Trails and tombs

ColombiaPosted by Malin Wed, June 15, 2011 04:38:47

From one nice colonial city to another. After visiting Barichara we drove to Villa de Leyva. Villa de Leyva was founded in 1572 and today it has become a weekend destination for people from Bogotá. It was a nice city to relax in for a few days. From this quiet town we headed to Bogotá. Because we are UN-urban we seldom go to big cities, but we had to go to Bogotá because Malin’s passport was falling apart. At the immigration into Panama the officer commented on the info page that was on its way to fall out. We figured that to tape it in was not a good idea, so the solution was to get an emergency passport at the Norwegian Embassy in Bogotá. The Embassy was helpful and after filling out some papers I had a new orange emergency passport in my hands.

With the necessities out of the way we could do some sightseeing in Bogota. The Gold Museum was our first stop, and it was amazing to see all the pre-Colombian gold work and how good artists they were.

Then we looked at some more modern art at Donación Botero Museo with art from international artists like Picasso and Dali, and 123 pieces of Botero’s own work. Beside these two museums we strolled around in the streets and ate some excellent Bogotan food.

On this travel we have tried to avoid the Pan-Am Highway as much as possible. But when it comes to roads in Colombia we realized that we had more or less traveled the whole of Highway 45 from North to South - except a few detours. One was made from the highway close to Villa Nuevo, and there we were able to cross Rio Magdalena on an old railway bridge.

Now it was a converted into a vehicle bridge, but our map still showed that it still was a railroad…… After following the “railroad” south we got to the Tataco Desert.

It was definitely different from all other landscapes we have driven through in Colombia, and it was strange to see cactus again.

From the desert we took another detour and drove up a muddy road to Tierradentro. In Tierradentro about 100 tombs that were created from the 6th to the 9th century AD have been discovered. The tombs were scooped out of the rock and they are 3-8 meters below the surface and 2 to 10 meters in diameter. They were painted in geometric patterns in black, red and white, and it is still possible to see the paintings on the walls in some of the tombs.

It was amazing to walk the stairs down into these tombs and realize all the work that it must have taken to make them to make these burial sites.

Next stop was San Agustin, another of Colombia’s Archeological Parks. San Agustin is famous for its hundreds of stone carved sculptures that were left next to the tombs at the different burial sites in the area.

The area has been populated since 3300 B.C., but San Agustin culture had its peak between the 6th and 14th century AD. It is presumed that the culture had vanished before the Spaniards arrived. All the different sculptures and tombs were really incredible, but what amazed me the most was the Fuente de Lavapatas, a monument carved in the stone bed of a stream.

We drove the last kilometers south on Highway 45 to Mocoa, and from there we took Highway 10 west. It crosses the Andes and it was not much out there except forest, hills and the road. It was a really impressive road carved into the mountain side climbing from 600 meters up to 3250 meters. Most of the time it was a one lane road, but luckily there were many places to meet other vehicles as we met many trucks on their way over the mountain.

Just before the border to Ecuador we made one last sightseeing stop at the Las Lajas Sanctuary. The church is built in the canyon of the Guáitara River which is a pretty impressive location for a church.

With this we were ready to leave Colombia. We could definitely have spent a lot more time here. Colombia has been the most positive surprise so far on this trip. One local girl was shocked to hear that people in USA and Europe still thinks Colombia is only about drugs and FARC. Our only excuse or explanation to that must be that all we read and hear about Colombia in the media is negative news. So we would like to say that we have had a great time in Colombia and have not had any problems. Along the road we have got more thumbs up and positive greetings than in all other countries we have traveled through. Together with nice colonial cities, great beaches, and incredible scenery, Colombia is a great country to travel in.


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Detour to Barichara

ColombiaPosted by Malin Tue, June 14, 2011 19:00:20

After spending too much time in heavy traffic on Highway 45, we had enough of big trucks and it was time for a detour. From San Gil we took off up to the colonial town of Barichara. It was a really picturesque town with narrow streets, white painted and well renovated houses.

Our maps showed a road (dotted lines), or actually several, going south west from Barichara, but our GPS did not show any connecting roads. It was back to the old way of navigating where you actually have to look for roads going in the right direction and, in the end when we cannot figure it out, ask the locals for direction.

While looking for the right road we ended up in the small village of Guane that was also a nice, white, old village. With some local info saying that we had to go a bit back and take the dirt road towards Galan, we turned around, found the right dirt road, and continued the drive down the valley. Around a corner we had an amazing waterfall in front of us.

Further down the road when we looked back, we could see actually two waterfalls.

In the bottom of the valley we had to cross the big river and we could see on the amount of water in the river that there recently had been a lot of rain.

We drove through forest and then some farm land. Every now and then we had to do small river crossings, but none of them was any problem. On one of the old rock fences along the road there was a peacock looking at us.

The detour turned out to be great, and also a good reminder that we have to get off the main roads every now and then to really see this amazing country.


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South towards Bogota

ColombiaPosted by Malin Tue, June 07, 2011 20:31:44

We had heard about toll roads in Colombia that make travelling here a bit more expensive, but we had forgotten about them until we got on the road. From Cartagena we drove 220 km north to Taganga, and we had to pay at five toll booths and it cost us a total of $ 18,6 usd. That is pretty expensive especially since there are no alternative roads next to the toll roads like it is in Mexico. This must be the reason why we hardly see any normal cars driving on the roads outside villages and cities, but there are some buses and an incredible number of trucks.

From the Caribbean we had 935 km in front of us before we would arrive in Bogota. We realized that it would take a while, but not that long. A while before we arrived in Colombia there had been some really heavy rainfalls and we could see evidence along the road in the form of many landslides. Steep and windy roads combined with landslides and the number of trucks was not good for our average speed. One day we managed to drive only 130 km in 7 hours.

From highway 45 we took a detour up to Ocaña where we arrived late in the afternoon and we had to look for a place to camp. On our second round through town we noticed a pickup with a group of people that followed us. When we stopped they stopped too and asked us what we were looking for. After explaining that we needed a secure place to camp for three vehicles they discussed a bit back and forth, and it turned out that one of the guy’s family had a property on the countryside where we could camp. With the pickup truck in lead back through town we arrived at the place and it was nice and peaceful. They wondered how we had ended up in Ocaña, and we said that one of our maps showed a national park 20 something kilometers from Ocaña and we wanted to see it the next day. Our hosts had time because of holiday from studies or finished studies, and they wanted to take us to the Los Estoraques National Park.

In the morning the pickup was again leading us around on the mountain roads. Driving towards the National Park we drove through some really nice landscape with incredible rock formations, and with farmland in between.

To get to the Los Estoraques we had to pass through the white village of La Playa.

This is our group in the park for the first of several group photos. Our friendly, hospital hosts and guides for the day were: Louisa, Camilo, Pacho, Saul, Jorge, Oscar, Checho and Alvaro.

After visiting the Park we had a few more sightseeing stops and one of them was Santuario del Agua de la Virgin.

We had a look at the main plaza in Ocaña at night, and we talked to some more locals along the way. They were all really positive to us visiting their country and some even thanked us for coming. They also hoped we would tell positive stories from Colombia to our family and friends, and that we can definitely do because Colombia is a beautiful county with really nice people. So far on this trip it is here we have got the most positive greetings and thumbs up as we drive through towns and countryside. The perfect ending to a good day was the dinner that Pacho’s mother has cooked for the 14 of us. It was a good tasting beef in salsa meal accompanied with arepas (Colombian homemade tortillas) and goat cheese.

In Ocaña we had to fill up with diesel, but we learned the hard way that all the gas stations in the area were out of gasoline and diesel.

They all had this signs up saying NO hay A.C.P.M. (diesel) and NO hay gasolina. This is the first time we have not been able to find diesel on this journey, and because of that we have got a bit lazy with refueling before it gets too low. Driving around in Ocaña looking for diesel we got even lower on fuel and we had to buy a 6 gallon container of diesel on the street and fill it onto the car. Every ninth house (that was at least the feeling we got) in Ocaña area was selling fuel from barrels, jerry cans or bottles so there was no problem to buy fuel on the street.

We were wondering about the reason for this and our best idea was that locals drive the 200 km to the Venezuela border and buy cheap fuel there that they then sell. Since they can sell fuel cheaper than the gas stations the gas stations run out of business. We paid 33000 pesos (about 3 usd per gallon) for our 6 gallons of diesel on the street. Georg suspected later that the diesel was mixed with gasoline because he could drive up a hill in third gear where he the day before had to use the second gear. Anyway the 6 gallons got us back on the highway and on our second try along the highway we found a gas station that actually had fuel. With full tanks we continued.

We drove through some areas that had some bad landslides and many places there were road works. Quite often we had to stop for the road work, and we learned that whenever there were people walking up to the cars selling cold drinks, snack and hot coffee we had to wait for a while. Espen used the opportunity to get a cup of coffee.

One place we got to, the road had been closed for a while because the bridge had been washed away by the flood water, but we could drive on a small bypass and watch the army building the new bridge.

Highway 45A from Bucaramanga to San Gil was really scenic. The road took us along the Rio Chicamocha for a while and then climbing up to 2300 meters with amazing views over the surrounding valleys.

After managing a distance of 130 km this day we found a place to camp in San Gil and we called it a day.


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Cartagena and the Cribbean Coast

ColombiaPosted by Malin Wed, June 01, 2011 00:39:26

After driving the Patrol into a container in Colón we were again backpackers, and it was strange after being on the road with a vehicle for more than a year. The final ride on Central American roads was in Lotti, Franc and Isabelle’s VW. First time we meet them on this trip was in Anaheim, LA, and since then we have meet up every now and then along the road. Lotti had six passengers on the way to the airport this day, Andrea and Georg where on the same flight as us and they also got a ride.

Thanks Isabelle, Franc, and Lotti for the good times on the road. Lotti is now being shipped home to Europe from Panama.

It was a short and nice flight to Cartagena in Colombia. Customs and immigration was no problem, and we were officially in South America. Since we were without our home we stayed in a hostel in the old city of Cartagena.

It is a really nice city center to explore on foot. Cartagena was founded by the Spanish in 1533 and became the main port on the Caribbean coast. Because of all the goods being shipped back to Spain from this port it became a target for pirates. The solution was to transform the port into a fort.

Most of the outer wall of the fort is still intact and it is great walking on the walls looking out on the Caribbean Sea and down on the city behind the wall.

The city is bustling with life and it is interesting to sit down on a bench in the park and observe all the people. It is incredible to see how many people making a living off walking the streets and selling things.

You can sit still on a bench and buy cold drinks, hats, fresh fruit, sweets, cigarettes, get your shoes polished and sip on a hot cup of Colombian coffee. One day we observed that all statues in town had “grown” black hair overnight.

We have no clue to why. Interesting…

In the evenings we had dinners with the other overlanders that were waiting to get their vehicles, and at the most we were 10 people for dinner. The major dinner conversation was of course what had to be done to get our vehicles back. Since the car is registered in Espens name he was the one that had to do all the work. He must have done something right, because after just a couple of days delay from the shipping we had the Patrol back and were ready to drive on in South America. It was good to put the backpacks in the back of the car and be proper overland travelers again.

From Cartagena we drove together with Nordsued.ch and Toyotours.com north along the coast. About 50 kilometers north of Cartagena we had our first stop at Vulcán de Lodo El Totume. You could say it is a bit smaller and different form the other Volcano’s we have climbed on this trip.

After climbing the stairs to the summit we could splash around in the mud. It is impossible to explain how it felt to float in lurk warm mud.

There is no bottom that you can stand on, but still you will not sink down you just float.

After some time in the volcano we had to get a good rinse in the lake before we could jump back into the car and continue the drive north. Our final stop for the day was in Taganga.

It felt a bit like a Mediterranean town and we had a great dinner down at the seafront. And since this would be that last time we would see the Caribbean Sea on this trip, we made one last camp at the beach at Casa Grande outside Los Naranjos.

Goodbye Caribbean.


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