I arrived in good time. The bus terminal was busy as passengers were hurrying to their buses and ticket vendors were trying to sell. Nobody told us the truth. Nobody answered the most common question..'how long will it take?'. Well, normally 16 hours the guidebook said. But they wouldn't answer. I got on the bus, my hand in a sling, nothing serious; I just couldn't dress, couldn't wash myself, couldn't comb my hair and couldn't carry anything. But I was happy God gave us two hands....
I found my seat but not empty. It was occupied by a 'sour' girl who pretended she was looking out of the window when she saw I had the seat number. I asked her politely. She looked at me not politely and told me in a voice full of poison that the driverhad told her to sit there. I explained to her I had the number. I had to sit in my place. I had asked for a seat on the right side because I knew the views are great on this side only. (don't forget this my fellow travelers!) .. She became more sour and turned her look away ignoring me... I called the driver and explained...He explained to her... She said the other driver told her to sit there and ignored him, too. I started losing my patience. I complained in an angrier tone this time. Her face had the expression of the bad witch in every fairy tale...
People on the bus urged her to get up and go to another seat. To respect me as I was hurt and was right, too. She wouldn't listen to anybody..She had transferred herself to the... twilight zone...
Then all the Colombians in the bus did something that proved their fame for being kind and peaceful. At least 8 of them got up simultaneously and offered me their seat! And the rest tried to soothe me and convince her to get up.. I felt angry with her but didn't want to be too stubborn as everybody looked unhappy with the whole thing. I explained I had specially booked a seat on the right side because I wanted to take photos. Then at least five people got up all on the right side. I felt it was time to let it go. These people were suffering more than me. They were all pleading me to take their offer. I thought that was enough with the ...'sour' girl and took a seat. And then...what a surprise! Everybody were clapping and whistling happily shouting 'Bravo! Bravo!'. They were so glad to see a fight come to an end! That's what Colombians are like. They clapped and cheered like happy children when peace prevailed. They are thirsty of peace and ready to help. They are eager to solve things out and glad when they played their role in the peacemaking.
The bus crawled on and on. Every now and then it had to stop to fix a wound in its tired over aged body. It was dark when I felt we were not moving. I opened my eyes and looked at the others. They explained to me that we had stopped...... We stopped and we are not going anywhere..until tomorrow!. What??! Yes, until tomorrow nobody can go anywhere! We have to spend the whole night in the bus and start again tomorrow! I didn't want to believe it but it was absolutely true. We had only travelled thirty kilometers from Medellin. I wondered how they could be so calm and smiling..That was terrible! But they had been used to far worse things. Their relatives had been kidnapped or even killed. They had suffered so much during the past years.. this was easy to overcome. We would talk and drink and laugh and sing; we would have a good time, they said. And we did!
I went out and saw an endless line of lorries and buses all stopped one behind the other. Nobody moved. Some had already taken out some beers. They explained that the cocaine cultivators were shooting at the vehicles passing because they were complaining against the government spraying their fields with chemicals. The police stopped the traffic for fear someone might be hurt. They explained all this as if it were the simplest thing in the world! They went on telling me how they had suffered and that people are still being held hostages for more than 7 years. Some were relatives or friends of theirs! They told me things were getting better and there was hope that someday they might be able to have a normal life with peace and safety. Ojala!
So that's how the 16 hour bus ride from Medellin to Santa Marta lasted 28!!!
As for the poor 'sour' girl. Well, she is the exception to the rule. I met very few 'sour' Colombians.
Don't miss the photos of more Colombians...
The Casa de Nariño, sometimes called the Palacio de Nariño, is the residence of Colombia's president. The building also serves as the main office of the executive branch of the national government.
The Casa de Nariño was designed by architects Gaston Lelarge and Julián Lambana in the neo-Classical style of architecture. The building was constructed on the site of the former residence of Antonio Nariño, a key political and military leader in Colombia's early independence movement. The Casa de Nariño was completed and inaugurated in 1908. In 1948, the building was heavily damaged during the assassination of then-president Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and repairs were not completed until 1980, at which time the building was rededicated.
