Saturday, September 15, 2012

San Agustín

As we were rolling though San Agustín looking for a place to stay, a guy pulled up next to us on a little 125 and said he could take us to one. We were skeptical, but he had a genuine smile, told us there was camping at his place, and we were in Colombia after all, so we followed him. He took us to Hostel Gamcelot, which happened to be the one place that we had seen info about. The room rate was cheap enough compared to camping so we sprung for it for 2 nights (50000 COP total) , and walked up to the park the next day.

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(hostel Gamcelot, about 500 m out of town towards the park)

San Agustín the town leaves a lot to be desired. San Agustín the park was impressive. There is a large collection of statues and tombs in the park, which takes about 4 hours to walk through.

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(this is obviously not from the park, but gives you some idea of what the town has to offer. Check out the health food options)

On the way from San Agustín we ran into Georg and Anke, who we chatted with for a few minutes on the roadside. They were great, full of good info, and have traveled alot. In proper contrast to our cool rainy day, they were looking forward to getting to the Carribbean coast for a beach.

(Georg and Anke)

They recommended a hostel just outside of Mocoa that turned out to be sweet - Casa del Rio hostel. Run by a Belgian guy, it's located just a few km out of town on a nice plot of jungle land. He is full of recommendations for waterfalls, swimming holes, and other day hikes, as well as offering a tennis court and plenty of beer (he's Belgian). A great place to stay, but be sure to bring some food with you.


Leaving Calí took us to Popoyán, a fine little colonial city that actually would have been a better town to explore than Cali, but what can you do.  Even so, all we did was a moto tour of the downtown area.

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We headed directly out of town to Aguas Hirviendo hot springs, which we heard were hot (seems like they should be given that they are called "Boiling Waters") and had a place to stay.  Turns out when it's not vacation time, this little place all but shuts down.  We decided to rent out a room in a cabin for a few reasons, it included unlimited access to the springs and would be much warmer than trying to camp nearby.

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(Spacious accomodations)

(the water was more sulfury and green than hot)

(dogs loving the milk truck was about the most activity we saw)

Our ride to Tierradentro was cold, wet, and muddy.  For the first stretch, the road was packed enough with rocks that the riding was still pretty easy.  But soon construction work slowed our progress substantially, and turned the road into a mud pit.

But then we got near Inzá and the construction became too much for us.  So we all decided to lay down.  It must have been a hysterical sight to see, which some people did, as we were right next to a group of people.  We came to a stop behind a big truck in deep mud, extremely rutted by heavy truck traffic.  Getting moving again, Mike -- in his proven off-roading style -- managed to get the front wheel in one rut with the back wheel stuck in the other parallel rut.  The attempted correction was the last straw.  So all 3 of us took a nap.  In really deep mud (which actually made for an extremely soft landing).  At basically no speed.  And for the rest of the day our left sides were covered in mud.  We got lots of laughs when we asked directions in Inzá.  No pictures are available for 2 reasons:  our camera, while waterproof, does not have a lens cover so when it's raining pictures don't turn out and more importantly, our hands were so muddy that we did not want to touch the camera.  We looked absolutely ridiculous.

We found a nice little hospedaje, Mi Casita, directly across from the Tierradentro museum for 24000 COP a night (~US$ 13).  The couple running the house helped us clean all of our gear and gave us a good place to dry it out.  They were super nice. Staying down by the museum was better for us than staying up in the little town of San Andres de Pisambala.  It was chill, whereas the places in town seemed a bit more done up.  So chill, in fact, that we only had one place to choose from for dinner and we had to let her know a couple of hours early if we were going to eat.  But at least she was a good cook.

(vino de coca helped fill in the gap between ordering and eating.  This is the only town we saw it in.  Which is too bad.  It was good)

Tierradentro is one of Colombia's 4 archeological parks and is well worth the visit.  It is situated in a stunning valley, the locals are happy to see and talk to visitors, the hiking is great, museum well put together, and tombs really interesting to see.  The tombs date back to around 600-900 AD, are the only type like this found in Colombia, and are even more intriguing because nobody knows what happened to this civilization.

