangers, having a schedule to follow and barely having a moment to myself. Continue reading Back To Bogota, Back To Work

Medellin for Christmas

I spent over five weeks in Medellin over Christmas and New Year (yes, I am a bit behind with my blog post writing) and had a fantastic time. It is blessed by a wonderful climate, most of the days I spent there were in the mid 70s with a light, refreshing breeze coming through the valley most of the time.

Nativity scene in Medellin shopping mall
Nativity scene in Medellin shopping mall

Living In Poblado

The apartment I rented was in the quiet, and rather posh, area of Manila, which is in the upmarket Poblado neighbourhood of the city.

Many people criticise well off tourists who visit Medellin and spend their time in Poblado, saying that they don’t experience The Real Colombia. I think that is fair criticism ……. but …….. I will be living a lot more simply while I am working in Palmira. Thus I excused myself a little luxury. Continue reading Medellin for Christmas

Manizales

After Salento I moved to Manizales for a week and stopped in this quite incredible finca with amazing views over the valleys below.

The view from my finca in Manizales
The view from my finca in Manizales

Unfortunately I was ill for a fair amount of my time here. But, if I had to get poorly somewhere, then this wasn’t a bad place for it. I spent a couple of days in bed and then a couple more feeling a bit sorry for myself. That’s not too bad considering I’d been travelling for four months by this stage.

I did manage to get out and about a little bit though. Continue reading Manizales

Salento and Valle de Cocora

Look on any map and you might be forgiven for thinking that Salento is just a short drive from Ibague, what with it being a mere seventy miles along a main road. But, as I travel around Colombia, I am beginning to realise that maps are not always a reliable way of estimating travel times. This is especially true when the route takes you through the mountains.

My journey was on a public bus that spent most of the time following a succession of large trucks that were slowly insinuating themselves up and down the hillsides. Passing places seemed to consist of any straight stretch of one hundred metres or more, and overtaking manoeuvres were very much reliant on the good nature of the drivers of any oncoming traffic that the bus encountered.

I tried to keep my head in my book as much as I could.

I read the same page a lot of times.

Palm trees in the Valle de Cocora
Palm trees in the mist

Continue reading Salento and Valle de Cocora

Ibague and Combeima Canyon

AirBnB enthusiasts often speak about how the site helps you have a closer experience of a country by meeting your hosts and getting to know local customs. Whilst this can happen, I think it is sometimes exaggerated.

In the case of my Ibague stop this was certainly true though as, within a few minutes of my arriving, my host had introduced me to herself, her dog and her wooden leg (in that order).

The combination of a Latin American sense of personal space and a lack of any sense in her right leg meant that I inadvertently kept standing on my host’s shoe. I must have appeared to be a stereotypical Englishman abroad, repeatedly apologising to her for no good reason.

Christmas present packages on sale at my Ibague BnB
Christmas present packages. Available from your local Ibague BnB

Continue reading Ibague and Combeima Canyon

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

While I was in Bogota I took a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, out to the medium sized town of Zipaquira to visit its enormous underground cathedral, which has been carved out of a salt mine.

Statue in the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquira
Statue in the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquira

Before going down the mine I had a walk around the town, which has a very large central square. After downtown Bogota it made a pleasant change to wander around such a sleepy, relaxed place.

Walking out of the town I climbed the hill that leads up to the salt cathedral. The salt mines have been created by drilling horizontally into the mountain. This means that you do not have to enter using a lift going down a shaft, but by walking down a long corridor that is also high and wide. It also means that the entrance is on the side of the hill and not at the top. Phew! Continue reading Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Bogota: busy days and quiet nights

Bogota from Montseratte
Bogota from Montserrate

After the relaxing environment and bright sunshine of Pasajcap, coming to Bogota was a bit of a shock.

The city stretches across a valley 2500 metres above sea level where the weather can change very quickly. It is normal to walk along in the bright sunshine and then be hit by a sudden downpour. Think UK April, but a bit warmer.

So, the weather was a bit shittier, to say the least.

On top of that I had booked a hotel in La Candelaria district of the city. It is a pretty and popular tourist area in the city’s historic centre with many hostels and hotels.

During the day La Candelaria is a bustling and lively bit of town, with attractions such as the Museo De Oro, the Quinta de Bolivar and Museo Botero.

Botero Sculpture in Museo Botero
Botero Bums in Museo Botero

The latter is a free museum containing a range of paintings and sculptures by Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist from Medellin. His figures typically have exaggerated dimensions making them look out of proportion to their surroundings as well as a bit on the chubby side.

Just down the road from Museo Botero is the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Colombian author and journalist who invented the Magic Realism style of writing.

His cultural centre houses another art gallery, a bookshop and a nice cafe where you can drink coffee, eat cake, leech off the wifi and people watch.