The interior of the Casa de Nariño is decorated with furniture and works of art from different periods in Colombian history. The gardens house the Astronomical Observatory of Colombia.
The University of San Bartolomé, founded in 1605, is the oldest university in Colombia. It was founded by the Jesuits, and is still affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
Although tourists cannot visit the university proper, they can visit the Páramo Museum, which houses a collection of works by Jesuit priest Santiago Páramo, as well as other nineteenth-century religious works.
In front of the main building is the Plaza Camilo Torres, where some revolutionaries were killed during the Spanish reconquest of 1816.
When in Medellin make sure you go up both Metro Cables. These are like giant ski lifts that take you into the barrios. The view is amazing and its all included in your subway ticket.
today I took the second Metro Cable (teleferico). I changed subway at San Antonio and then took that to the last station and got on that teleferico. This one was so long. It actually went over a mountain and up another one. It was a bit windy so the car rocked a bit which was a bit disconcerting. This teleferico was built on hills that went up at a very steep angle and none of the stops were at ground level. So people have to walk up I'd say the equivalent of 4 or 5 flights of stairs (elevators are reserved for for the infirm only) so I did not get off despite my intentions to get off, walk around and go to lunch like I did in Santo Domingo. Anyway met all sorts of people. The people are so proud. This area was MUCH MUCH poorer and did not have the roads or sidewalks like the other one (Still did but in short stretches...but I am not sure if you could build streets there. There were parks and lots and lots of stairs though).
+++++I just found this website and I thought I would add it as a resource about Medellin. It has some amazing information but one of the sections I like best is on the transformation of Medellin http://www.medellintraveler.com/
A challenging hike but well worth it ....the park is stunning...take a day tour out of Manicales ' mountain house hostel will arrange it all.
From letter home:
today I went up to Parque nacional los Nevados and climbed a mountain to a glacier up to I think it was 5400 meters high. I was REALLY worried about my ability to do the hike especially since I am not used to dealing with the altitude and the climb or the cold. I was also pretty freaked out because the tour company we took and the guides did not speak English. We took the bus up to 4200 meters with lots of stops to allow us to adjust to the altitude. At most stops we had a guide to explain everything to us and give us climbing and altitude instructions...all in Spanish of course. The second to the last stop I was taken to a guide who told me he spoke some English...but all he really did was speak Spanish slowly with lots of hand gestures. Thankfully my Spanish has progressed enough to catch on. At the last stop they did have an English speaking guide who could explain the hike details and the altitude issues etc.
Anyway...despite my worries I did finally make it to the top and actually kept in the middle of the bottom third group (90% of the `people on the mountain were in their 20s) which I think is quite an accomplishment. Although I kept on trying to turn back but the native Colombian´s climbing with me kept on encouraging me even though they were having as hard of a time as I was. The way they say my name here is so cute. They distinctly pronounce all the letters so my name is really long and drawn out. Anyway so the entire time I heard no shawwwn don't turn back, only a few more steps, little by little shhaawwn, your almost there, you can do it etc (all in Spanish of course). When I finally reached Ines she asked how does everyone know your name?
The national park is stunning beautiful. It is really green at first, then as you go up it turns into a yellow brown desert landscape with some type of cactus that I believe only grows here. I absolutely loved this section. It was stunning to me. Then as you go even higher it turns into a moon like landscape. No life at all. Then at the very top was the glacier. The weather also changed as we went up the mountain. Going from foggy, to rainy, to a light hail and then to those big beautiful snowflakes and then back again.
Thankfully when I reached the summit there were beautiful blue skies. I´ll post the pictures. It did a light sleet on the way up and down but it wasn't bad. then when we neared the bottom those big beautiful snowflakes appeared. I checked the temp then and it was 0º C but I think the temp dropped when the snow started. Although it could be that I stopped moving.
Then we drove down for lunch and a dip in totally scalding hot thermal pools.
