Colombia: Villa de Leyva
Climbing aboard my first Colombian bus, I was wondering what to expect. I HAD experience. Would it be non-stop loud movies, salsa music, or... heaven forfend... quiet? Would they turn the temperature down to a frigid ice-locker, or let it heat up to an inferno? Would dust slowly seep its way through every nook and cranny, slowly smothering us? I HAD experience.
Over time, it would turn out to be all of the above, with buses ranging in quality from the best of Argentina and Chile to the worst of Bolivia (the gamut of my metric to date.) The bottom line: the size of the bus mattered more than anything, with the large and hermetically-sealed ones being the top of the lot.
To Tunja (3 hours), then Villa de Leyva beyond (45 minutes more), I'd start out with 15-20 passenger affairs only. Air conditioning was feigned at the start of the first, but everyone would be sliding back their windows for air by the end of that one. At least the scenery would never suffer.
Clearing Bogotá through the north meant first eyeballing the wealthier neighborhoods of town, but some 20-30 minutes of stop and go through those would finally see us out of town plunging through paddocks of cow and horse soon enough. There were a number of tacky tourist attractions - theme parks of a low order - as we distanced Bogotá behind, but within an hour such mockery of any semblance of good taste was over and done with. Having lost their timely proximity to the capitol, they didn't make sense - no LOCAL would waste their time in one.
Instead I got to focus on things like a small cluster of houses that seemed to be in a state of disassembly. What was the story there, I wondered? That was odd indeed, but the smell of the earth of the Andes was not. This distinctly came through as the windows began to open, touchstoning a familiar scent to me from north to south in the grand chain. That red earth's distinctive olor (smell) brought back many memories of five successive years of travel, from 1998 to 2002 (two months each), up and down the cordillera. Memories came as scent could only transport them.
Otherwise this road trip was a less heady affair: I forcibly watched a sadly executed Eddie Murphy movie (Norbit, quite a comedown from his standup days.) This showed as a couple of horrendously-dubbed hours, or seemingly more so as the rather prodigiously-sized colombiana next to me made my reading a book nearly impossible. From my hemmed-in position I could only miserably resign myself to Murphy's antics. [Refer to Esquivel's masterful "Mucha Muchacha" tune for the subtlety in differentiating between a colombiano and a colombiana.]
The loud salsa to follow the movie was familiar, of course, but likewise impossible to ignore when I tried my iPod and headphones. I gave up again, soon focused on the scenery rolling by... as we swerved hard into curves, always passing blindly at every opportunity at top speed. Some things hadn't changed: all of my nine lives would again be put to the test in Colombia - if I hadn't already used some of them up.
At least I wouldn't die in a sadly traditional Colombian way, via gunplay: the roads were militarized aplenty. Numerous checkpoints with military in full camoflauge - armed to the teeth - greeted us repeatedly. I couldn't ascertain which vehicles got stopped for inspection, but the public transport in which I found myself obviously wasn't of interest. Maybe it was my charm... or my body smashed against the window by the colombiana... that worked as our invisibility amulet.
This was a good thing, since such a delay could be considerable given the number of passengers, luggage, and... body cavities, I supposed. I wondered if the odd, brave cyclist I had seen on the road to Tunja had much to deal with them, either. I saw other cyclists after the bus change in Tunja, simultaneously marvelling at the hills they were climbing in colorful gear... and the chances they were taking with so many motorized risk-takers adorning the blacktop. Thoughts turned as well to the cycling Norwegians I had met in Bogotá, just done with touring six weeks around Ecuador; I noted the "Como conduzco?" (How am I driving?) sticker on the back of each bus (or truck) in front with mirth.
More importantly, the short Tunja-Villa de Leyva section of the trip soon bore witness to a sudden, drastic change to a significantly drier climate. Trees quickly disappeared, causing me to wonder if they had been logged - or just never had been there. The very steep climb and drop from Tunja now finally gave way to the desertike oasis of Villa (de Leyva) at the very end, having passed almost entirely through an unpopulated area.
Villa itself was no large 'ville, perhaps housing 8000 souls or so, but it immediately was apparent that this was a cared-for place. Cobblestone streets and a uniform colonial white (with a green bottom) to the edifices was the consistent flavor of the place - and handsome at that. The main plaza was the centerpiece as expected, but that was also where things turned most odd: this was the largest plaza in South America!
