Colombia: Bogota to Ecuador – New Friends, Old Stones and Discovering a Special Purpose

In this final blog on Colombia we spend some quality time with new-found friends in the capital of Bogota. (just off the map where the finger is pointing)  After Bogota we continued south along the eastern side of the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that forms a spine north to south down the middle of the southern half of the country.  The Pan-American Highway runs down the western side of these mountains.  We’ve learned that we want to avoid the Pan-Am any time we can because of the hoards of slow trucks and subsequent backed up traffic.   Interestingly, the only time we seem to see other Overlanders is in the vicinity of the Pan-Am.  Hummm?  Just sayin’.  The drive down highway 45 through Neiva and Pitalito to Mocoa was pretty uneventful with heavy traffic and unexciting towns.  The exception was the side trip to San Agustín and the Parque Arqueologico with its mysterious “stone dudes” and, nearby, the second highest waterfall in South America.  After Mocoa we headed west to reach the border crossing into Ecuador at Ipiales.  This involved crossing the Cordillera Central via a pass with the catchy name of “The Trampoline of Death.”  With a name like that we just had to drive it!

In this final blog on Colombia we spend some quality time with new-found friends in the capital of Bogota. (just off the map where the finger is pointing) After Bogota we continued south along the eastern side of the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that forms a spine north to south down the middle of the southern half of the country. The Pan-American Highway runs down the western side of these mountains. We’ve learned that we want to avoid the Pan-Am any time we can because of the hoards of slow trucks and subsequent backed up traffic. Interestingly, the only time we seem to see other Overlanders is in the vicinity of the Pan-Am. Hummm? Just sayin’. The drive down highway 45 through Neiva and Pitalito to Mocoa was pretty uneventful with heavy traffic and unexciting towns. The exception was the side trip to San Agustín and the Parque Arqueologico with its mysterious “stone dudes” and, nearby, the second highest waterfall in South America. After Mocoa we headed west to reach the border crossing into Ecuador at Ipiales. This involved crossing the Cordillera Central via a pass with the catchy name of “The Trampoline of Death.” With a name like that we just had to drive it!

Rolling into Bogota after eight hours of crazy, mountain driving, we encountered Bogota gridlock.  We knew from our previous brief visit (see Cartagena blog) that traffic in this city barely moves any time of day.  But we hit downtown right at 5pm and were treated to the best of it.  There are no such things as traffic lanes.  It is just a free-for-all with the most aggressive drivers getting ahead.

Rolling into Bogota after eight hours of crazy, mountain driving, we encountered Bogota gridlock. We knew from our previous brief visit (see Cartagena blog) that traffic in this city barely moves any time of day. But we hit downtown right at 5pm and were treated to the best of it. There are no such things as traffic lanes. It is just a free-for-all with the most aggressive drivers getting ahead.

Kat’s priority one in the big city was getting her hair done.  I’ll let her tell it… “Back in the small pueblo of Villa de Leyva, it seemed like a simple thing to get a little color touch up.  Asking around, I found that “Celia’s” was touted as the finest salon in the village.  Unfortunately, Celia’s was crowded with curious, gossiping locals and was a tiny, run-down house.  Celia herself was busy, so her daughter, Diane, did my color…kind of… First I had to wait 45 minutes past my appointment time. Then I had to wait while Diane ran to another store to buy the color that would supposedly match mine.  When we finally got going, I had to hold the bowl of goop while Diane applied it, the water in the (bathroom) sink was ice headache cold as she rinsed it out, and to top it off, the color did not take.  In fact, my hair was in danger of being slightly on the orange side of gray-brown.  I was on the verge of tears, when Celia told me to come back in the morning to have it re-done.  I politely declined, offering a few bucks to cover the cost of the color.  This job would have to wait for the more cosmopolitan city of Bogota!

Kat’s priority one in the big city was getting her hair done. I’ll let her tell it…
“Back in the small pueblo of Villa de Leyva, it seemed like a simple thing to get a little color touch up. Asking around, I found that “Celia’s” was touted as the finest salon in the village. Unfortunately, Celia’s was crowded with curious, gossiping locals and was a tiny, run-down house. Celia herself was busy, so her daughter, Diane, did my color…kind of…
First I had to wait 45 minutes past my appointment time. Then I had to wait while Diane ran to another store to buy the color that would supposedly match mine. When we finally got going, I had to hold the bowl of goop while Diane applied it, the water in the (bathroom) sink was ice headache cold as she rinsed it out, and to top it off, the color did not take. In fact, my hair was in danger of being slightly on the orange side of gray-brown. I was on the verge of tears, when Celia told me to come back in the morning to have it re-done. I politely declined, offering a few bucks to cover the cost of the color. This job would have to wait for the more cosmopolitan city of Bogota!

The contrast was stunning.  Once in Bogota, I did a little research and found this “little” salon near our hotel.  Walking into Norberto’s was a once in a lifetime experience.  It was an immense four stories of sheer elegance with over 200 employees, all bustling around, waiting on pampered patrons hand and foot.  I was whisked away to have a facial, was offered lemon ices, coffee and croissants, and then had my disastrous hair “repaired” by, not one, but two attentive men.  I almost had a heart attack when I received my final bill, but it was so worth it as there are few luxuries to be found living on the road.  I found out later that, ironically, while Celia’s was the finest salon in Villa de Leyva, Norberto’s was the finest (and most expensive) salon in Bogota!”

The contrast was stunning. Once in Bogota, I did a little research and found this “little” salon near our hotel. Walking into Norberto’s was a once in a lifetime experience. It was an immense four stories of sheer elegance with over 200 employees, all bustling around, waiting on pampered patrons hand and foot. I was whisked away to have a facial, was offered lemon ices, coffee and croissants, and then had my disastrous hair “repaired” by, not one, but two attentive men. I almost had a heart attack when I received my final bill, but it was so worth it as there are few luxuries to be found living on the road. I found out later that, ironically, while Celia’s was the finest salon in Villa de Leyva, Norberto’s was the finest (and most expensive) salon in Bogota!”

My priority one was getting some fuel line and spark plugs for Charlotte.  Spoiled at home by the ease of one-stop-shopping for auto parts at NAPA or AutoZone, I was amazed in Colombia to find every little item is offered in its own little shop.  There was a whole district devoted to car parts with shops for rubber things, shops for electric things, some for gauges, some for taillights, even some for used hubcaps.  Cooling systems, suspensions, brakes, etc. they all had their own stores, and there were plenty of each, all selling the same thing right next to each other.  The trick was finding the ones you wanted in the maze.  It took the better part of an hour and a hell of a lot of walking to get two items.

My priority one was getting some fuel line and spark plugs for Charlotte. Spoiled at home by the ease of one-stop-shopping for auto parts at NAPA or AutoZone, I was amazed in Colombia to find every little item is offered in its own little shop. There was a whole district devoted to car parts with shops for rubber things, shops for electric things, some for gauges, some for taillights, even some for used hubcaps. Cooling systems, suspensions, brakes, etc. they all had their own stores, and there were plenty of each, all selling the same thing right next to each other. The trick was finding the ones you wanted in the maze. It took the better part of an hour and a hell of a lot of walking to get two items.

The FIFA World Cup raged on.  Even though Colombia was out of the running, it didn’t keep everyone from stopping everything when a game was on.  We were riding in a taxi, listening to the match between Germany and Brazil on the car’s radio when the Germans scored three goals in five minutes.  Unheard of!  Everyone was going nuts in the streets since all of Colombia was for Germany after Brazil had beaten them out of the finals.  We passed this huge portable TV mounted on the back of a truck parked in a neighborhood park.  Being the temporary fútbol junkies we’d become, we yelled at our driver to stop.  We jumped out and joined the mob in the park, eager for the visual fix.

The FIFA World Cup raged on. Even though Colombia was out of the running, it didn’t keep everyone from stopping everything when a game was on. We were riding in a taxi, listening to the match between Germany and Brazil on the car’s radio when the Germans scored three goals in five minutes. Unheard of! Everyone was going nuts in the streets since all of Colombia was for Germany after Brazil had beaten them out of the finals. We passed this huge portable TV mounted on the back of a truck parked in a neighborhood park. Being the temporary fútbol junkies we’d become, we yelled at our driver to stop. We jumped out and joined the mob in the park, eager for the visual fix.

Our new best Colombian friends Honorato and Jeannette Espinosa in their beautiful home.  Honorato made quite a name for himself in his home country and in the States as a professional race car driver with a career that spanned three decades.  According to him, some of his best and favorite racing that he did in the States was in a car that I now own, a 1975 Porsche RSR.  We spent a wonderful afternoon at their home where Jeannette, the best of hostesses, made us an amazing dinner, and we all reminisced through Honorato’s awesome scrapbooks of his racing days.

Our new best Colombian friends Honorato and Jeannette Espinosa in their beautiful home. Honorato made quite a name for himself in his home country and in the States as a professional race car driver with a career that spanned three decades. According to him, some of his best and favorite racing that he did in the States was in a car that I now own, a 1975 Porsche RSR. We spent a wonderful afternoon at their home where Jeannette, the best of hostesses, made us an amazing dinner, and we all reminisced through Honorato’s awesome scrapbooks of his racing days.

We also were treated to a viewing of their car collection which included several very original examples of Porsches and Nissans.  But the highlight was this all original 1947 Lincoln Continental that Honorato’s father bought new.  It was an export model to Colombia when new and has been in the family ever since.  It just oozed wonderful patina and the love of ownership that’s been bestowed upon it over the years.

We also were treated to a viewing of their car collection which included several very original examples of Porsches and Nissans. But the highlight was this all original 1947 Lincoln Continental that Honorato’s father bought new. It was an export model to Colombia when new and has been in the family ever since. It just oozed wonderful patina and the love of ownership that’s been bestowed upon it over the years.