Note from Email home: the town here does have the Colombian national sport that I have been dying to try. it is called Tejo. the guide book says its all about gunpowder, lead weights and alcohol. the object of the game is to toss the 2k lead weights into the clay pit and hit and explode triangle gunpowder-filled wax paper pouches called mechas. its more of a working class game and I guess there are indoor rings throughout the country. Right now I am thinking it is Colombians version of bowling but I´ll let you know what I think when I do it.
Note from an email home #2: Tonight a group of us went to play tejo. Quite fun. The Tejo courts are free for as long as you drink. Its basically a clay pit with a metal ring on it. They put little pieces of paper filled with gunpowder (looks like those paper footballs we made in grade school) and then you through metal disks at those. Big explosions. Very loud. Fun. My ears are still ringing
A better explanation...not written by me....got from....http://www.theplantationhousesalento.com/salento/tejo/index.shtm
TEJO....the game involves throwing a metal weight (usually 500g or 1kg) underarm into a wooden packing crate (15-18 inches x 24-36 inches). The wooden packing crate is filled with clay and inclined at an angle. Inside the packing crate and imbedded in to clay is a metal circle approximately 12 inches in diameter.
The idea is to get your metal weight to stick in the clay as close to the circle as is possible.
If you get your metal weight to stick in the clay and you are the closest to the metal circle you score one point. If you get your metal weight to stick inside the metal circle (effectively a bulls eye) you score six points.
Then just to make the game a little more interesting and a lot more Colombian there are folded paper triangles of gunpowder placed at the top and bottom of the metal circle. These triangles are touching the metal circle and obviously if you get metal hitting metal with gunpowder between them you get a large bang. For the bang you get three points unless of course you get a bulls eye and a bang and then you get nine points (six points for the bulls eye and another three for the bang).
You don`t pay for court time you simply pay for drinks to stay on the court.
The locals play on a court that is over 80 feet long. There is a beginners or children's court that is about 15 feet long. The court (known as a gancha) is under cover and can be found at Carrera 4 Calle 3-32. General hours up to 20.00 any night except for Thursday night - if no-one shows up they close around 20.00. If people are there then they usually close whenever.
I took a city block only a few blocks from the hostel up to Chipre which the highest neighborhood in Manizales. From there you have some absolutely stunning views of the city and the surrounding areas. It was a bit cloudy today so I could not see the snow on top of the mountains but the view was still stunning.
I went up in the ¨torres al cielo which is a high tower that you can look out and see more (costs US $2). It was nice. While there I met a women from Medellin and despite my Spanish and her English (or lack there of) we managed to form a friendship and decided to go for a little swing. What fun that was. The swing was quite the rush (7000 cop for one or 10000 cop for two at a time....US $5)
then I went to los colonizadores monument which shows the struggles the people of the area had to colonize this area. Quite an impressive work of art. In fact, Colombia is chock full of impressive works of art. they really are amazing. many of their arts also function as play things for the children and there were many examples to be seen on this walk.
I walked along the top of the mountain admiring the amazing views and had another one of those coconut ice creams on a stick and talked to some of the locals in spanglish. Had a long conversation with one vendor. I´d talk in Spanish and he´d answer in English so we could both get practice. Lots of laughter and corrections but we were able to talk for 30 minutes or so.
then I walked down the mountain and stopped at a few churches and went to the plaza and walked down carrera 23. It was crazy. Full of touts and shops. everyone yelling trying to get you to buy their stuff. I stopped and had what looked like a giant meat ball for a late snack. I have not idea what it really was but it was good.
From there I went to La cathedral basilica de manizales. It is one of the highest cathedrals in the world (and you can climb up inside for a great view of the city)...maybe the 5th tallest if you can believe the posters they showed. The tour was in Spanish so I missed a lot ($5 I think). But some of the other tourist invited me to go for a long walk with them. It was good Spanish conversation practice although their English was better than my Spanish.
Very interesting 4 hour tour that your hostel can arrange. Really helps paint a picture of the violence that Medellin was under for quite some time. For those of you who dont know...Pablo Escobar was an extremely violent and deranged head of the Medellin Cartel that controlled the cocaine trade in Colombia (still responsible for over 80% of the worlds cocaine). Who was so rich and powerful that in 1989 Forbes magazine listed him as the seventh richest man in the world.