So far, so cultural. However, at night La Candelaria can get a bit on the hairy side, so much so that it has been granted its own special slot in the UK government’s security advice for citizens visiting Colombia:

Street crime is a problem in major cities, including Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Santa Marta. Mugging and pickpocketing can be accompanied by violence.

British nationals have been robbed at gun point in the Candelaria area of Bogota.

 

Blimey.

As if to emphasise this, the hotel I stopped at, Tip Top Casa Hotel, had it’s front door permanently locked and bolted, as did most others in the streets close by. The owner, Maria, was also keen to recommend a “really good” restaurant for my evening meal that was suspiciously close to the hotel.

Maria was really friendly and helpful and she was very happy to suggest a range of activities for me to do during the day, reassuring me that they were “segurro”. This included going to Montserrate, the mountain above the city, visiting various museums and taking the Transmilenio, something that a number of online sources viewed as being anything from a bit dangerous to an out-and-out suicide mission.

I’ll say a little about the Transmilenio in another post.

On the Sunday, taking Maria’s advice, I went for a walk down “La Septima”, the road that goes from Plaza Bolivar to El Parque La Independencia. The first couple of blocks are pedestrianised anyway, but continuing on from there the next dozen blocks ar least were taken over for a street market. Attractions ranged from clothes stalls to juice vendors, from music/DVD stalls to pavement side Virtual Reality gaming.

Guinea pig gambling game at Bogota street market
Where is that guinea pig going?

At one point I was enjoying an old live performance of Daddy Cool by Boney M when I was distracted by the crowd at the next stall falling towards me. Two lads wearing VR headsets were standing in front of a pair of screens which showed them attempting to complete some kind of “Bungee jumping through a cityscape” game. Unsurprisingly, one of them had become a bit unsettled and wobbled into the crowd, scattering them into our video zone.

Best of all was the guinea pig betting.

There were a good three or four examples of this punctuating the street fair and they seemed to be the equivalent of a Find The Lady game.

Twenty or so upturned washing up bowls are set out on the road, each one has a number on it. People place bets as to which bowl the guinea pig will go to. A bloke with a Bluetooth mike stands about 15 metres away with his little group of guinea pigs. On his say so one of them hares it along the road and vanishes into a washing up bowl. If you’ve placed money on the bowl, you’re a winner.

I watched these games for a while and realised that the Bluetooth hucksters each had a number of guinea pigs by their side. Cynic that I am, I wondered if each one was trained to go to a particular colour of washing up bowl. It would certainly weight the odds in their favour.

I had a good stroll up and down the street market until it started to get dark, when I made my way back to the hotel.

Man walking his llama in front of the cathedral in Bolivar Square, Bogota
Man walking his llama in front of the cathedral in Bolivar Square, Bogota

 

 

Pasajcap

I haven’t written that much about the places that I have stopped in, but I really need to make an exception for Pasajcap, which was my home for a week on the shores of Lake Atitlan.

Set up on the hillside that rises on the path between San Marcos and Tzununa, Pasajcap is a collection of small houses and apartments that overlook the lake. Each of the properties has an enormous picture window with views of the volcanoes across the lake.

Hammock in front of a window with a view of the volcano behind
Volcano view at Pasajcap

As well as being a relatively short tuk-tuk ride from the centre of San Marcos, Pasajcap also has its own private jetty on the lake. I arrived directly from San Pedro by taking a public boat and asking to be dropped off there. Continue reading Pasajcap

Sumpango kite festival

Two kites on display at Sumpango Kite Festival
Sumpango Kite Festival

I walked into town at a quarter past five on the morning of the Day of the Dead and came across a small group of Mayan kids playing basketball to a loud, heavy Dubstep being played through the community centre`s PA system . A group of women dressed in their traditional, kaleidoscopic dress waited by the bus stop a few metres away, smiling tolerantly. Strange as this was, it was by no means the most curious or exotic experience of the day.

I was stopping in San Marcos, which is one of the more esoteric of the villages around Lake Atitlan. There’s often a waft of weed in the air and a lot of the self-catering adverts mention yoga pads. For one of the first times on my trip, getting vegetarian food had been easy. Continue reading Sumpango kite festival

Studying Spanish in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan In The Rain
Lake Atitlan In The Rain

I’d been travelling alone for a just little less than a week. For the past two days I had been stopping in Panajchel, known as Pana locally, where it had rained pretty solidly throughout my stay. I’d come to the conclusion that I’d made a mistake stopping here at all, as I’d found it to be little more than a main street with restaurants, bars and shops that catered to us tourists. I discovered too late that it is very easy to skip past Pana and get a boat across the lake straight away.

So, first thing that morning, I had dragged my suitcase round to the jetty, clattering along the cobbles as I went. At the quayside I pulled my suitcase on to the roof of the boat and squinted at the rain pummelling against it. It looked precarious, and wet already. “Safe?” I asked the captain, “Yes” he agreed. My Spanish perfectly matched my mood, hesitant and a bit miserable. Continue reading Studying Spanish in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan