After leaving Villa De Leyva I headed up to San Gil. The city is about 7 hours away from Bogota and is the adventure capitol of Colombia. I only came to San Gil based on other travelers talking about the adventures they had there. One of the many benefits of not have a strict travel plan.

Living arrangements

I stayed in the El Dorado Hostel and the place was fairly basic. The room did have a ledge where I could put my belongings, which is always an appreciated addition. I was lucky enough to get the room to myself since it was low travel season and there were not a lot of people rolling through. The workers that are involved with the hostels are all involved with Ayahuasca ceremonies. I have to say that I was fairly close to participating myself. However, I made the mistake of researching more of the process and it just wasn’t for me at this point in my life. I think it would have been something I would have thrown myself in when I was younger and I may still later in my life.

The City

Repelling Waterfall I actually didn’t really get a chance to explore to much of the city. However, what I did explore, the city itself did not have very much to offer. There was the main square where everyone hung out at and where you can find mostly anything you wanted. Outside of the square, there were just general shops and living quarters and there wasn’t many sites to see. I did walk through some of the parks around, but they weren’t terribly exciting.

Activities

The area is best known for all the adventuring activities you could do. The top attractions being the mountain biking, rafting, paragliding, caving, rock-climbing, and others. I stayed there for about a week and I was able to do some rafting paragliding, caving and a 3-day hike.

Caving My first day of adventuring was a caving tour booked through the hostel. One of the workers there leads the group through various caves, and repelling down waterfalls. At one point of the tour, we are inside the caves and the guide had us scale the wall and cross over a small chasm about 15 ft. off the floor. It was a scary feeling that if Caving I slip and fall, it would be a very hard fall down the bottom. But that’s just Colombian safety standards for you. This was also my second time using my GoPro and after doing a cliff jump into the pool, the go pro came off my head. I was very fortunate to have found my GoPro after 15 minutes of searching.

Rafting Our rafting trip was interesting. There were two options available. One was a simple class 1-3 down the Rio Fonce, which obviously isn’t the one to do if you are truly the adventurous type. The second option is to do the class 3-5 down the Rio Suarez, which is the option I choose. In general, you don’t want to get stuck on the boat with weak paddlers, as I found out quickly on my adventure. On the first class 3 rapid, our boat flipped because the guide couldn’t control the boat well since there was not much power in our raft. After recovering ourselves, we lost one member who ended up on the other boat. We went over two class 5 rapids, but they were not as challenging as the final rapid on the White Salmon River in Portland, OR.

My third adventure brought me to paragliding. I choose to do the cheaper option, which had you gliding around a valley near the Chicamocha Canyon but not in it. In retrospect, I think I should have sprung for the more expensive option, which would have you flying through the canyon itself. But I wasn’t sure I would actually enjoy the experience or not, but it was pretty fun. Enough that I may want to train to be able to do it solo.

My last adventure was a 3-day hiking going from small village to small village. I found the hiking itinerary on wikitravel.org. However, some of the information I found to be out of date. In particular the travel time between each point. There were spots where I took an extra hour or two, which unfortunately had me hiking through the dark. The trek isn’t necessarily all on wilderness trails, and more often than not, you are on dirt roads, and sometimes having to cross through gated off roads. But knowing when to pass through was an art in itself.

Cabrera First you take a bus from San Gil to Cabrera where the trek starts. And you go from Cabrera->Barichara->Guane->Villanueva->Jordan->Los Santos and from Los Santos you take a bus back to San Gil. The initial start was a bit shaky. I was nervous embarking on this adventure and I couldn’t really tell where the start of it was. I tried my best to follow the instructions and I eventually found the correct path. The first part of the trip went fairly smoothly as it was well marked. But when it wasn’t, I could see the village in the distance. After I arrived in Barichara, I had to decide to stay there or go to Guane. I was racing with the clock as it was getting fairly late already. But I decided to make a run at it, otherwise, the trip would have turned into a 4 day ordeal. The trail to Guane was very well marked as the path was a stone road and is a very popular path.