Our other new best friends in Bogota are Alvaro and Lilianna Pachon and their adorable daughter Marianna.  I actually met Alvaro at the SEMA show (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas last November. When I told him of our impending trip south, he promised me when we got the Bogota he’d take us 4 wheeling with his friends and offered any help we needed in the city.  We’ve kept in touch throughout our journey south and when we got to town, Alvaro found us a great hotel just down the street from his home.  On a Saturday, true to his word, we piled into his Land Cruiser and met up with six other rigs and a bunch of enthusiastic 4x4 friends, all eager to get out of the city and into the dirt for a day – just like my 4x4 friends at home.  Besides ‘wheeling, one evening Lilianna had us to their home for a wonderful dinner and we joined the family another night for dinner at their favorite burger joint.  The hospitality we received in Bogota has been the best of the entire trip.

Our other new best friends in Bogota are Alvaro and Lilianna Pachon and their adorable daughter Marianna. I actually met Alvaro at the SEMA show (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas last November. When I told him of our impending trip south, he promised me when we got the Bogota he’d take us 4 wheeling with his friends and offered any help we needed in the city. We’ve kept in touch throughout our journey south and when we got to town, Alvaro found us a great hotel just down the street from his home. On a Saturday, true to his word, we piled into his Land Cruiser and met up with six other rigs and a bunch of enthusiastic 4×4 friends, all eager to get out of the city and into the dirt for a day – just like my 4×4 friends at home. Besides ‘wheeling, one evening Lilianna had us to their home for a wonderful dinner and we joined the family another night for dinner at their favorite burger joint. The hospitality we received in Bogota has been the best of the entire trip.

We drove about an hour west out of the city to the Tablazo Trail outside the little town of Subachoque. The trail was short, maybe two kilometers long, but offered plenty of excitement with steep climbs and deep ruts.  It definitely wasn’t Charlotte country!  The views at the top, the table, (Tablazo) were amazing in every direction.  The clouds parted long enough to see a particular village below.  One guy told us it was the first time he’d seen that town in ten years of driving the trail, due to it always being cloudy at this altitude (about 11,000 feet).

We drove about an hour west out of the city to the Tablazo Trail outside the little town of Subachoque. The trail was short, maybe two kilometers long, but offered plenty of excitement with steep climbs and deep ruts. It definitely wasn’t Charlotte country! The views at the top, the table, (Tablazo) were amazing in every direction. The clouds parted long enough to see a particular village below. One guy told us it was the first time he’d seen that town in ten years of driving the trail, due to it always being cloudy at this altitude (about 11,000 feet).

Alvaro’s LC80, rolling on 40s, made short work of the trail, but the deep ruts still challenged his suspension and required pushing the ARB button more than once.

Alvaro’s LC80, rolling on 40s, made short work of the trail, but the deep ruts still challenged his suspension and required pushing the ARB button more than once.

Animal rights activism is alive and well in Colombia.  We saw this large, hand painted message on a wall in Subachoque.  “Torture is neither art nor Culture,” referring to bull fighting and cock fighting.

Animal rights activism is alive and well in Colombia. We saw this large, hand painted message on a wall in Subachoque. “Torture is neither art nor Culture,” referring to bull fighting and cock fighting.

Leaving Bogota after a week, we spotted this guy begging at a traffic light.  Despite his miserable situation in life, he wore a happy smile and chatted with the passers bye.

Leaving Bogota after a week, we spotted this guy begging at a traffic light. Despite his miserable situation in life, he wore a happy smile and chatted with the passers bye.

I gave him my Colombian Futból jersey I had proudly worn for every game we watched.  He seemed a bit overwhelmed, but grateful.  As we drove away I was glad to see a street hawker help him put the shirt into his bag of belongings lying on the sidewalk.  We were a bit concerned someone would take it from him.

I gave him my Colombian Futból jersey I had proudly worn for every game we watched. He seemed a bit overwhelmed, but grateful. As we drove away I was glad to see a street hawker help him put the shirt into his bag of belongings lying on the sidewalk. We were a bit concerned someone would take it from him.

Down the road a couple of hours from Bogota, we pulled over at this chicken joint to watch the final game of the World Cup.  When Germany beat Argentina and won the overall honors, the staff and patrons all went nuts.  We found it odd that the Colombians were rooting for a European team rather than fellow South Americans???

Down the road a couple of hours from Bogota, we pulled over at this chicken joint to watch the final game of the World Cup. When Germany beat Argentina and won the overall honors, the staff and patrons all went nuts. We found it odd that the Colombians were rooting for a European team rather than fellow South Americans???

Look Ma, no silverware!  My mother would cringe at these plastic gloves provided at every chicken joint, allowing the diner to tear the bird apart with his bare hands yet remain grease free!

Look Ma, no silverware! My mother would cringe at these plastic gloves provided at every chicken joint, allowing the diner to tear the bird apart with his bare hands yet remain grease free!

Post game revelers gave us a Colombian flag for Charlotte which I attached to her CB antenna.

Post game revelers gave us a Colombian flag for Charlotte which I attached to her CB antenna.

In turn, we gave out Charlottamiles stickers to everyone.

In turn, we gave out Charlottamiles stickers to everyone.

Things just keep improving since Central America.  We now have half -toilet seats instead of no-toilet seats!

Things just keep improving since Central America. We now have half -toilet seats instead of no-toilet seats!

This bizarre statue by Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt is found along the highway in the town of Neiva.  It is a bronze menagerie of tumbling horses and slain conquistadores saluting the 1539 rebellion of the indigenous Yalcon people which briefly slowed the Spanish invasion.

This bizarre statue by Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt is found along the highway in the town of Neiva. It is a bronze menagerie of tumbling horses and slain conquistadores saluting the 1539 rebellion of the indigenous Yalcon people which briefly slowed the Spanish invasion.

This huge Ceiba tree fills the entire town square in Gigante, Colombia.

This huge Ceiba tree fills the entire town square in Gigante, Colombia.

Sharing the farm with the cows.  We camped in this farmer’s front yard in San Agustín.

Sharing the farm with the cows. We camped in this farmer’s front yard in San Agustín.

We were pretty much over Colombian breakfasts long before we were over Colombia.  Don’t think one can kill an egg any more than this.  And the cold bread and rice ball didn’t add anything to the mix.

We were pretty much over Colombian breakfasts long before we were over Colombia. Don’t think one can kill an egg any more than this. And the cold bread and rice ball didn’t add anything to the mix.

The “Stone Dudes.”  Outside of the town of San Agustín is the Parque Arqueológico which is the site of dozens of these mysterious stone carvings.  They date pre-Inca ranging from 3000BC to around 900AD.  No known history of these people exists, not even a name, as they did not have a written language.  The only thing they left behind were these spooky tomb guardians, carved in stone and buried with their dead.

The “Stone Dudes.” Outside of the town of San Agustín is the Parque Arqueológico which is the site of dozens of these mysterious stone carvings. They date pre-Inca ranging from 3000BC to around 900AD. No known history of these people exists, not even a name, as they did not have a written language. The only thing they left behind were these spooky tomb guardians, carved in stone and buried with their dead.

We got Charlotte a key chain depicting this happy guy.

We got Charlotte a key chain depicting this happy guy.

Cool bamboo bridge built over a creek that features ancient carvings in the creek bed, made by the same mystery people that left the tomb guardians.

Cool bamboo bridge built over a creek that features ancient carvings in the creek bed, made by the same mystery people that left the tomb guardians.

Carvings in the creek.

Carvings in the creek.

This is how many of the figures were found buried, with a huge flat stone above them.

This is how many of the figures were found buried, with a huge flat stone above them.

Not just people but birds too.

Not just people but birds too.

Upside down babies.

Upside down babies.

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Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus

Tomb raider.

Tomb raider.

Charlotte finds a friend, and a GoWesty built one to boot!  Leaving San Agustín we passed this Syncro headed the other way.  We both waved and screeched to a halt to compare notes.  The owners, an Israeli couple, had come up from the south, having bought their VW from our friends at GoWesty in Los Osos, CA (see our first blog about Baja).  They then shipped the van from California to Argentina.  They were essentially doing our trip in reverse so we had much to share.  We ended up having lunch together comparing notes of what is to come for each of us.

Charlotte finds a friend, and a GoWesty built one to boot! Leaving San Agustín we passed this Syncro headed the other way. We both waved and screeched to a halt to compare notes. The owners, an Israeli couple, had come up from the south, having bought their VW from our friends at GoWesty in Los Osos, CA (see our first blog about Baja). They then shipped the van from California to Argentina. They were essentially doing our trip in reverse so we had much to share. We ended up having lunch together comparing notes of what is to come for each of us.

Onward…

Onward…

Biggest spider web ever.  Couldn’t find the owner.

Biggest spider web ever. Couldn’t find the owner.

Our next stop was to see the second highest waterfall in South America, Salto de Bordones.  We followed a muddy dirt road at 6 mph for about three hours until it ended at this really nice new hotel, Hotel Salto de Bordones, situated on a cliff side overlooking the falls.  After asking permission, we stayed in their parking lot for the night and went in for breakfast the next morning.  That’s when we found out they had only been open two weeks and had only had family for customers so far.  We felt pretty guilty.  It got worse when we were told the hotel had been a multi-year labor of love by the family patriarch, who died just four months before it was finished.  The son, Juan, an anthropologist, had temporarily quit studying for his PHD in order to help finish the place and get it open.  We sure hope they make it considering the road it takes to get there.

Our next stop was to see the second highest waterfall in South America, Salto de Bordones. We followed a muddy dirt road at 6 mph for about three hours until it ended at this really nice new hotel, Hotel Salto de Bordones, situated on a cliff side overlooking the falls. After asking permission, we stayed in their parking lot for the night and went in for breakfast the next morning. That’s when we found out they had only been open two weeks and had only had family for customers so far. We felt pretty guilty. It got worse when we were told the hotel had been a multi-year labor of love by the family patriarch, who died just four months before it was finished. The son, Juan, an anthropologist, had temporarily quit studying for his PHD in order to help finish the place and get it open. We sure hope they make it considering the road it takes to get there.

The inside of the hotel was beautiful and all made from recycled materials.

The inside of the hotel was beautiful and all made from recycled materials.

Co-owner Juan points out the waterfall from the best room in the house.

Co-owner Juan points out the waterfall from the best room in the house.

Salto de Bordones drops roughly 400 meters and is pretty spectacular, but pales in comparison to Angel Falls in Venezuela which is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,212 feet).

Salto de Bordones drops roughly 400 meters and is pretty spectacular, but pales in comparison to Angel Falls in Venezuela which is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,212 feet).

These two little gals couldn’t have been cuter.  Tatiana and Darli ran after us from the village of Bordones to where we stopped at the hotel.  They each wore shirts emblazed with official tourist assist logos and, looking at each other for reassurance, shyly explained in struggling English, the details about the waterfall they had obviously rehearsed for hours.  I think we were the first tourists they had had the courage to approach.

These two little gals couldn’t have been cuter. Tatiana and Darli ran after us from the village of Bordones to where we stopped at the hotel. They each wore shirts emblazed with official tourist assist logos and, looking at each other for reassurance, shyly explained in struggling English, the details about the waterfall they had obviously rehearsed for hours. I think we were the first tourists they had had the courage to approach.

We explained with maps on our ipads where we were from and how we were traveling and living in our car.  They seemed to think that was pretty cool.  Their brave interaction with us inspired us to interact ourselves the next morning.  Thanks to these two little girls, Kat and I have found a new way to give back a bit during this trip…

We explained with maps on our ipads where we were from and how we were traveling and living in our car. They seemed to think that was pretty cool. Their brave interaction with us inspired us to interact ourselves the next morning. Thanks to these two little girls, Kat and I have found a new way to give back a bit during this trip…

We decided to visit the girls’ school and tell their teacher how impressed we were with the girls’ English and their bravery in approaching us.  Here Kat meets their teacher and explains our feelings.

We decided to visit the girls’ school and tell their teacher how impressed we were with the girls’ English and their bravery in approaching us. Here Kat meets their teacher and explains our feelings.

The school’s reception to us was overwhelming.  All the teachers, the principal, and most of the student body, crowded around and begged us to enter their classrooms and explain the importance of learning English.  Here Kat poses with Tatiana and Darli and the teacher responsible for their English.

The school’s reception to us was overwhelming. All the teachers, the principal, and most of the student body, crowded around and begged us to enter their classrooms and explain the importance of learning English. Here Kat poses with Tatiana and Darli and the teacher responsible for their English.

Kat was amazing.  She took over the first classroom, captivating most of the students in Spanish by describing our trip and answering questions.   Andreas, the director of the school, explained to us how he was frustrated that he could only give the kids two hours a week towards English classes.  Kat offered alternatives to them like listening to songs and TV shows in English.  She also encouraged them to spend an hour a day only speaking English with their friends.  I wandered around taking photos and relating to the wisecrackers in the back who never pay attention.  I should have been explaining to them (if I could have) that, had I paid more attention in Spanish class, I might be standing in front of the class teaching!

Kat was amazing. She took over the first classroom, captivating most of the students in Spanish by describing our trip and answering questions. Andreas, the director of the school, explained to us how he was frustrated that he could only give the kids two hours a week towards English classes. Kat offered alternatives to them like listening to songs and TV shows in English. She also encouraged them to spend an hour a day only speaking English with their friends. I wandered around taking photos and relating to the wisecrackers in the back who never pay attention. I should have been explaining to them (if I could have) that, had I paid more attention in Spanish class, I might be standing in front of the class teaching!

Watching the kids in the classes, (we visited three) I was reminded how school atmosphere doesn’t change.  It was just like school was for me, forty something years ago.  There were the girls in the front who hung on every word and the guys in the back screwing around.

Watching the kids in the classes, (we visited three) I was reminded how school atmosphere doesn’t change. It was just like school was for me, forty something years ago. There were the girls in the front who hung on every word and the guys in the back screwing around.

The older kids were all riveted on teacher Kat and asked great questions, while lots of curious onlookers peered through the windows.

The older kids were all riveted on teacher Kat and asked great questions, while lots of curious onlookers peered through the windows.

Well, some things change… I don’t remember times tables like this in the 60’s.  The whole class laughed when I took this picture and when I praised the teacher for his clever way of getting those back row boys’ attention in math class.

Well, some things change… I don’t remember times tables like this in the 60’s. The whole class laughed when I took this picture and when I praised the teacher for his clever way of getting those back row boys’ attention in math class.

To cool for school.  Boys are the same everywhere.

To cool for school. Boys are the same everywhere.

Vaca made lots of new friends with the little ones.

Vaca made lots of new friends with the little ones.

It was tough to leave, and groups of kids ran after us.  Back on the road we talked about the experience and how good we felt.  We vowed to do this again as often as the opportunity presents itself.  We also decided it would be great to give giant world maps to the schools to show the kids where we come from.  We bought some great maps in Quito, Ecuador and hope to repeat our schooling experience soon.

It was tough to leave, and groups of kids ran after us. Back on the road we talked about the experience and how good we felt. We vowed to do this again as often as the opportunity presents itself. We also decided it would be great to give giant world maps to the schools to show the kids where we come from. We bought some great maps in Quito, Ecuador and hope to repeat our schooling experience soon.

After teaching school we headed south to Mocoa and then turned west to cross the Cordillera Central on the “Trampoline of Death.”  After some of the cliff-hanging remote roads we’ve been over, the Trampoline didn’t quite live up to its name.  We even drove the steepest first part at night for greater effect but… maybe it was the safety guardrail?

After teaching school we headed south to Mocoa and then turned west to cross the Cordillera Central on the “Trampoline of Death.” After some of the cliff-hanging remote roads we’ve been over, the Trampoline didn’t quite live up to its name. We even drove the steepest first part at night for greater effect but… maybe it was the safety guardrail?

It was kinda narrow in spots.

It was kinda narrow in spots.

After climbing for over three hours in first gear we called it a night at this illustrious spot – the only level one we’d come across during the entire climb.  The family that lived in the shack next to these radio towers was more afraid of us than we them when I knocked on their door at 10pm and asked if we could sleep in their yard.  “Sleep” was rare as their chickens woke us up around 4am, pecking and crowing under Charlotte.

After climbing for over three hours in first gear we called it a night at this illustrious spot – the only level one we’d come across during the entire climb. The family that lived in the shack next to these radio towers was more afraid of us than we them when I knocked on their door at 10pm and asked if we could sleep in their yard. “Sleep” was rare as their chickens woke us up around 4am, pecking and crowing under Charlotte.

Ah, but we had Tyler’s coffee.  I think he’d cringe if he saw the desecrating way we make it.  No precise measuring or perfect water temps around here!

Ah, but we had Tyler’s coffee. I think he’d cringe if he saw the desecrating way we make it. No precise measuring or perfect water temps around here!

Traffic was a little tight along the downhill side of the Trampoline the next morning.  Of course the pouring rain didn’t help.

Traffic was a little tight along the downhill side of the Trampoline the next morning. Of course the pouring rain didn’t help.

Amazing mud slides could be seen everywhere.  As the rain continued to fall in buckets, we wondered how any of this road stayed up on the mountain.

Amazing mud slides could be seen everywhere. As the rain continued to fall in buckets, we wondered how any of this road stayed up on the mountain.

Some of it didn’t!

Some of it didn’t!

After about ten hours, the Trampoline ride was over and we approached the border with Ecuador.   We had one last thing to see before leaving Colombia.  Way back in January my daughter Emily emailed us with a picture of this church and a plea to us to check it out.

After about ten hours, the Trampoline ride was over and we approached the border with Ecuador. We had one last thing to see before leaving Colombia. Way back in January my daughter Emily emailed us with a picture of this church and a plea to us to check it out.

Cathedral Las Lajas is just outside the seedy border town of Ipiales.  It affords an impressive sight, spanning a river gorge and looking like a medieval castle.  In reality, it was only built in 1949 so it’s got a ways to go to antiquity.

Cathedral Las Lajas is just outside the seedy border town of Ipiales. It affords an impressive sight, spanning a river gorge and looking like a medieval castle. In reality, it was only built in 1949 so it’s got a ways to go to antiquity.

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Still, Las Lajas left us with one more impressive site from a country that has delivered plenty in the month we’ve spent in it.  Colombia has been wonderful and a welcome change from Central America.  We look forward to the adventures that lie further south… Stay tuned.

Still, Las Lajas left us with one more impressive site from a country that has delivered plenty in the month we’ve spent in it. Colombia has been wonderful and a welcome change from Central America. We look forward to the adventures that lie further south… Stay tuned.

Colombian Coffee Break

In this blog, Kat and I start in Villa de Leyva where my finger is and, for two days, work our way northwest along multiple dirt and sort-of paved back roads.  Then we went west on highway 62 toward the city of Medellin.  We skirted around Medellin proper through the Lake District near Gutapé and the beautiful flower growing region to the southwest.  Finally we turned south all the way to Armenia in the heart of the coffee growing region were we spent several days learning more than we ever thought possible about coffee.  From Armenia we went east over a crazy pass (steep switchbacks and endless slow trucks) along the Pan-Am to the capital city of Colombia, Bogota.

In this blog, Kat and I start in Villa de Leyva where my finger is and, for two days, work our way northwest along multiple dirt and sort-of paved back roads. Then we went west on highway 62 toward the city of Medellin. We skirted around Medellin proper through the Lake District near Gutapé and the beautiful flower growing region to the southwest. Finally we turned south all the way to Armenia in the heart of the coffee growing region were we spent several days learning more than we ever thought possible about coffee. From Armenia we went east over a crazy pass (steep switchbacks and endless slow trucks) along the Pan-Am to the capital city of Colombia, Bogota.

As usual, we found the least used route out of Villa de Leyva.  This rough track led us past numerous little coffee and banana fincas (farms) with shy kids in doorways and scowling looks from landowners.

As usual, we found the least used route out of Villa de Leyva. This rough track led us past numerous little coffee and banana fincas (farms) with shy kids in doorways and scowling looks from landowners.

Other traffic along the road looked like these long distance haulers, stopped here at a filling station.