Its expanse belied far too much grandeur for such a small population, but there it was. Only one low main church fronted it, adding to the oddity. Where similar plazas existed in much larger cities they were typically ringed by palaces, or cathedrals reaching for their heavens in striking hand's-up pose. Here the great architectural focus of Villa was, if anything, the boulder-floored plaza itself. St-range.
Only one hostal was to be found in Villa, Colombian Highlands' Renacer ("reborn"), found a couple of kilometers from the plaza and looming above town. I cabbed up there in a bumpy several minutes from the bus station, further impressed with the beauty of the place. To call Renacer a hostel would be unfair, though, however true it was in the sense of having one (and perhaps another) room available by the bed. In reality it was a boutique hotel, lovingly cared by the family that owned it. Flowers and hammocks abounded; the depth of view over the valley bespoke a great calm to be found here. No complaints from me if they were allowing my kind in as well!
Some friends from Bogotá had preceded me by a day, too, further adding to the homey appeal of the place. Platypus's dreadlock crew was here (plus the cleancut Alaskan hiking guide), hiking about and... attending to issues of hairy import. Hmmm.
One girl had lice, it seemed, but perhaps that was no surprise given the cascades of hair that a dreaklock entails without much being fully accessible. Another was slowly growing her dreads out, new and normal hair making its way already practically to her shoulders. This was an improvement, it should be noted, even if I couldn't admit such to her face for fear of implication.
A third dreadie was a guy getting ready to join the workaday world - he felt that he needed to cut his locks off. Somehow this seemed a strange lack of compromise between his identity and the workaday world - I couldn't further imagine him in suit and tie. The last of this bunch was an undreaded, yet fully hippie, couple that would join us the next day. We also had met in Bogotá, even playing together trumpet and ukelele.
All this hippie-ness meant that much grooming of hair followed, occurring between different pairs of my friends and going on virtually at all times. This altogether presented a rather primal experience with nature to the onlooker - me. Of course, I couldn't voice aloud how much I was reminded of apes and chimps tending to hair issues in many documentaries I had seen... but still. I couldn't help the thought - maybe there was a lot of mutual hair-grooming in society that I wasn't just aware of. Anyway, given the hippie way of looking at the world, noting such probably wouldn't be taken as an insult but rather for the observation which it was.
Glad to be back in small town Latin America, I was soon itchy to take my trumpet out and play a bit. In a small town I could play without the fear of inhaling volumes of diesel dust, nor did I fear being relieved of my trumpet by sleight of hand or knifepoint. Soon I was doing so on the streets of the historic area (most of the town, to be fair) a few times, starting with the grand plaza.
On one occasion I walked about looking for a suitable place and, finding none, eventually parked myself against a wall on a piece of timber. This lay planked over two boulders on the main plaza, with only a sliver of shade to keep me from the ample zone of solar blasting found in the rest of the plaza. A few people wandered out of the nearby stores to sit down beside me; I asked if they enjoyed - or at least didn't mind - the music. And?
The old man nearest me both shook and nodded his head equally - I didn't know what to make of that, exactly. The woman to his side was more forthright, however, admitting that the music was why she came out. Fine - on I'd play. Next a number of schoolkids came by, backtracking to slyly check out the show - without the indignity of just hanging out nearby without the subterfuge. I gave them "La Cucaracha" and all was well, smiles all around.
A man walking his dog next made his way across the plaza, making it a point to tell me that he had heard me across the way playing "All Of Me" in a New Orleans-y kinda way. I had played quietly, so this took me by surprise with such distance - the air was that still. He suggested I play at some bars and restaurants from his side of the plaza, but I should also insist on actually getting paid. Ah, that old bit! Whatever - all in all this was a successful outing, one I'd repeat in the town's narrower lanes for better accoustics over the days to come.
The other obvious thing to do in a small town surrounded by nature was to get into the outdoors. A number of local hikes were recommended in my guidebook, but to them I'd soon came up with a catchphrase: "Prepare to be underwhelmed!" That certainly was the case when, over a long day, I checked out the three bearing most mention. This was done over a 17-20 km walk, along with a Swiss man at my hostel.
We started by heading to the "stonehenge-like" El Infiernito, not much more than a buncha phallic stones in a field, a former observatory. This we left almost as soon as we entered to avoiding paying for sheer boredom. El Fosil proved itself similarly, a small complex consisting of one nice fossil surrounded primarily by many shell fossils. Yawn, we thought, seeing this only as an excuse to create a museum while selling other shell fossils and trinkets.