Hike Cabrera to Guane Hike Cabrera to Guane

Guane Guane After I arrived in Guane, a man (possible homeless) helped me find the posada owner so I could sleep there overnight. I bought him a beer since he helped me locate the owner so I would have a place to sleep. With my limited Spanish, and his thick accent we were not able to communicate very clearly. However, it sounded like he wanted to come with me and be my guide on my journey to Villanueva. But the prospect made me very uneasy. So I intentionally missed my meeting time with him, but he did see me on my way out of the town. I was hoping that he was drunk and didn’t quite remember what we tried to talk about. But I went and set off for the rest of my adventure. The road to Villanueva was mainly a dirt road along farming communities. It was a bit sketchy in that the path was gated off and I had to decide to cross through or not. I decided to risk it and if I ran into some farmers try to explain the situation. It was a fairly easy decision since Google maps had the road going through it.

Villanueva However, the path from Villanueva to Jordan was a different matter. This was much harder to navigate due to the directions and the amount of forks in the road. At one point, I thought I was hopelessly lost as the farmers had sent me back and forth looking for the correct path. Luckily I noticed some yellow markers and saw it marked one of the gates along the road, which I had initially thought was a marking to a finca. The yellow markers helped show me the correct path towards Jordan. But by the time I got to the edge of the canyon looking over the valley and seeing Jordan off in the distance, the Sun was beginning to set Chicamocha Canyon casting a shadow over the canyon. I knew that I had to hurry or else I would get stuck having to navigate in the dark. As I neared the bottom, it did get dark on me and I had to hike about 30 minutes in the pitch-black night with my headlamp. I was very happy by the time I arrived into the city of Jordan. However, trying to locate a room/food was a bit difficult. Luckily some kids showed me the right way towards the lady which is mentioned in the wikitravel website.

Hiking Path Guane to Villanueva Hiking Path Villanueva to Jordan

Unfortunately Jordan, did not have a proper supermarket and I was unable to replanish my water supply. The website says the hike from Jordan to Los Santos would only take 2 hours, but from my experience the day before, I knew the path up would take twice that time, and with only half a bottle of water in the heat would be problematic. Luckily halfway up there was a finca which gave me some aquapanilla, which was unfortunately sweet, but much needed if I was going to make it up. By the time I arrived into Los Santos, I was dying of thirst and ended up buying a 5L bag of water. However, this bag of water unlike others in Colombia had a little nozzle. Unfortunately, I was not able to find this brand through Colombia.

Teleferico I did not realize when I was in Los Santos, I was very close to a really popular rock climbing hostel. Someone had shown me pictures when I was in Cali and I had wanted to go there to take some photos. There are two main routes out of Los Santos. I choose to go towards the cable car over the same canyon I hiked up and down. However, to get there I had to ride a bus and get dropped off then hitchhiked towards the teleferico. I was very hesitant at first to do it and just walk the way there. However, a truck driver saw me walking and stopped to offer me a ride there. I can’t say negative thoughts didn’t go through my head, where all my shit was about to get taken. But the driver and his co-pilot were really nice. I tried to offer them a thank you for paying for the ride, but they refused. I road across the canyon one-way and caught a bus back to San Gil. Thus concluding the most adventurous part of my trip in Colombia. The only thing that could possibly top it would be an adventure through the Amazons, which I’m planning to do in Ecuador.

Chicamocha Canyon National Parque

Skyline After 6 weeks in Cali, I went back home to attend the wedding of my friends Tao Tao and Andrew. It was more or less a LPhiE and KDPhi reunion. After the wedding I headed to Bogota, Colombia to resume my adventures. This time I was flying with Jet Blue since the flight was the cheapest round trip to SF. However, when returning to Colombia, they demanded I had a return flight back out of the country or they wouldn’t let me fly. The agent recommended that I just buy a refundable ticket and then cancel it before the flight takes off. This sounded like a reasonable solution so I continued with the purchase and off I went back into Colombia.