Other traffic along the road looked like these long distance haulers, stopped here at a filling station.

Our own filling station provided these huge carts to insure we bought lots of yummy packaged junk off their shelves.

Our own filling station provided these huge carts to insure we bought lots of yummy packaged junk off their shelves.

Most of the towns we passed through were dirty, mean and seedy.  All the food tasted the same (bad) and no one was very friendly.  Then we arrived in Guatepé and our mood instantly changed. This clean, happy town on the shores of a huge, man-made lake featured buildings with the most color we’d seen since Mexico.  We watched a bicycle race through the streets as we ate another so-so meal at a sidewalk café.

Most of the towns we passed through were dirty, mean and seedy. All the food tasted the same (bad) and no one was very friendly. Then we arrived in Guatepé and our mood instantly changed. This clean, happy town on the shores of a huge, man-made lake featured buildings with the most color we’d seen since Mexico. We watched a bicycle race through the streets as we ate another so-so meal at a sidewalk café.

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A few kilometers out of Guatepé we spotted this rock sticking up out of nowhere.  “Wow, are those stairs up the side of it?”

A few kilometers out of Guatepé we spotted this rock sticking up out of nowhere. “Wow, are those stairs up the side of it?”

Sure enough, 675 of ‘em to the top.  We challenged ourselves to see how many we could run up.  It is tough getting exercise living in a van, so when the opportunity presents itself… El Peñon (The Rock) offered some amazing views from its top of the surrounding countryside.

Sure enough, 675 of ‘em to the top. We challenged ourselves to see how many we could run up. It is tough getting exercise living in a van, so when the opportunity presents itself… El Peñon (The Rock) offered some amazing views from its top of the surrounding countryside.

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Fresh fish anyone?  Not sure I’d want to risk my bowels to this gourmet roadside attraction.  Wonder how long he’d been trying to sell them?

Fresh fish anyone? Not sure I’d want to risk my bowels to this gourmet roadside attraction. Wonder how long he’d been trying to sell them?

After El Peñon the scenery improved immensely with cute, clean houses, tidy farms and happy cows.

After El Peñon the scenery improved immensely with cute, clean houses, tidy farms and happy cows.

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After almost a week of wandering westward and southward we arrived in the small city of Armenia in the heart of Colombia’s coffee growing region.  Tyler Youngblood is an American who, five years ago traveled via Subaru around South America until he landed in the Armenia area.  He never left.  Being an astute coffee aficionado and sharp business man, he literally smelled opportunity brewing and started a gourmet coffee company named Azahar (coffee bean flower).  We didn’t know coffee production could be so high tech (actually we didn’t know anything about coffee production!), but after a tour of Tyler’s factory and seeing his use of all the latest technology, both scientific and social media, we were blown away by what this young entrepreneur is accomplishing.  There is a LOT that goes into the production of that ground up brownish-black stuff that comes in that bag/can/whatever at the store.

After almost a week of wandering westward and southward we arrived in the small city of Armenia in the heart of Colombia’s coffee growing region. Tyler Youngblood is an American who, five years ago traveled via Subaru around South America until he landed in the Armenia area. He never left. Being an astute coffee aficionado and sharp business man, he literally smelled opportunity brewing and started a gourmet coffee company named Azahar (coffee bean flower). We didn’t know coffee production could be so high tech (actually we didn’t know anything about coffee production!), but after a tour of Tyler’s factory and seeing his use of all the latest technology, both scientific and social media, we were blown away by what this young entrepreneur is accomplishing. There is a LOT that goes into the production of that ground up brownish-black stuff that comes in that bag/can/whatever at the store.

Raw coffee beans as they arrive from the select farms that Azahar deals with.

Raw coffee beans as they arrive from the select farms that Azahar deals with.

Raw coffee beans that have been shelled and washed and are now ready for roasting.

Raw coffee beans that have been shelled and washed and are now ready for roasting.

This gal sorts beans all day, picking out the bad ones by hand.

This gal sorts beans all day, picking out the bad ones by hand.

Tyler took us through a very thorough process of preparing the perfect cup of gourmet coffee, right down to weighing the amount of coffee grounds and making sure the water was the exact temperature.  Note the pre-wetted filters in the special cone-drip thingies.  No Mr. Coffee machine around here!

Tyler took us through a very thorough process of preparing the perfect cup of gourmet coffee, right down to weighing the amount of coffee grounds and making sure the water was the exact temperature. Note the pre-wetted filters in the special cone-drip thingies. No Mr. Coffee machine around here!

Even pouring the water required a special touch.

Even pouring the water required a special touch.

As you may have guessed, I’m not much of a coffee drinker.  In fact, until this day, I’d never touched the stuff without and (un)healthy dose of cream and at least three heaps of sugar!  How else is one to tolerate that vile taste?  Well, after watching Tyler’s masterful crafting of this cup, I wasn’t about to ask for the insulting milkshake stuff.  Not like there was any anywhere near his factory.  Yes, this was my first cup of black coffee ever.  And I liked it!  A lot!  I drank more black coffee in the few days we hung around Tyler than all the milkshake stuff I’ve consumed in my entire lifetime!  However, Tyler’s gourmet blends are VERY special, as I’ve since tried regular restaurant Joe black, and yuck, still gotta doctor that stuff!

As you may have guessed, I’m not much of a coffee drinker. In fact, until this day, I’d never touched the stuff without and (un)healthy dose of cream and at least three heaps of sugar! How else is one to tolerate that vile taste? Well, after watching Tyler’s masterful crafting of this cup, I wasn’t about to ask for the insulting milkshake stuff. Not like there was any anywhere near his factory. Yes, this was my first cup of black coffee ever. And I liked it! A lot! I drank more black coffee in the few days we hung around Tyler than all the milkshake stuff I’ve consumed in my entire lifetime! However, Tyler’s gourmet blends are VERY special, as I’ve since tried regular restaurant Joe black, and yuck, still gotta doctor that stuff!

Watching the company’s brand new, state-of-the-art CNC roaster at work.  Note all the scales and vials sitting around.  Looks more like a drug lab.  Well this IS Colombia after all.

Watching the company’s brand new, state-of-the-art CNC roaster at work. Note all the scales and vials sitting around. Looks more like a drug lab. Well this IS Colombia after all.

Every package of Azahar has a QR code on it.  Scan it with your smart phone and you can watch a video interview of the various Colombian farmers who grew the beans in the bag!

Every package of Azahar has a QR code on it. Scan it with your smart phone and you can watch a video interview of the various Colombian farmers who grew the beans in the bag!

We toured a coffee plantation belonging to a good friend of Tyler’s and learned more about the complex process that goes into making your morning wakeup juice.

We toured a coffee plantation belonging to a good friend of Tyler’s and learned more about the complex process that goes into making your morning wakeup juice.

Coffee beans on the vine.  The red ones are ready for picking while the green ones have a way to go.  Each bean is picked by hand as it ripens.

Coffee beans on the vine. The red ones are ready for picking while the green ones have a way to go. Each bean is picked by hand as it ripens.

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Cheap foreign labor.

Cheap foreign labor.

Ok.  We know what you’re thinking.  Snorting Colombia’s favorite export again, right?  Yes we were instructed to huff this stuff by our guide to experience the different blends.  But we were sniffing the country’s legit export, one Colombia is striving hard to make the new export image of this rehabilated country.  It’s a tough sell to the rural farmers as coffee is worth about $10 a pound on the docks while cocaine brings about $25,000/pound when it leaves the county.  Colombia has had a rough, civil war tainted past, and the FARC rebels still flex their muscles against the government in remote parts of the country, but it has come a long way from the days when Pablo Escobar called the shots.  We never felt unsafe anywhere, despite following our usual off-the-beaten-track routes.  Colombia is a beautiful, safe country well worth visiting.

Ok. We know what you’re thinking. Snorting Colombia’s favorite export again, right? Yes we were instructed to huff this stuff by our guide to experience the different blends. But we were sniffing the country’s legit export, one Colombia is striving hard to make the new export image of this rehabilated country. It’s a tough sell to the rural farmers as coffee is worth about $10 a pound on the docks while cocaine brings about $25,000/pound when it leaves the county. Colombia has had a rough, civil war tainted past, and the FARC rebels still flex their muscles against the government in remote parts of the country, but it has come a long way from the days when Pablo Escobar called the shots. We never felt unsafe anywhere, despite following our usual off-the-beaten-track routes. Colombia is a beautiful, safe country well worth visiting.

The battles for the FIFA World Cup Fútbol championship continued to rage with another match pitting Colombia against Brazil.  This was to be the final chapter for Colombia as Brazil trounced them in what, we were told, was a very unsportsmanlike game on the Brazilians and referees’ part.  Despite their now being out on the race for the finals, the Colombians still partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning, celebrating that they got as far as they did.

The battles for the FIFA World Cup Fútbol championship continued to rage with another match pitting Colombia against Brazil. This was to be the final chapter for Colombia as Brazil trounced them in what, we were told, was a very unsportsmanlike game on the Brazilians and referees’ part. Despite their now being out on the race for the finals, the Colombians still partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning, celebrating that they got as far as they did.

Watching the game in a bar in Salento, everyone’s enthusiasm was contagious.

Watching the game in a bar in Salento, everyone’s enthusiasm was contagious.

For all my Jeep buddies: “Real” Jeeps (i.e. Willys) are alive and well in Colombia, especially in the coffee growing region where some serve as taxis like these, while others are still beasts of burden on the farms.  Here is a little info we dug up: Willys in Armenia: The first Jeeps (M38 or CJ-2A models) arrived to Colombia in 1946 for military purposes.  They were imported by the Colombian Ministry of Defense and soon became very popular among Colombian coffee farmers who saw in this vehicle the needed qualities for the difficult roads in the mountainous region of the country.  Besides the transportation of coffee, Jeeps are used for transport of many other agricultural products, as well as to transport country workers to places previously accessible only to pack animals.  Due to this quality, the Jeeps are also known locally in Spanish: "mulitas mecánicas" (or mechanical mules).