Last and possibly least came Los Pozos Azules (the blue ponds), indeed a few ponds supposedly - but not - of a deep hue of blue. Snooze. What a comedy this walk had been! For our troubles we could only content ourselves in having gotten some good exercise as we virtually rounded the entire valley. We had also obtained reasonable views of the Villa's expansive landscape from many angles, sizzling as we did in the heat. We also felt lucky to beat out a lightning storm on the way.
Over the course of nine days, I tried to take advantage of what Renacer had to offer that the digs in Bogotá didn't. Outside of fantastic views, for instance, I had managed to obtain a non-bunkbed in our spacious room. That counted for something, even likely enlarging my stay by such sheer luxury.
Cooking without too much competition for the stove helped, too. Granted, the crockery and utensils made for a bunch of camping rejects with much to be desired, but there were many new fruit and vegetables to give a whirl. I soon lost track of the many names of tuber varieties bought, tried, and enjoyed - a starch is a starch is a starch - but I made better inroads in learning about such fruit as the lulo, maracuya, guanabana, and pitaya. I similarly helped myself to loads of the already-familiar mango (including the smaller sugar mango), pineapple, guava (guayaba to the Colombians). Such great prices, and yummy stuff all.
When most of the dreadlock crew moved on after several days, the hippie couple from Melbourne (or "mehbunn", as they sounded it out) stayed on to keep good company. Jordan and Judith came to share my assessment of the place: what a view! What a laidback place to relax near nature! How could it be left quickly? It couldn't.
J&J's gameplan would eventually see them in Brazil at Universo Paralelo (something of a hallucinagenic festival) like the dreadlock crew, but they were content to move about the country in the same counterclockwise circle that I was contemplating. In the meantime (and VERY unlike me), they were collecting curiosities. These they each placed in a little red trunk to trip on come that parallel universe.
They related to me how, on their first day into town, this hoard came to include a remote control found in a rubbish pile. They begged it from a garbageman who had beaten them to by mere seconds. I had no idea if they were going to pick up a chair, paddleball, or special purpose next. [Ref. the movie The Jerk, for the uninformed.] Their tent steadily grew in volume on the hostel's lawn, meanwhile, with Jordan often serenading Judith on the ukelele out front of it from his Beatles songbook. That is, when they weren't making out and giggling.
So... maybe I should go on so more hikes! Another suggested hike behind the hostel was an idea, but this turned out to only lead to three benches by some water tanks. Not terribly impressive additional views were found for the effort, and the benches weren't even butt-worthy any longer. That left me with not much trust in the maps provided by the hostel; at least it had only taken 35 minutes instead of 70.
That same mini-hike had led to a waterfall which turned out to be a dripping rock ledge, but THAT area provided an excuse to scrape up some wood for our bonfires. In any event I had a place to play some trumpet against the rock walls, or over the small valley, too - which I did. Not that one could stop for too long in any one place, however: a little, black, midge-like bug had a way of biting any exposed skin. This was typically done on the legs and feet, leading me to believe that it likely didn't fly. Soon I took to wearing long pants again, like in Bogotá de rigeur.
At night we made some bonfires from any scavenged wood we could find, simultaneously making for a nice redoubt from which we could listen to all the dogs in the valley howl... all night long. This was vastly preferrable to all the barking one otherwise received any time they were passed when walking about town, however. Nothing like the great unknown of street mutts in an unfamiliar town - and visions of rabies shots to the gut.
I also finished Marquez's Living To Tell The Tale while sitting the great sit in Villa. From that tome I now felt better prepared to enter its many mentioned towns while giving reality to places I had already seen in Bogotá. He had lived in the capitol during much of the beginning of La Violencia's bloody history; there was no shortage of color in relating those exciting times on the cutting edge as a news reporter.
In Villa I also remembered that surveying Colombia in any sense also meant one thing particularly to me: testing out all the amazing fruit that I could find. Among all of the Latin American countries with an ample variety of fruit, Colombia was one of the standouts - proving that it helps to lie near the Equator! I was always up for more proofs.
A number of fruit were best - and only - suited for juices, I quickly found out. With big seeds and a high acid content, they implicitly asked for a blender and something with a lower pH factor added in. So, instead of mixing them in with my oatmeal - as I did with each initially - I would have done better to invest in a post-blender strainer as the locals did.
