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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.