For all my Jeep buddies: “Real” Jeeps (i.e. Willys) are alive and well in Colombia, especially in the coffee growing region where some serve as taxis like these, while others are still beasts of burden on the farms. Here is a little info we dug up:
Willys in Armenia:
The first Jeeps (M38 or CJ-2A models) arrived to Colombia in 1946 for military purposes. They were imported by the Colombian Ministry of Defense and soon became very popular among Colombian coffee farmers who saw in this vehicle the needed qualities for the difficult roads in the mountainous region of the country. Besides the transportation of coffee, Jeeps are used for transport of many other agricultural products, as well as to transport country workers to places previously accessible only to pack animals. Due to this quality, the Jeeps are also known locally in Spanish: “mulitas mecánicas” (or mechanical mules).

Kat managed to coerce me onto a horse for the first time in probably20 years.  After a two hour ride I remembered why I like Jeeps.  These South American mountain horses are called Caballos Criollos and are tough, surefooted little critters.  They hauled us over some horrible trails with the calmness of monks.  But, for me, their steering, brakes and rough ride still left something to be desired.

Kat managed to coerce me onto a horse for the first time in probably20 years. After a two hour ride I remembered why I like Jeeps. These South American mountain horses are called Caballos Criollos and are tough, surefooted little critters. They hauled us over some horrible trails with the calmness of monks. But, for me, their steering, brakes and rough ride still left something to be desired.

We had (black!) coffee at a sidewalk café in Filandia while we watched locals enjoy their weekend.

We had (black!) coffee at a sidewalk café in Filandia while we watched locals enjoy their weekend.

This ol’ boy charmed us with his toothless smile.  He couldn’t speak a word but his eyes said all when we bought him a cup of coffee to share with us.

This ol’ boy charmed us with his toothless smile. He couldn’t speak a word but his eyes said all when we bought him a cup of coffee to share with us.

Colombian cake shop.

Colombian cake shop.

More Jeeps.  This time in ½ scale and human powered.  Kids seemed to have a blast “driving” these beauties around the square, pushed by their owners for a few pesos.

More Jeeps. This time in ½ scale and human powered. Kids seemed to have a blast “driving” these beauties around the square, pushed by their owners for a few pesos.

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These Jeep builders spell as badly as I do!

These Jeep builders spell as badly as I do!

We met our friend Tyler at Helens’, his favorite restaurant in Filandia.  His epicurean tastes are as good as his coffee pallet.

We met our friend Tyler at Helens’, his favorite restaurant in Filandia. His epicurean tastes are as good as his coffee pallet.

Margaritas weren’t bad either.

Margaritas weren’t bad either.

Unbelievable meal.

Unbelievable meal.

Yep.  Can’t kill a good old Willys.  They just keep haulin’ the bananas.

Yep. Can’t kill a good old Willys. They just keep haulin’ the bananas.

Leaving the coffee country behind, we hit the highway east for the capital, Bogota.  Time for some city life and visiting with some special friends there.  We felt bad not giving these guys a lift.  I was waiting for a lightning bolt or something to zap Charlotte and stop us in our tracks but she kept on rolling.  Knock on wood.  13,000 miles and counting...

Leaving the coffee country behind, we hit the highway east for the capital, Bogota. Time for some city life and visiting with some special friends there. We felt bad not giving these guys a lift. I was waiting for a lightning bolt or something to zap Charlotte and stop us in our tracks but she kept on rolling. Knock on wood. 13,000 miles and counting…

High Times in Colombia

June 21, 2014: 5:00am, a dirt road outside of Valledupar, Colombia:

Hiding in the back of Charlotte, heart pounding, and still in my jammies, I could see the 5 police officers waving their guns at us…

…then the most unexpected thing happened. One of the officers actually walked up to Ned’s window, extended his hand, and politely introduced himself!

That was the good news. The bad news was that the cops could not figure out what to do with us. We later surmised that someone from the nearby rancho had called them to investigate this strange vehicle with a dead cow on the front. Ned gave the head honcho copies of all of our documents, but he and Ned started going around and around; the officer speaking in some high speed local dialect and Ned speaking in his Span-glish. I finally decided that it was safe to come out of hiding and leaned up to Ned’s window. I smiled and told them that we had been heading to the Parque Sierra Nevada last night, but it got late. We were too tired to keep driving and we just came here to sleep. Ned said, “Yes, we are just touristas!” It took another 15 minutes, but they finally accepted Ned’s offer to let them keep the copies of Charlotte’s registration and title, and a copy of Ned’s passports’ main page. They let us go, but Ned is probably on some Interpol list of potentially dangerous criminals! It was 5:30am…the earliest we’ve ever gotten back on the road.

We’re going to try the map thing again.  We hope it is helpful to some of you as a way to see where we are in the world. This is a view of the whole country of Colombia. The border with Venezuela can be seen to the east as a pink line. The country borders to the south with Ecuador and Peru. In this blog we only cover the country in the areas from Cartagena on the western coast to the high mountains just southeast of Bucaramanga and south to the town of Villa de Leyva. These parts of the country are still north of Bogotá, the Capital, which itself sits in the middle of the country. Colombia is by far the largest country we’ve visited since Mexico and contains just as much variety.

We’re going to try the map thing again. We hope it is helpful to some of you as a way to see where we are in the world. This is a view of the whole country of Colombia. The border with Venezuela can be seen to the east as a pink line. The country borders to the south with Ecuador and Peru. In this blog we only cover the country in the areas from Cartagena on the western coast to the high mountains just southeast of Bucaramanga and south to the town of Villa de Leyva. These parts of the country are still north of Bogotá, the Capital, which itself sits in the middle of the country. Colombia is by far the largest country we’ve visited since Mexico and contains just as much variety.


Kat and I spent six days in Cartagena waiting for Charlotte and enjoying the vibrant port city. However, after those six days we were tired of the stifling heat of the coast and chose to head southward and east toward the Sierra Nevada National Park in hopes of finding higher elevations and cooler temps. Our first camp site where we encountered the cops is to the right just below the park. Originally, our plan was to head to La Guajira desert which is a peninsula in the far north east of the country, but after a super hot, muggy night with no respite from the coastal humidity, mixed with the dirty looks from the locals, we caved in and decided to high tail it south for the 12,000+ foot high mountains in the Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy.

Kat and I spent six days in Cartagena waiting for Charlotte and enjoying the vibrant port city. However, after those six days we were tired of the stifling heat of the coast and chose to head southward and east toward the Sierra Nevada National Park in hopes of finding higher elevations and cooler temps. Our first camp site where we encountered the cops is to the right just below the park. Originally, our plan was to head to La Guajira desert which is a peninsula in the far north east of the country, but after a super hot, muggy night with no respite from the coastal humidity, mixed with the dirty looks from the locals, we caved in and decided to high tail it south for the 12,000+ foot high mountains in the Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy.

Our decision to head south required passing through the rough and ready town of Valledupar. Being very close to the Venezuelan border, this place felt like an outpost full of outlaws. As soon as we entered the main drag we were accosted by hawkers selling contraband gasoline, smuggled over the border from Venezuela where gas at the pump sells for pennies. There were literally thousands of gallons of the stuff lining the sidewalks in filthy 1 to 5 gallon containers. The going price seemed to be around 5000 pesos for 5 gallons or roughly US$2.50/5 gal or 50 cents a gallon! Not wanting to risk Charlotte’s fuel filter, we drove on, foolishly thinking we’d get gas at a legit Colombian gas station. It was over 100 miles before we found one that was still trying to do a legal business. We passed dozens of abandoned ones, all boarded up, their pumps stripped of hoses and weeds growing through cracks in the concrete. We felt sad for our gas jockey as we paid him over US$5.00/gallon for his legal Colombian gas.

Our decision to head south required passing through the rough and ready town of Valledupar. Being very close to the Venezuelan border, this place felt like an outpost full of outlaws. As soon as we entered the main drag we were accosted by hawkers selling contraband gasoline, smuggled over the border from Venezuela where gas at the pump sells for pennies. There were literally thousands of gallons of the stuff lining the sidewalks in filthy 1 to 5 gallon containers. The going price seemed to be around 5000 pesos for 5 gallons or roughly US$2.50/5 gal or 50 cents a gallon! Not wanting to risk Charlotte’s fuel filter, we drove on, foolishly thinking we’d get gas at a legit Colombian gas station. It was over 100 miles before we found one that was still trying to do a legal business. We passed dozens of abandoned ones, all boarded up, their pumps stripped of hoses and weeds growing through cracks in the concrete. We felt sad for our gas jockey as we paid him over US$5.00/gallon for his legal Colombian gas.

Heading south on the 49 we spotted a restaurant that looked fun. We had a típico (typical) breakfast of rice, beans, fried plantains, pork, egg, arepa (those corn things), queso (cheese) and coffee.

Heading south on the 49 we spotted a restaurant that looked fun. We had a típico (typical) breakfast of rice, beans, fried plantains, pork, egg, arepa (those corn things), queso (cheese) and coffee.

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Our southern progress ended in the town of Bucaramanga where we then headed northeast for a bit to Pamplona. Then it was south again into the mountains and windy dirt roads towards the mountain hamlets of Cocuy and Quicán and the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy range. For the next five days we wandered on remote dirt tracks through these magnificent mountains, our jaws dropping at the amazing views around every bend. Eventually we hit pavement again and somewhat reluctantly made our way to the touristy colonial town of Villa de Leyva for a shower, WiFi and yet another Colombian Fútol game.

Our southern progress ended in the town of Bucaramanga where we then headed northeast for a bit to Pamplona. Then it was south again into the mountains and windy dirt roads towards the mountain hamlets of Cocuy and Quicán and the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy range. For the next five days we wandered on remote dirt tracks through these magnificent mountains, our jaws dropping at the amazing views around every bend. Eventually we hit pavement again and somewhat reluctantly made our way to the touristy colonial town of Villa de Leyva for a shower, WiFi and yet another Colombian Fútol game.

The outskirts of Bucaramanga.