Such treatment would certainly cover fruit like maracuja, granadilla, guanabana, and lulo - all great juice choices. More easily approachable, however, was pitaga - what with its pineapple look but dragonfruit interior. Some (incorrectly) compared it with kiwi, but more hailed or cursed it for its colon-moving properties (true.) I just thought it was great. The small feijoa also was quick to get at, merely needing a slice down the middle and a tiny spoon to scoop away at its fresh-tasting goop. Indeed, tasting fruit would be an enduring, non-suffering theme for my entire time in Colombia.
The Saturday market, of course, was the best place to pick up the best quality and variety of fruit. Primarily a fruit and vegetable affair in Villa's case, the large expanse of the market grounds was completely covered with stalls and produce to choose between. This seemed a surprising size given the community's modest numbers, but maybe it was all of the food stalls that drew them in from the greater surrounding area, too.
Beyond the fresh stuff there was a small section to one side to pick up an odd machete, too, or perhaps a padlock and a pair of shoes made the foray worth the effort. For me, outside of a hefty fruit and veggie pickup, it'd be a hat that would be my unexpected purchase. That sun was b-EAT-ing! Huh, did someone say eat? Ahem.
Strolling around inspecting fruit, a hat lady sauntered by me more than one time. When I went past her one final time, though, she paused to check me out before stopping in her (and my) tracks. With a triumphant "a-ha!" she plopped a hat on my head, exclaiming "Eso es!" (That's it!) Turned out it was, even as I tried on another dozen or so to be sure. Yep, she'd picked out the perfect one on first whack - and many would ask me where I got it in the months to come. I guess that's why she sells hats.
Outside of the market, Friday through Sunday brought in locals from Villa's surrounding hills. Bogotanos came in good number, too. I further noticed license plates from seemingly all the departments (i.e. states, provinces) of the country, a weekly tradition that particularly swelled on holiday or festival weekends. Come weekend time the plaza even managed to fill out a bit - in a sense, anyway: it was really too big.
Perhaps it would be appropriate that I'd meet an expat practically from my hometown in the most touristy restaurant... or restaurant/tourist complex... in Villa. Hailing from Mason County, Warshinnton, the man who went by Grofe settled in at our little table of silly tourists once he heard an English word spoken. A gregarious fellow, I nevertheless didn't exactly buy his beret, nor his mega-pocketed safari outfit - but he did have some good information, all given in a friendly, professor-like demeanor.
Grofe had been semi-settling into the area for some 40 years already, both through the good and the bad. What kept always coming back for more was an unending search for a little more history or archeological evidence... and there was plenty of that in Villa. Soon he relayed a wealth of local info about the local Muisca people and Villa de Leyva's history, a real goldmine sans the gold.
We were assured that we were in a very particular place, in a town whose status as a political entity - and accompanying plaza size - bore odd witness to its specialness. In Villa, Grofe said, no one talked politics outside of critiquing the alcalde (mayor). Perhaps for that had Villa always managed to be a tranquil island that avoided the violencia. True enough, it didn't make much sense otherwise.
With that preamble, Grofe next recounted tales of the El Dorado legend. He asserted that there was some merit when referring to an artifact of a golden raft, one that I had seen at the Gold Museum in Bogotá but had been discovered locally. Could be... who knew? He further rambled on helpfully about nearby towns with recommendations, ending by likening his enchantment with Villa as having a foot on one shore (Villa) and the other on a boat (his home in Washington state) pulling away... with Villa likely winning in the end.
Taking up a Grofe recommendation (also found in every guidebook of the area), I next went to nearby Raquira (town) with Jordan and Judith. It promised to at least be colorful, colonial, and, well... sure, why not? We put ourselves into a stuffed microbus in Villa the next day, immediately reminding me of similar buses in Bolivia from a dozen years prior - fortunately without the overwhelming urine/corn smell. It waited to fill before going, the microbus way of doing things, then we rolled for roughly half an hour to a turnoff. There we had to jump in another carro (vehicle for hire, which also waits to fill), soon making the last 10km into town with a couple of locals. This better be good!
And, well, garish Raquira was... something - something that was mainly a main street. This came ridiculously painted along its full length, charming in itself or even charming in spite of that. This was the pottery capital of Colombia, even if it probably didn't consist much more than this one street. It would only take about a 5-10 minute stroll to properly survey it all.