There is a book written about Pablo and his eventual death that is worthwhile...called Killing Escobar.
The tour starts by by going to Pablo Escabars home. Although I don't know if I could really call it his HOME it was an entire apartment building with each floor being about the size of a large grocery store if not bigger. Only 5 people lived there Pablo, his wife, 2 kids and mother. His mom had a floor and there was a gym on one floor and i believe he said there was surveillance stuff on the other floor. There was a group of people who were trying to kill Pablo and liked bombs. In this case they used a car bomb in front of the house with 50 TONS of explosives. Blew off the front of the building and a 15 foot deep crater in the road. Missed Pablo and his son by minutes. The explosion was loud enough to permanently damage his daughters hearing though. (Guards would not let us take a picture here..thus the post card)
The tour really did a good job at showing the terror that was here back then. It sounded horrible. Pablo also put out a bounty for police men's deaths and several hundred police men were killed in a pretty short time. The bounty was 1 million COP. $1000 US in the 1980s. It was probably more than the average Colombian made in a year back then.
They also took us to all sorts of police stations his team had bombed and places the people fighting against him (need to remember their names...started with Pablo...it was a gang of people whose families had been terrorized or killed by Pablo) had also bombed.
Also saw a few of the office buildings where he handled his business. At one time he had 500 people working directly for him and was in the top 5 richest people in the world. Even offered to pay of the national debt of the entire nation if the country would make cocaine legal.
Saw his grave (he is still a hero to some of the poor here...like a modern day robin hood) and where he died. Horrible horrible man
I guess you have already figured I'll be leaving my heart in Medillin. Goodness I just love this city. Perfect weather year around, its absolutely stunningly beautiful, the hope and excitement for life permeate the air here and the people...goodness the people here are some of the nicest and most polite and generous people in the world.
I'll be extending my stay here at least 4 more days. I need to be careful I may just spend my entire vacation here and end up missing the rest of Colombia. I am already dreaming of moving here actually. I see why 1/2 the hostel is looking for an apartment here.
Lets see...yesterday I took the teleferica (metro cable) up to Santo Domingo. This WAS ONCE one of the worst neighborhoods in Colombia less than a decade ago. It is amazing now. The city went and built a teleferico up there so the people would have access to jobs etc. They also built all sorts of parks and places for children to play that are world class. They also built an amazing library that has all sorts of activities and programs for kids to encourage learning and community involvement. I found out to day that one of the reasons that this neighborhood was so dangerous was that it was at war with the community next door which was also an extremely dangerous neighborhood. Anyway the city with the cooperation/input of the communities built the best soccer field etc in the area in the one neighborhood and the biblotecha (library facility) in the other so the committees had to go into each others neighborhoods and wanted to do so. They are in the process of building what they call the bridge of hope (I think) which is a bamboo bridge that joins the 2 neighborhoods.
Anyway today it is totally safe and the people are all so very proud of what they have that they welcome guests are are just dying to show you around. Stopped and walked around, toured the area and the library and had a nice little lunch. All in all a wonderful day.
Another note home - today was wonderful. we took the subway to the teleferico and then the teleferico up the mountain. They did a wonderful thing here is Medillin they joined the teleferico to the subway system so it is in the subway system and not an extra cost. In other places I've been these have been 6 to $10 US dollars. its really great since it helps the poverty in the area. Like i said before during the la volencia this area was totally cut off from the city because it was too dangerous to go down the hill. As far a poor barrios goes it was REALLY nice. They have utilities there, running water and electricity are in the area. I am not sure if all houses have them but in the neighborhood is amazing. they also have roads with sidewalks. Very few cars of course and the houses are stacked one on top of each other.