The outskirts of Bucaramanga.

We drove south for hours. The heat and humidity were relentless, and I was determined to get a wash somewhere before trying to sleep again. A sponge bath, a creek, I didn't care.  I was just feeling too sticky.   In the bustling city of Bucaramanga, we stumbled on a great restaurant where we had a good meal with a healthy salad and this delicious ball of chicken and rice!  The weather was encouraging too. It was much cooler eating dinner outside, and a fresh breeze was blowing. We were finally getting out of the same swamp lands that make up the Darian gap.

We drove south for hours. The heat and humidity were relentless, and I was determined to get a wash somewhere before trying to sleep again. A sponge bath, a creek, I didn’t care. I was just feeling too sticky.
In the bustling city of Bucaramanga, we stumbled on a great restaurant where we had a good meal with a healthy salad and this delicious ball of chicken and rice! The weather was encouraging too. It was much cooler eating dinner outside, and a fresh breeze was blowing. We were finally getting out of the same swamp lands that make up the Darian gap.

The road east into the mountains was twisty and choked with trucks, but it was getting cool enough to actually put on a fleece.  At about 11,000ft elevation I was asleep in my seat and crawled into bed in the back. We had been driving since 5:30am!  Ned was still into it though, passing the monstrous trucks on the treacherous windy road in the dark.  Sometimes it's easier to pass on the corners in the dark, because you can see the reflections of headlights on the cliffs from the oncoming trucks.

The road east into the mountains was twisty and choked with trucks, but it was getting cool enough to actually put on a fleece. At about 11,000ft elevation I was asleep in my seat and crawled into bed in the back. We had been driving since 5:30am! Ned was still into it though, passing the monstrous trucks on the treacherous windy road in the dark. Sometimes it’s easier to pass on the corners in the dark, because you can see the reflections of headlights on the cliffs from the oncoming trucks.

Around 9pm Ned finally found a dirt road to turn up and drove another 5 miles before pulling into a gravel pit to camp for the night.  We were at about 8,000ft and the temperature was perfect for sleeping. I never did get my wash, but I slept well anyway, happy to not be sweltering.  Having camped just off of the dirt track, we did wake to company again, but these local mountain folks reminded us of the Peruvian people. They were curious and shy, but not dangerous. The first two walked around and around Charlotte, trying to peek in the tinted glass.  Then one tried the sliding door but jumped away as soon as it wiggled. They moved on. We got up, made breakfast and did exercises. The weather was cool and misty and felt good. We had several other visitors who were all friendly and stopped to chat.

Around 9pm Ned finally found a dirt road to turn up and drove another 5 miles before pulling into a gravel pit to camp for the night. We were at about 8,000ft and the temperature was perfect for sleeping. I never did get my wash, but I slept well anyway, happy to not be sweltering.
Having camped just off of the dirt track, we did wake to company again, but these local mountain folks reminded us of the Peruvian people. They were curious and shy, but not dangerous. The first two walked around and around Charlotte, trying to peek in the tinted glass. Then one tried the sliding door but jumped away as soon as it wiggled. They moved on. We got up, made breakfast and did exercises. The weather was cool and misty and felt good. We had several other visitors who were all friendly and stopped to chat.

That morning we drove into the little town of Pamplona. It was beautiful with deep green valleys, patchwork crops, and red tile roofs. At around 10am we found a cheap motel and paid 15 bucks for a tiny room with a shower; not that we were going to sleep there, but it was a great way to get cleaned up. We walked around town and restocked on food and beer.

That morning we drove into the little town of Pamplona. It was beautiful with deep green valleys, patchwork crops, and red tile roofs. At around 10am we found a cheap motel and paid 15 bucks for a tiny room with a shower; not that we were going to sleep there, but it was a great way to get cleaned up. We walked around town and restocked on food and beer.

Ned buying beer at the local boys’ Sunday hangout…the liquor store...complete with slot machines

Ned buying beer at the local boys’ Sunday hangout…the liquor store…complete with slot machines

It was a bustling Sunday market day in Pamplona.

It was a bustling Sunday market day in Pamplona.

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There were few other tourists, and people were puzzled by Charlotte and Vaca Muerta.  We got very strange looks; some friendly, some decidedly unfriendly and some very long, blank stares.  As it became a reoccurring phenomenon, we decided to categorize the looks as Wink Eye, Stink Eye and Blink Eye, respectively.

There were few other tourists, and people were puzzled by Charlotte and Vaca Muerta. We got very strange looks; some friendly, some decidedly unfriendly and some very long, blank stares. As it became a reoccurring phenomenon, we decided to categorize the looks as Wink Eye, Stink Eye and Blink Eye, respectively.

We ate a wonderful late lunch across the street from where we parked Charlotte. When we came back outside a local family was admiring her. We had a great chat and gave the mom a hand painted bookmark from Oaxaca, Mexico. She loved it. They told us that it was very inexpensive to live in Pamplona and that tourists rarely visited.  It’s always great to be off the beaten path!

We ate a wonderful late lunch across the street from where we parked Charlotte. When we came back outside a local family was admiring her. We had a great chat and gave the mom a hand painted bookmark from Oaxaca, Mexico. She loved it. They told us that it was very inexpensive to live in Pamplona and that tourists rarely visited. It’s always great to be off the beaten path!

Our favorite Colombian sign…and the most prevalent!

Our favorite Colombian sign…and the most prevalent!

Definitely Wink Eye…these two loved Charlotte and were snapping their own photos on the older one’s phone.

Definitely Wink Eye…these two loved Charlotte and were snapping their own photos on the older one’s phone.

Some major Blink Eye going on here, even the dog…

Some major Blink Eye going on here, even the dog…

…still staring.  The dog seems to have lost interest, though.

…still staring. The dog seems to have lost interest, though.

Can you spot the Wink Eye, Stink Eye and Blink Eye in these photos?

Can you spot the Wink Eye, Stink Eye and Blink Eye in these photos?

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Driving on the 55 south of Pamplona was incredibly picturesque.  Although the overcast weather made it tough to get good shots, we still wanted to photograph everything.  We finally had to put the camera down and just enjoy the sights.

Driving on the 55 south of Pamplona was incredibly picturesque. Although the overcast weather made it tough to get good shots, we still wanted to photograph everything. We finally had to put the camera down and just enjoy the sights.

For once we found place to camp before dark.  At the top of a pass at 13,000ft, we discovered a road that required four wheel drive and led to some abandoned mines and houses. It was above timber line, and I’m pretty sure had perma-clouds; gorgeous but totally socked in.  It rained all night, but was otherwise wonderfully silent and relaxing.  It was so out of the way we knew there was no chance of visitors.

For once we found place to camp before dark. At the top of a pass at 13,000ft, we discovered a road that required four wheel drive and led to some abandoned mines and houses. It was above timber line, and I’m pretty sure had perma-clouds; gorgeous but totally socked in. It rained all night, but was otherwise wonderfully silent and relaxing. It was so out of the way we knew there was no chance of visitors.

We were warm and dry in our little casita, playing Dominoes until we fell peacefully asleep.

We were warm and dry in our little casita, playing Dominoes until we fell peacefully asleep.

It was still drizzling when we woke and too wet to get out and exercise or eat breakfast.  We got dressed, crawled up front and drove back to the main road which was still mostly dirt and still gorgeous.

It was still drizzling when we woke and too wet to get out and exercise or eat breakfast. We got dressed, crawled up front and drove back to the main road which was still mostly dirt and still gorgeous.

We thought these “broccoli trees” were rather interesting.

We thought these “broccoli trees” were rather interesting.

A memorial altar for the truckers.  There were even candles lit inside.

A memorial altar for the truckers. There were even candles lit inside.

Blink Eye or Stink Eye?  Poor wet thing.

Blink Eye or Stink Eye? Poor wet thing.

Every scruffy little town still features an inspiring church and steeple.

Every scruffy little town still features an inspiring church and steeple.

The road dropped down to 3500ft and it became hot again. We were driving along a river valley with beautiful canyons and terrain which turned to desert, complete with cactus.  It was beautiful, but we were back to sweating.

The road dropped down to 3500ft and it became hot again. We were driving along a river valley with beautiful canyons and terrain which turned to desert, complete with cactus. It was beautiful, but we were back to sweating.

Mr. Garmin has been 100% useless in Colombia, so we’ve been relying on our National Geographic paper map and the ATL system (Ask The Locals).   All in all, we’ve done pretty well, but we did miss our planned route to Cocuy and happily ended up on another very picturesque dirt road.

Mr. Garmin has been 100% useless in Colombia, so we’ve been relying on our National Geographic paper map and the ATL system (Ask The Locals). All in all, we’ve done pretty well, but we did miss our planned route to Cocuy and happily ended up on another very picturesque dirt road.

We climbed back up to cooler climes and into the charming pueblo of Cocuy.  Just like Izamal, the mono-colored yellow town in Mexico, Cocuy is uniformly painted in sea foam green and white.

We climbed back up to cooler climes and into the charming pueblo of Cocuy. Just like Izamal, the mono-colored yellow town in Mexico, Cocuy is uniformly painted in sea foam green and white.

Interesting parallel parking options on the streets of Cocuy.

Interesting parallel parking options on the streets of Cocuy.

Our goal that night was to get up into the Cocuy National Park to find a place to camp, but it was a long 15 miles away going 8 mph on the rough track. We climbed up to 11,000ft, and the scenery was stunning again.  We decided that this drive was one of our top five most beautiful ever. The only down side was that it was totally fenced and populated with little huts.  There was nowhere to drive off of the road, and it was nearly dark.  At almost 12,000ft we just pulled over at the first little inset we came to. It was not hidden, and we were sure we would have visitors early in the morning.  We had a great feeling about the area, though.  The people were all very friendly (Wink Eye only!) and we felt safe.  We woke to find we were in a little pool of water!  Poor Charlotte had wet feet all night, but it was a quiet, cool night.  Only two people walked by in the morning and they were very friendly.