Yes, there were a lot of painted walls, plenty of hammocks for sale, and even more knick-knacks. Hmmm. Okay. With not much doing, we decided on the market to get a bite to eat - we had to cough up some value for our troubles, no? There at least we'd be able to sample some more of the sausage renowned in Boyaca province; unfortunately, we were not terribly impressed.
Beyond the sausage, the rest of the fare to be had was fairly lacking -mainly pieces of skin and grizzle, adorning an otherwise reasonably tasty soup. Oh well - at least the circling dogs feasted when we proceeded to the chicken head/neck, stuffed with rice and potato. Oh well - our experiment had gone awry, yes, but it had only cost several dollars each. This was cheap enough for us however expensive for the norm of Colombia. Vastly differing economies allow for experimentation - would we have tried some of this questionable stuff in Tokyo or London?
From our unsuccessful stomach-larding we turned to shopping - what else could we do? I bought a completely unauthorized t-shirt of Homer(o) Simpson posing as Juan Valdez, then J&J picked up a coveted wide, heavy-duty hammock with me interpreting. Our 30-minute detour from Villa thus ended, after a few hours of trying to find rhyme to the reason of being in Raquira.
A significantly more successful outing would be to Parque Iguaque, one of the thirty-odd national parks in Colombia. All had become privately administered, with services and costs ranging accordingly, in recent years. To me, though, Iguaque was notable for two things: (1) its place in Muisca legend as the birthplace of mankind, and (2) housing various climate zones in one hike (vastly more interesting.)
By Iguaque's time I had met a couple of wildlife biologists from the U.S. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rangers), both waiting for their motorcycles to make it to Colombia for a continent-long ride. This would be a pleasant time-killer for them. The couple were also avid birdwatchers, so this would simultaneously be a bonus for Pieter (a Swiss guy also at the hostel) and me. We'd pick their brains about any information on birds we'd see. [Good thing they had other things like this to do - their motorbikes would never make it.]
Soon we were on board the only on-time bus in South America to date per my previous reckoning. To be fair, however, THAT would be an unfair characterization. I'd later amend the observation as Colombia's buses turned out to be reasonably prompt when it came to schedules. In the interim this meant TRULY being up at 5:30a.m. Up so early, we each hopped over the hostel's bar area to access our food, feed up, then git gone. We walked at a hurried gait to the bus terminal, running into a horde of kids coming in the other direction at 6:15a.m., too. Youch - I couldn't fathom ever getting up that early for school!
The 30-minute bus ride that followed consisted of climbing out of town, with half the ride rambling up a dirt road to whet our trail-minded appetites. From the drop-off point, next came another 3km of hiking up to the park entrance at 2800m. Pperhaps we ascended 200m to get there. Parque Iguaque was ours, for better or... for better. We only entertained positive thoughts.
Now began our intended hike up to 3600m over 4km. We signed in, paying our 31,000 pesos ($16) while each noting there was only one name ahead of us on the trail's log. We'd see no one else the entire day in any event. More interestingly we saw the terrain change as we began our hike through several different climate zones, all done in that up-up-up inimitable way of a South American trail (no switchbacks... ever!)
Over the course of the hike I'd see virtually no wildlife for my pains, but at least the biologist couple were caught once amidst a small flock of something-or-others and a colibri (hummingbird) once came up to Pieter. What did I get? Something of a partridge in a pair tree, I supposed, only spotting a couple of pheasant-like birds. THAT only happened when I stopped once and they startled me, selfishly gobbling down my stash of M&M's early on (while not showing the others I was out of breath.)
The climbing at altitude had by then left me a bit weak, and when that mentality set in... well, somebody could get an eyeball poked out is what I'm saying. M&M's were my new best friend (and we continue to be so while in Colombia since the local chocolate left much to be desired.) Meanwhile the forest of eucalyptus trees in which we found ourselves morphed into oak; the jungle setting soon moved into bamboo stands, too. All this came before settling into a field of button grass reminding me greatly of Tasmania. Climate zone change, indeed. More practically speaking, our 2.5km of steady up had changed to a final 1.5k of REALLY going up... and then we were at the lake, ready to stop before heading back.
There were rewards, however, like when we stepped up over/onto rocks that loosely reminded me of a stairway... to heaven? I wondered if the Muisca ever knew of Led Zeppelin, or the other way around anyway. Certainly there were unique flowers to enjoy for our efforts, particularly so when finally we rested for nearly an hour at the legendary lake. Birthplace of mankind or not, I was happy to be done with the climbing. This meant a knee-pounding descent next awaited, of course, but with a beat-the-rain mentality our motion would outweigh THAT pain.