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(the tombs are dug down up to 6m deep)

(up at Aguacate there were tens of tombs found, some in better shape than others, on a leveled plateau)

(many tombs still have red, white and black paintings evident)

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(the hike itself was fantastic)

(an exposed tomb)

(if only chickens could work the coffee grinder)

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(the tombs were generally second burial sites. The bodies would decompose at the first site, the remains would be placed into ceramic urns like these, and then reburied in the deep tombs)

(lots of the tombs had columns. Some of those had faces)

(this little guy was still alive)

From Tierradentro we rode to San Agustín, another one of Colombia's arqueological parks.  On the way, we found some more Colombian hospitality and usual sights.

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(this guy stopped to talk with us as we were taking a road side break.  He was taking this cilantro to market in Pitalito)

(this bus isn't full yet)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Colombian Big 3

We decided that since we are in Colombia, we might as well see the 3 biggest cities, Bogotá, Medellín and Calí.  Bogotá is huge with over 7 million people.  We drove something like 15 miles on the highway through the city before we got to La Candelaria, the neighborhood we stayed in.  La Candelaria is old town, with lots of tourist attractions, tons of restaurants and hostels, and nice parks, plazas and churches.  We stayed at Musicology Hostel.  We were able to park the bike in the smoking area out front (2 bikes would not be feasible here), the staff was nice (there was even a crazy ER doctor from Denver/Boulder who was working reception when we checked in), and the best thing was that both breakfast and dinner were included in the dorm rate (only dorm beds), and the dinner was actually pretty good and filling.  It was definitely a party hostel and there was a steady flow of gringos checking in and out.  It was actually nice to have so many people to talk to for a few days, and we enjoyed partying in the hostel a couple of nights.  Which led to a walking tour of Bogota at 3am, followed by a day of watching Will Farrell movies on the hostel big screen.

We weren't complete bums though, we did get caught up on blogs and emails and were able to make it to the Museo del Oro (the Gold Museum), which has a huge amount of gold artifacts.  We also went to the Botero museum, which is completely free and has a large amount of Botero's work but also has the works of Picasso, Dali, Degas, Monet,....

The Mona Lisa by Botero in the Botero Museum in Bogota, Colombia
(The Mona Lisa, by Botero. Botero is a famous Colombian artist who specializes in making art of fat people.)

Picassos in the Botero Museum in Bogota, Colombia
(some of Picasso's work)

Salvador Dali's work in the Botero Museum in Bogota, Colombia
(and Dalí's)

We also happened upon a parade with a huge amount of spectators for the recently returned Olympic Athletes.  Medalists got to ride on top of the firetruck while everybody else got pulled behind the firetruck on a trailer. 

Waiting to see the Olympic athletes in Bogota, Colombia
(Waiting for the athletes to arrive)

The Colombian Olympic medalists in Bogota, Colombia
(the winners, a Colombian won gold in the women's BMX, along with 7 other medalists)

It was really nice be able to find whatever kind of food we wanted to eat for super cheap.  All in all, Bogotá was a pretty cool city, but the weather was enough to deter us from wanting to stay too long.  Every day was either rainy or overcast and cool to cold.  According to locals, it is like that all year.  Another disappointment was that we took our laundry to a local lavanderia and the owner lost Jill's riding socks and Mike's t-shirt.  She found the socks, but was never able to find the shirt.  Which is sad because Mike only had 4 shirts to start with.

Here are a few more pics from Bogotá.

More graffiti in Bogota, Colombia

Bogota graffiti
(Graffiti seems very popular in the city, and the artists were amazing)

Llama rides in Bogota, Colombia
(If you want to go on a llama ride or get your picture taken with pigeons (see lady with pigeons on her arms and head), this is the plaza to do it.)