Our goal that night was to get up into the Cocuy National Park to find a place to camp, but it was a long 15 miles away going 8 mph on the rough track. We climbed up to 11,000ft, and the scenery was stunning again. We decided that this drive was one of our top five most beautiful ever. The only down side was that it was totally fenced and populated with little huts. There was nowhere to drive off of the road, and it was nearly dark. At almost 12,000ft we just pulled over at the first little inset we came to. It was not hidden, and we were sure we would have visitors early in the morning. We had a great feeling about the area, though. The people were all very friendly (Wink Eye only!) and we felt safe.
We woke to find we were in a little pool of water! Poor Charlotte had wet feet all night, but it was a quiet, cool night. Only two people walked by in the morning and they were very friendly.

It rained constantly but was always beautiful.  At 12,000ft the road was rough and slow enough that I was able to get out and run ahead of Ned and Charlotte.  Exercise, combined with the crisp, fresh air felt wonderful.  I had to slow down here for this wooly checkpoint.

It rained constantly but was always beautiful. At 12,000ft the road was rough and slow enough that I was able to get out and run ahead of Ned and Charlotte. Exercise, combined with the crisp, fresh air felt wonderful. I had to slow down here for this wooly checkpoint.

We were curious about the many plastic containers and stainless steel milk jugs sitting on the side of the road.  It all became clear when we came upon this “milk truck.”  The driver would stop the truck while the other guys jumped out, picked up the jugs and poured them into bigger containers, leaving the smaller ones lying on the side of the road again.  Evidently, anyone who has milk cows participates in this high elevation "co-op."  No Stink-Eye here. All of the people we encountered in the mountains had smiling, welcoming faces.

We were curious about the many plastic containers and stainless steel milk jugs sitting on the side of the road. It all became clear when we came upon this “milk truck.” The driver would stop the truck while the other guys jumped out, picked up the jugs and poured them into bigger containers, leaving the smaller ones lying on the side of the road again. Evidently, anyone who has milk cows participates in this high elevation “co-op.”
No Stink-Eye here. All of the people we encountered in the mountains had smiling, welcoming faces.

Bon-Bons never fail to get smiles.

Bon-Bons never fail to get smiles.

Through the drizzly mist at nearly 13,000ft, we saw a sign for this little hostel/restaurant.  A young man named Juan Carlos greeted us at the gate.  He and his friend Fabian made us a delicious, wholesome breakfast.  The hostel was situated on a working finca (farm) which had been in his family for generations.  Several years ago, Juan Carlos, who is also a mountaineering guide, took up the reins, built this cozy little hostel and pursued the eco-tourism market.  Everything we had for breakfast was raised on the farm.  His parents still actively work the farm and we enjoyed chatting with Dad about the local culture.

Through the drizzly mist at nearly 13,000ft, we saw a sign for this little hostel/restaurant. A young man named Juan Carlos greeted us at the gate. He and his friend Fabian made us a delicious, wholesome breakfast. The hostel was situated on a working finca (farm) which had been in his family for generations. Several years ago, Juan Carlos, who is also a mountaineering guide, took up the reins, built this cozy little hostel and pursued the eco-tourism market. Everything we had for breakfast was raised on the farm. His parents still actively work the farm and we enjoyed chatting with Dad about the local culture.

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After breakfast we headed back out to more spectacular scenes.  I got out and ran some more…

After breakfast we headed back out to more spectacular scenes. I got out and ran some more…

…and ran into this friendly family.  I chatted with Edwardo, Estela and their sons Carlos and Chistian.  Ned eventually drove up, and they invited us to have a cup of tea.  Our first knee-jerk reaction was to decline, but as we continued to talk, we realized how silly it was to turn down an opportunity for a truly local close encounter.  We back pedaled sheepishly, telling them that we would love a cup of tea. Estela brought us our “aromaticas” in little Styrofoam cups.  We have discovered since that aromaticas are very popular here in Colombia, and are basically teas made by placing fresh, locally grown herbs and fruits in a cup and pouring in hot water; healthy and very refreshing.   Sitting outside on their tree stump table and stools, drinking tea with this family at 13,000ft felt amazing.  We loved hearing about the farm and how, it too, had been in the family for many generations.  We eventually moved into their simple, rustic home as the rain continued, and then got a tour of the farm. The entire family came with us, smiling and proudly showing off their cows, horses, geese (for eggs), sheep…

…and ran into this friendly family. I chatted with Edwardo, Estela and their sons Carlos and Chistian. Ned eventually drove up, and they invited us to have a cup of tea. Our first knee-jerk reaction was to decline, but as we continued to talk, we realized how silly it was to turn down an opportunity for a truly local close encounter. We back pedaled sheepishly, telling them that we would love a cup of tea. Estela brought us our “aromaticas” in little Styrofoam cups. We have discovered since that aromaticas are very popular here in Colombia, and are basically teas made by placing fresh, locally grown herbs and fruits in a cup and pouring in hot water; healthy and very refreshing.
Sitting outside on their tree stump table and stools, drinking tea with this family at 13,000ft felt amazing. We loved hearing about the farm and how, it too, had been in the family for many generations. We eventually moved into their simple, rustic home as the rain continued, and then got a tour of the farm. The entire family came with us, smiling and proudly showing off their cows, horses, geese (for eggs), sheep…

…and Guinea Pigs!  Just like we found on a previous trip to Peru, Guinea Pig is a delicacy saved for special occasions, and someday we will tell you our own special Guinea Pig story!

…and Guinea Pigs! Just like we found on a previous trip to Peru, Guinea Pig is a delicacy saved for special occasions, and someday we will tell you our own special Guinea Pig story!

And then there were the trucha (trout)… This was actually kind of gross. They had two ponds, each about three feet square, and three feet deep. Edwardo told us that together they contained 500 fish!  I can’t even imagine how contaminated that water must be. Note to self:  Do not eat the locally raised trucha.

And then there were the trucha (trout)… This was actually kind of gross. They had two ponds, each about three feet square, and three feet deep. Edwardo told us that together they contained 500 fish! I can’t even imagine how contaminated that water must be.
Note to self: Do not eat the locally raised trucha.

Continuing on my run, I saw these equally friendly guys towing a rather irate bull.  Ned told me later that they had smiles and warm greetings for him too, but the bull Stink Eyed Vaca and almost head-butted Charlotte.

Continuing on my run, I saw these equally friendly guys towing a rather irate bull. Ned told me later that they had smiles and warm greetings for him too, but the bull Stink Eyed Vaca and almost head-butted Charlotte.

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The scenery and the elevation continued to be breathtaking…literally!

The scenery and the elevation continued to be breathtaking…literally!

While following our plan to make a big loop back to Cocuy through the town of Quicán, a man and his daughter in a Land Cruiser flagged us down and asked if we needed a place to sleep. We said, “No, but maybe a place to camp.”  They told us that they owned a place called Kanwara which had cabinas and a restaurante.  Now temporary fans, we asked if they had satellite TV so we could watch Colombia play their next World Cup fútbol game.  To our surprise they answered, “Yes, of course!” “We’re there, we cried!” Kanwara, situated at just about 13,000ft, and several kilometers inside the park entrance, nonetheless, still featured a satellite dish.  Passing through the park guard house, the guards told us they would be up to watch the game with us.

While following our plan to make a big loop back to Cocuy through the town of Quicán, a man and his daughter in a Land Cruiser flagged us down and asked if we needed a place to sleep. We said, “No, but maybe a place to camp.” They told us that they owned a place called Kanwara which had cabinas and a restaurante. Now temporary fans, we asked if they had satellite TV so we could watch Colombia play their next World Cup fútbol game. To our surprise they answered, “Yes, of course!” “We’re there, we cried!”
Kanwara, situated at just about 13,000ft, and several kilometers inside the park entrance, nonetheless, still featured a satellite dish. Passing through the park guard house, the guards told us they would be up to watch the game with us.

It was game time and very cold when we arrived at Kanwara.  Two sweet young women, Mercedes and Lorena greeted us, led us into a rustic dining room and served us another “aromatic.”  Everyone gathered together, bundled up in winter woolies, to watch the game.  We never did figure out why the place was not heated, but we had a great time anyway.  Colombia played Japan and won, and these young mountain people, unlike people in Cartagena, stood with hands over their hearts for the Colombian national anthem. We stayed later for dinner and then camped on the property.  It rained endlessly and was very cold.  Amazingly, three days ago we were sweltering.  Now we were freezing and frustrated that the fancy gasoline heater that Ned installed especially for the trip would not fire up at this high altitude.  We eventually warmed up wearing many layers and slept well in the absolute silence of high mountains.

It was game time and very cold when we arrived at Kanwara. Two sweet young women, Mercedes and Lorena greeted us, led us into a rustic dining room and served us another “aromatic.” Everyone gathered together, bundled up in winter woolies, to watch the game. We never did figure out why the place was not heated, but we had a great time anyway. Colombia played Japan and won, and these young mountain people, unlike people in Cartagena, stood with hands over their hearts for the Colombian national anthem.
We stayed later for dinner and then camped on the property. It rained endlessly and was very cold. Amazingly, three days ago we were sweltering. Now we were freezing and frustrated that the fancy gasoline heater that Ned installed especially for the trip would not fire up at this high altitude. We eventually warmed up wearing many layers and slept well in the absolute silence of high mountains.

Mercedes and Lorena bundled up in their spotless kitchen. They are both in their mid 20's, both have 5yr old daughters, and neither are married.  Both kids stay with their grandmothers when their moms are working at the cabinas.   They were very shy and very sweet, gifting us with warm hugs when we left. Interestingly, the guest book at Kanwara showed that 90% of the visitors were Colombians, mostly from Bogota, and 10% were mixed international.  People come for backpacking or ice climbing on the glaciers at 17,000ft.

Mercedes and Lorena bundled up in their spotless kitchen. They are both in their mid 20’s, both have 5yr old daughters, and neither are married. Both kids stay with their grandmothers when their moms are working at the cabinas. They were very shy and very sweet, gifting us with warm hugs when we left.
Interestingly, the guest book at Kanwara showed that 90% of the visitors were Colombians, mostly from Bogota, and 10% were mixed international. People come for backpacking or ice climbing on the glaciers at 17,000ft.