The thunder and lightning did indeed begin shortly after beginning to descend, but by the time it had begun in earnest we had reached the main road again. We soon accepted a random pickup from a van; it'd serve as our bus in lieu of the real thing showing up. We next picked up five two- or three-year-olds from a small daycare building; these incredibly cute, engaging tots next provided entertainment when they began singing nursery rhymes spontaneously. I made some new smiling friends as we re-entered town with nothing but smiles on all of our faces.
A succeeding and final hike in Villa would turn out to be the best of all - Paso de Angel (angel's step.) This was done with my same cohort of three from Iguaque, however foiled we'd be in trying to take a bus to Santa Sofia. A half-hour taxi sufficed nicely, though, particularly at all of 20,000 pesos ($10) split four ways. That just didn't happen in the U.S. - not at that price.
Our hike out from Santa Sofia next consisted of 2km along a paved and loping road out of town. That was followed by around 6km, now going down, down, and then really down. Our directions had read as follows: turn right at the pink house, then pass the two big palms before hanging a left at the tejo court. Simple - if we knew what a tejo court looked like. Fortunately we'd guess correctly.
Finally, there we were: at the incredible Paso de Angel. Appropriately named, it turned out, since it really was an angel's step or two to pass through the hipwidth-wide section of its notoriety. There danger was found in spades: drops to nowhere lined both sides of the trail.
Beyond the few scary steps (in the sense of a footsteps, not stair steps) we continued another fifteen minutes along the path. We'd only stop in reaching the bottom of the cliff walls, ultimately terminated into a perch. What a view - with no room for error. Only a deadly drop surrounding almost all sides of the tiny spit of rock I found myself on (with only room for one there was no concept of "we".) From the perch we'd scramble to some stunning waterfall ledges below, too. This was stupendous; this was also really freaking dangerous.
Having our fill of stunning beauty, and some kilometers of climbing to return to town, we eventually abandoned a previous idea to check out some other, nearby falls. That made a certain amount of sense after recognizing it would entail some further steep descent without knowing how far we had to go. Enough already with the climbing, we all thought.
Having hit such a highlight in Villa finally, a much more modest one would follow the next day: I was given a surprise birthday breakfast. Very nice! Beyond that, I planned this (coincidentally) final day in Villa to consist of sitting my butt in the excellent French bakery. I had heard about THAT place's vaunted coffee and pastry... but I'd be stumped there for all my misplaced yearnings. Crap. Sigh. I decided to indulge, regardless, vowing to not cook on this propitious day. Yes, I'd take refuge in a deep fruit cup (called a salpicon) instead. That indulgence was followed by some good Italian pizza and beer; now I was ready to leave town. Burp.
Up ahead lay San Gil; I was already getting antsy about reservations ahead - tourist season was slowly switching into high gear. Time to get a move on. Thus the 45-minute climb to Tunja was achieved in reverse, before heading northward via another small bus from there. From the map it was obvious that I could cut off a leg of the triangle toward San Gil by going through Arcabuco (past Iguaque), but this gambit was ill-advised by my hostel hosts: there was too much uncertainty in actually getting a bus seat north in any timely manner for the gamble.
So off to Tunja it was, where all aboard would get some barfy excitement just before arriving. A boy let loose with torrents of the stuff just as we pulled into town, spattering the nearest curtains and speckling Pieter (also headed to San Gil.) That excitement was followed by some 3-1/2 hours less so: we were back on the main road north, toward Bucaramanga.
Now clearing Tunja on a new bus, we began making the phenomenal passage from Arcabuco toward Maniquira. Here the Andes showed off its sheer walls and foliage - wow! We proceeded through high cliff walls, sauntering (actually no such thing on a Colombian bus) along a tannic clear stream, rewarded with views to infinity. Such a lush and majestic landscape, I was hopeful that it was also protected parkland. I reminded myself to get a better map.
The next segment, from Maniquira to Barbosa, soon increased the tropical feeling that had started by now: banana palms came into evidence. This was getting better! Then, outside of seeing our van attacked by homemade treat vendors in Barbosa, it'd be only be a succession of boleros, salsa, and trumpets blaring on the loudspeakers all the rest of the way. San Gil!
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