On a movie set in Bogota, Colombia
(We also happened upon a movie set while walking around the area)

Bogota, Colombia

We took 2 days to get to Medellín.  The drive to Medellín from Bogotá isn't very impressive and there are massive amounts of diesel trucks (mainly gasoline trucks for some reason) going up and down the mountain passes, which makes for some slow traveling. 

This truck lost its berries on the way to Medellin, Colombia
(this truck lost its berries, possibly the most exciting thing we saw on the way)

We arrived in Medellín during rush hour and the traffic was pretty crazy.  We had planned on couchsurfing, but only had our host's phone number.  So, we stopped to call her but were unable to get ahold of her.  So we checked email and found out that she would not be able to host us until the next day.  We wrote down a couple of hostel addresses and tried to find somewhere to stay.  Even with the correct address it took us about 2 hours to find the hostel we were looking for, and we only found it because the man we asked on the street physically led us to the right place by walking us there (have we mentioned that Colombians are extremely nice people?).  As luck would have it, we arrived on a Friday of a long weekend and the hostel was sold out.  But, they were able to point us in the direction of Kiwi Hostel, which was in a very nice area of town called El Poblado and had a really nice setup, although it was a little noisy to sleep.  The next morning our host, Diana, came to get us and took us to a really nice vegetarian restaurant (that we greatly appreciated as all we have been eating lately is meat plates).  Diana lived in a suburb just south of the city called Sabaneta.  We actually really liked Sabaneta as it still has a very traditional old town feel to it, but also is developing with tons of new high rise condos.  Diana is working a lot, but we still got to hang out quite a bit.  The Metro station was easily accessible from Diana's house so we went downtown a couple of days and checked out the Botanic Gardens and walked from there through varying levels of sketchiness to Botero Park and Parque Bolivar.

With our couchsurfing host, Diana, in Sabaneta, Colombia
(us with Diana in Sabaneta)

View of Medellin, Colombia
(View of Medellín)

This little girl had six people posing her for pictures in the Botanical Gardens in Medellin, Colombia
(The Botanical Gardens were very nice. So nice that apparently small children get dressed up to have photo shoots there on a regular basis.  We saw 4 in our short time there)

Statue for women's rights in Medellin, Colombia
(Statue commemorating women's rights)

A Botero backside in Medellin, Colombia
(A Botero backside)

Cat in Botero Park in Medellin, Colombia
(A fat cat in Botero Park)

Medellin, Colombia
(Another crazy church)

South of Medellín is what is called the coffee triangle. Manizales is one of the points in the triangle. We had been invited to stay by there by a couchsurfer, but once we arrived we discovered that he could not host us because his grandmother had been in an accident. Everyone will be fine, but we ended up only staying in Manizales for a night before heading to Calí. It seemed like a decent town, and we took the cable car from our hotel to the bustling center of town.

Manizales, Colombia

Manizales, Colombia

In Cali we stayed at the Casa Blanca Hostel, owned by a Danish motorcyclist. The hostel is very motorcycle frendly, with a wall of photos of motorcycle travelers. It is also 2 blocks away from the reputable big bike shop Asturias. Mike was able to find garage space to work for a couple of days and help was always close by if he needed it. He was just doing some maintenance, and getting new sprockets (the ones from Manaus were already shot), but Jorge's shop Asturias is highly recommended if you need any work done.

Calí is known for being the salsa capital of the world and also for being a bit of a dangerous city. Since neither of us are any good at, nor enjoy dancing, we missed out on the salsa scene. We walked around town on a Sunday, when most shops are closed, and we quickly felt that the city could definitely get dodgy quickly. We were even warned by a nice woman to get out of the area we were approaching. All in all, we were happy to have found a good shop to work on the bike, and a good place to stay, but we were ready to get out of the city and cities in general. It is time for us to get back to some rural areas.

(Calí is also known for its cholados, shaved ice with lots of flavoring, fruit, and toppings)

(One of the theatres)

(Outside of Casa Blanca with our new friend Gabriel)