The City

Skyline Bogota is the capitol of Colombia and also the largest city in the country. The general atmosphere was completely different from what I had experienced in Cali. People had warned me the city was cold, but I don’t think I was quite ready for how cold it actually was. It reminded me of being back home in Michigan during the early winter when there wasn’t snow yet. I had to wear long sleeve shirts and both jackets just to stay warm. Luckily the Hostel I was staying in was fairly new and had nice new comforters that were really warm. The city was much more modern and the people were much more refined. Many people were walking around in suits and not caring about the foreigners that were all around. Not wanting to bother taking my huge backpack onto the bus system, I decided to take a taxi from the airport to the hostel I had booked in Chapinero. Chapinero is between Candelaria (historical center) and Zona Rosa (trendy bar/restaurants).
Each location was about a 10-minute bus/taxi ride. The bus system was easy to figure out if i was going up and down the main street, Septima (7th Street).

Things to Do

I did quite a bit of walking in the city, walking an hour one way into the center just to get a better feel for the city. I really loved walking up and down Septima in the historical center. There were plenty of street performers doing chalk art, or doing various performances. Additionally, the city offered Gold Museum Gold Museum a variety of museums to explore. I went to the gold museum, modern art museum, coin exhibit, and Botero exhibit. Additionally, there is a fantastic view of the city from Cerro Monserrate. You are able to take the cable car up or you can hike up. When I arrived, the line to use the cable car was rather long, so I decided just to do the hour hike up the mountain. You can also visit the Salt Cathedral, which is about an hour away. We booked the tour through Salt Cathedral Botero Museum the hostel, which is more expensive than if you were to do it on your own. However, a number of guests at the hostel said they did it on their own but ended up wasting time finding the right bus etc. But it was about half the cost of the tour, and you are able to spend as much time as you would like there. I really recommend doing the graffiti Graffiti tour through the city. It’s technically free, with a tip, but the guide was very pushy about the tip and being in the 25-30Mil (12.50-15) range. But the information provided I thought was interesting. He talks about the various styles seen in Bogota and also what the various artists' messages were. I was lucky enough to have strolled through downtown while there was a parade going through the city. They parade was displaying all the various cultural clothing and dances.
Parade Parade

Tourists Story

While you travel you learn how to more or less be safe. One of the most important things is to know how to get back to the place you are staying. This means either becoming very familiar with the area, or at very least know the address so that if needed you are able to take a Taxi back home. Well this little tidbit was lost on one Australian traveler. I was sitting in the hostel having a chill night since it was Sunday and I was getting ready to leave the next morning. But we hear this frantic knocking on the front door. The receptionist answers the door and I hear some muffled conversation to the gist of “Please tell this taxi driver I live here”. You could immediately see that he’s very frantic and jittery, which I could only assume that he was on a fair amount of coke. He immediately calls over my friend to help 1212 Hostel explain the situation, since my friend was able to speak English/Spanish at least semi fluently. It turns out that he went out to meet up some girls and after the night was over, he took her home in the taxi, but didn’t remember where his hostel was. So all he could do was say the name of the hostel 12:12 Hostel. Which of course the taxi driver assumed it was on the cross streets of Carerra 12 and Calle 12. So the taxi driver takes him there, and of course it’s not the safest area of Bogota late at night. Additionally, he didn’t have money to pay the taxi driver. This of course leads to an unhappy taxi driver and ends up leaving him there in the bad neighborhood. He was lucky enough to find some police that entrusted his well being to another driver. The driver was told to provide proof that he dropped him off at the correct place. The taxi driver used an Ipad to record the fact that he indeed dropped off the Aussie. And also noted that he took a fare of 20Mil, which is approximately the cost to go from the airport to the hostel. Which means the taxi driver was probably driving all over town looking for this hostel. I could not imagine what was going through the Aussies head when he left the hostel in the first place.

Places to Dance

I was traveling which such a dancing high from Cali; I was hoping to find some good dancers in the Bogota area. But during the week I was there, I was unable to find a really good dancing spot. The best place I had found was Andres Carne de Res. They have two locations, the originally is really far away and the newer one which is in Zona Rosa. We just went to the closer one and I had a great time dancing there. The skill level of the dancers was not that great though, but I managed to find one or two dancers that were able to dance. But this would be an indicator for the type of dancers I would encounter for the rest of my trip.