Opened in 1982, the Amira de la Rosa Theater is the center of art and culture in Barranquilla. It is centrally located at a site where the El Prado, Montecristo, and Abajo del Río neighborhoods meet. The theater is the venue for concerts, plays, dances, exhibitions of artworks, presentations on various subjects, and meetings. Its centerpiece is the 56- by 289-foot (17- by 88-meter) theater backdrop that was painted by noted Barranquilla artist Alejandro Obregón, whose design was inspired by the region's anthropologic, folkloric, and ethnographic history and diversity.
The theater was named in honor of Amira de la Rosa, Barranquilla's most famous poet and dramatist, who was born in the city in 1903 and worked there until his death in 1974. He is most noted for writing the lyrics of Barranquilla's official anthem in 1942.
I got a free tourist book yesterday at one of the tourist information center (like a serious book) that was so over the top flowery and proud about the university subway stop that I HAD to go there. Then I headed to the University tram stop and ended up running into a girl from the hostel there who really wanted to go to the Parque Explora-Medellin. which is an aquarium, hands on science museum and oh so much more. I spent most of the day there. It was very well done. Puts MOSI in Tampa to shame. In the Colombia Geodiversa section they had some amazing information about the catastrophes Colombia has experienced. Volcanoes wiping out entire cities (in the past decade), hurricanes, tsunamis etc. They had rooms that recreated earthquakes and and hurricanes too.
In the aquarium one of the guides there realized that my Spanish was sorely lacking and he gave me a private tour that really taught me so much about fish. Do you know where a fishes mouth is depends on where they hang out in the ocean/river/lake etc. Fish that are at the bottom (catfish) mouths are on the bottom. Middle fish are in the middle of their face and fish that hang out near the surface mouths point up so they can catch bugs and stuff falling in the river. Interesting.
They also had an AMAZING exhibit.....see www.laboratoriomedellin.com that went over the history of Medellin through the violence and its recovery. Absolutely incredible.
Their is also a botanical gardens (free), a planetarium, and a free water park thing...very nice....I actually went back twice more
The Gold Museum in Bogotá has got a fantastic collection of gold objects from many pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia. It is displayed in a very good way and the different cultures are presented. Altogether the museum has got around 50 000 objects of gold, wood, pottery, textile and stone in its collection. To be able to show more the museum is now building more galleries for exhibitions which should be ready in 2008. The gold museum in Bogotá is one of the most important gold museums in the world, if not the most important one. Don’t miss it!
I visited the Gold Museum on a holiday and then admission was free. There was a lot of visitors, but I arrived early and then there was no queue jet. When I left the museum there was a long line of people outside waiting to enter.
The museum is closed on Mondays. It is open Tuesday - Saturday between 9 - 18, and on Sundays (and holidays) between 10 - 16.
San Gil is a pleasant colonial town and is popular among Colombians as a place to try out some adventure sports such as white-water rafting, parapenting, and caving. Prices for these activities are cheap compared to other countries. There are several offices of adventure sport companies just outside the gate to El Gallineral, an attractive riverside park filled with trees covered in Spanish moss (see photo). For those who have never been rafting before, there is a very easy excursion along the river that runs through the park, good for people travelling with children but also fun for adults. For more serious rafters, other excursions can also be arranged, including multi-day trips through the Rio Chicamocha canyon. San Gil is also the place to catch a connecting bus to the very quiet and peaceful colonial village of Barichara.
As a backpacker first and as a guide now there is one place on top of my favourite place: Cocuy. This mountain range can be found on the eastern andes range about 12 hours drive from Bogota. Since a few years it is safe enough to visit the park. From the small towns of Cocuy and Guïcan you can make trekkings from 1 to 14 days and climb most of the 23 snowcapped mountains. If you travel out of the holiday season you will hardly meet any other hiker.
For a taste (literally) of the real Cartagena you may want to take an hour or two and visit the Mercado Central.
This market is massive, I heard around 7,000 people work there. You can walk deeper and deeper through hundreds of stands selling fruit, fish, cooked food, clothing, glasses, and pretty much anything else you can possibly think of. Sample the fruit, buy a fried plantain and a bag of water and enjoy the sights as you walk around.
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