Outside of Bogota

Villa De Levya After Bogota we headed to Villa De Leyva, a small colonial town just outside of Bogota. The town had a beautiful main square, which was probably by far the largest I’ve seen in any colonial town in Colombia. But there wasn’t really much to do outside of hanging around the main square. We did take a LONG walk to the fossil museum to see the nearly complete Kronosaurus fossil. Though I would have probably turned around before arriving had it not been for a particular German who was traveling with us. He had his heart set on seeing the fossil and pushed everyone to keep going. We took a few detours to see things like the Terracota House and various view points.

Terracota House Fossil Town Square Kids

I stayed in Cali for about 6 weeks before having to head home for a friends wedding. While in Cali, I met some amazing people, learned some Spanish and salsa, and saw what Cali/Colombia had to offer. I went to the pacific coast of Juanchaco, to the zoo, horse back riding, sugarcane museum and experienced a Colombian Halloween.

Living arrangements

Mauricio and Caroline After staying at the Violette Maison, I spent a week at the Colombian Hostel on an initial recommendation by Irena, whom I met in Ann Arbor out dancing. A pair of brother and sister, Mauricio and Caroline, runs the hostel. They are amazing people and they helped make my second week in Colombia a memorable one. The hostel is very clean, and is located in a very safe part of the city. However, the location is a bit far from the sites around town, expect to walk 20-30 minutes to get to most things (or ride the buses) Shortly after, I found cheaper living arrangements with my Spanish instructor, Dyron. It was located in the same neighborhood as Colombian Hostel, so I didn’t have to readjust to my surroundings. Additionally, I would find myself hanging out at Sun Flower Hostel a lot because of the people I’ve met in Cali.

The People

Unfortunately with my very limited Spanish, I was only able to meet other expats easily, or other Colombians that could easily communicate in English. Through the Spanish school in particular, I was able to meet many people with varying age ranges. There was an older gentleman, who was also attending the beginning courses in Spanish, which bought me some clothes because of my luggage situation.

Asena Christoph Christoph was one of the first friends/classmates I had in Cali. He’s a German here in Cali teaching English for a year. He’s young at the age of 20 and he’s able to pick up Spanish much quicker than I can. He introduced me to his other coworkers Asena and Sophie. We all went to Juanchaco together on the pacific coast of Colombia. To get there we went through Buenaventura, a port town, and road a boat across the bay. The boat ride was really rough, there were fairly high waves and we were sitting up in the front. This meant for every wave, we fell into our seats, and this lasted for about an hour.

Dyron Caroline Then there were the Spanish teachers Dyron and Caroline. These two made going to the Spanish school enjoyable by creating a community for the foreigners to get to know each and became our psuedo tour guides. As part of school fieldtrips, we went to the sugarcane museum and to the local markets.

LtoR Bruna Me Ben Anthony Then there were the many regular dancers I meet. But specifically a small group of them I became good friends with Sasha, Anthony, Guaya, Ben, David, Bruna, Alejandro and countless others. This group was the reason why I hung out at sunflower. In fact most of them have never stayed there and just hung out there because the volunteers were cool, or for Bruna being a longer term resident there.

The Place

Gringa at the Zoo I really love to dance, and have been learning LA style Salsa for the past 3 years. Cali is a place where you can go dance salsa any night of the week and pretty much any time of the day. So Cali will always be a special place for me. In addition to being able to dance salsa every night, Cali offers a few other things to culture oneself. Art Exhibit The zoo in Cali is something you should try to visit, the zoo contains many different animals. But if you are a gringo, be prepared to be much more of an attraction than the animals themselves. Additionally, there is a modern art museum, which I enjoyed. Mostly because of the fact that I’m still a juvenile at heart and simple fart jokes still make me laugh. However, after 6 weeks of pretty much constant dancing, I needed a break and went traveling the rest of Colombia before returning for feria.