After breakfast, we drove up into the park as far as we could.  The road ended after about 40 minutes, but the misty, desolate beauty was well worth the look.

After breakfast, we drove up into the park as far as we could. The road ended after about 40 minutes, but the misty, desolate beauty was well worth the look.

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Our loop almost complete, we arrived in Quicán.

Our loop almost complete, we arrived in Quicán.

In Quicán, we visited this beautiful and interesting cemetery.

In Quicán, we visited this beautiful and interesting cemetery.

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Quicán was surrounded by a fairy-like forest with emerald green glades, misty rain and babbling brooks tumbling over granite rocks.  We have absolutely no idea what this sculpture represented, but we thought the fairies frolicking on the giant woman’s head were quite appropriate.

Quicán was surrounded by a fairy-like forest with emerald green glades, misty rain and babbling brooks tumbling over granite rocks. We have absolutely no idea what this sculpture represented, but we thought the fairies frolicking on the giant woman’s head were quite appropriate.

Our highest point on the trip so far.  After completing the loop back to Cocuy we still hadn’t had enough of the tiny mountain dirt tracks or the interesting people and places they lead to. Instead of taking the nice paved road out of the mountains and down towards “civilization,” we picked another remote dirt route southwestward towards Chita.

Our highest point on the trip so far. After completing the loop back to Cocuy we still hadn’t had enough of the tiny mountain dirt tracks or the interesting people and places they lead to. Instead of taking the nice paved road out of the mountains and down towards “civilization,” we picked another remote dirt route southwestward towards Chita.

A muddy, deserted track at 13,328 ft., past the town of Chita.   A side note on Chita:  We did not get any photos, due to heavy rain, but we noticed that, unlike in other towns, the women all wore wool serapes, rode horses, dressed like the men and appeared to do all the work.

A muddy, deserted track at 13,328 ft., past the town of Chita.
A side note on Chita: We did not get any photos, due to heavy rain, but we noticed that, unlike in other towns, the women all wore wool serapes, rode horses, dressed like the men and appeared to do all the work.

South of Chita, we found immense canyons with at least 2,000 ft sheer drops. It was absolutely gorgeous and not written about anywhere we could find.  The roads were all muddy dirt tracks with scary rock falls and sheer drop offs.  It was a geologist’s dream, perhaps wasted on our unknowledgeable selves, but we still enjoyed the breathtaking beauty and challenging driving. These roads were not on the Garmin at all, and on our trusty, paper NatGeo map were either shown as dotted lines, or not listed at all. The area was dotted with farms, but there were no tourists in sight. We finally got past the not so cute town of Jerico at dusk and found a good place to hide off the road and camp.  It was only 10,000ft., and not as cold. We heated some beans, played Uno and went happily to sleep.  It turned out to be a good camp spot. The night was rainy, quiet and free of visitors until 8am when a guy rode by on a horse.  He appeared to be a bit puzzled by our presence, but did not stop.

South of Chita, we found immense canyons with at least 2,000 ft sheer drops. It was absolutely gorgeous and not written about anywhere we could find. The roads were all muddy dirt tracks with scary rock falls and sheer drop offs. It was a geologist’s dream, perhaps wasted on our unknowledgeable selves, but we still enjoyed the breathtaking beauty and challenging driving. These roads were not on the Garmin at all, and on our trusty, paper NatGeo map were either shown as dotted lines, or not listed at all. The area was dotted with farms, but there were no tourists in sight.
We finally got past the not so cute town of Jerico at dusk and found a good place to hide off the road and camp. It was only 10,000ft., and not as cold. We heated some beans, played Uno and went happily to sleep.
It turned out to be a good camp spot. The night was rainy, quiet and free of visitors until 8am when a guy rode by on a horse. He appeared to be a bit puzzled by our presence, but did not stop.

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Passing the towns of Socotá, Socha and Paz de Rio, we observed huge coal mining operations.  We found it interesting and Googled them later.  Evidently, Colombia is a country rich with mineral resources and has the largest coal reserves in Latin America.  One sad fact on Google was that the town of Socotá has been the site of many coal mining accidents over the years.

Passing the towns of Socotá, Socha and Paz de Rio, we observed huge coal mining operations. We found it interesting and Googled them later. Evidently, Colombia is a country rich with mineral resources and has the largest coal reserves in Latin America. One sad fact on Google was that the town of Socotá has been the site of many coal mining accidents over the years.

The mining operations were huge, featuring this immense gondola system to bring the coal from the mountainside mines, across huge canyons, to awaiting trucks.

The mining operations were huge, featuring this immense gondola system to bring the coal from the mountainside mines, across huge canyons, to awaiting trucks.

After the coal mine towns we were forced back onto pavement for the first time in 5 days.  Sad to be back on crowded roads, we drove west to Belén, then on to the cute, but touristy Colonial town of Villa de Leyva.  Colombia was due to play another soccer match in the World Cup the day we arrived, and everyone was out in the huge town square revving up for the game.

After the coal mine towns we were forced back onto pavement for the first time in 5 days. Sad to be back on crowded roads, we drove west to Belén, then on to the cute, but touristy Colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Colombia was due to play another soccer match in the World Cup the day we arrived, and everyone was out in the huge town square revving up for the game.

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Watching Colombia rack up another win!

Watching Colombia rack up another win!

As usual, the post game fiesta was infused with lots of alcohol.  These youngsters were quite drunk, but eager to have a long chat, practicing their English on us gringos. We ended up spending three nights in Villa de Leyva, where we did laundry, bought a Colombia phone and posted the Cartagena blog.   Next up…on the road toward the big cities of Medellin, the flower capitol, Armenia, the coffee capitol, and Bogotá, the Capitol capitol of Colombia…but wait, you weren’t thinking we took paved roads to get there, were you?…

As usual, the post game fiesta was infused with lots of alcohol. These youngsters were quite drunk, but eager to have a long chat, practicing their English on us gringos.
We ended up spending three nights in Villa de Leyva, where we did laundry, bought a Colombia phone and posted the Cartagena blog.
Next up…on the road toward the big cities of Medellin, the flower capitol, Armenia, the coffee capitol, and Bogotá, the Capitol capitol of Colombia…but wait, you weren’t thinking we took paved roads to get there, were you?…

Charlotte’s Late – But Wait, Cartagena’s Great!

Having spent a week in Panama City arranging to ship Charlotte to Colombia, Ned and I finally flew to Cartagena on Saturday June 14, 2014. The easy hour long flight found us excited to be on our first new continent of the trip, but we were still worried about Charlotte. Is she getting beat up in the container? Was she tied down correctly? Robbed? Lost amongst the hundreds of thousand containers that go through these ports daily? Or worse yet, fallen into the ocean!? Regrettably, we had watched those YouTube videos of cargo containers stacked hundreds high, suddenly collapsing and hurling themselves to a watery death….uhhhh! The thought of her loss was devastating. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to get to the port to begin the frustrating process of retrieving her until Monday, and this was still only Saturday! What would we do? I had a vision of Cartagena being a seedy port town and was not looking forward to being there. Happily, I could not have been more wrong!

Flying into Cartagena…South America, a new continent!

Flying into Cartagena…South America, a new continent!

We had found an inexpensive, but cute hotel on the internet near the "Walled City" in the old part of town. The taxi ride from the airport was short, and when we pulled into the ancient, tiny streets of the neighborhood we were delighted!  Hotel Pedregal turned out to be wonderful.  The owner, Patricia, was warm and welcoming, assuring us that this was our home while we were in Cartagena. Our room was charming, featuring a colonial style vaulted ceiling and windows (sans glass) with wooden shutters, which looked out on the street below where cheerful locals hung out, enjoying their Saturday.

We had found an inexpensive, but cute hotel on the internet near the “Walled City” in the old part of town. The taxi ride from the airport was short, and when we pulled into the ancient, tiny streets of the neighborhood we were delighted! Hotel Pedregal turned out to be wonderful. The owner, Patricia, was warm and welcoming, assuring us that this was our home while we were in Cartagena. Our room was charming, featuring a colonial style vaulted ceiling and windows (sans glass) with wooden shutters, which looked out on the street below where cheerful locals hung out, enjoying their Saturday.

Patricia’s adorable co-host, Luna (Moon) was good company during our visit.

Patricia’s adorable co-host, Luna (Moon) was good company during our visit.

Walking the streets that afternoon was delightful. We hadn't had such a good experience since Mexico.  The neighborhood around our hotel was charming and very local.  No tourists around here.

Walking the streets that afternoon was delightful. We hadn’t had such a good experience since Mexico. The neighborhood around our hotel was charming and very local. No tourists around here.

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We eventually wandered into the beautiful Walled City, which yes, does have an ancient wall around it.

We eventually wandered into the beautiful Walled City, which yes, does have an ancient wall around it.

We bought a cheesy arepa (corn muffin thing) from a street vendor.   It was hot and gooey and wonderful in a guilty-junk-food kind of way.

We bought a cheesy arepa (corn muffin thing) from a street vendor. It was hot and gooey and wonderful in a guilty-junk-food kind of way.

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Interestingly, the FIFA World Cup (soccer) games, being held in Brazil, had just begun.  Cartagena was alive with fútbol fever, proudly flaunting (and selling) the yellow, red and blue colors of Colombia.

Interestingly, the FIFA World Cup (soccer) games, being held in Brazil, had just begun. Cartagena was alive with fútbol fever, proudly flaunting (and selling) the yellow, red and blue colors of Colombia.

Our arrival in town coincided with a win for Colombia!  Cartagena was alive with ecstatic Colombians celebrating in their soccer jerseys, reveling and dancing, making a lot of noise....and just plain being happy. After Central America, the energy was refreshing, and, not normally soccer fans, we too were unexpectedly swept up in the passion South Americans have for the game.

Our arrival in town coincided with a win for Colombia! Cartagena was alive with ecstatic Colombians celebrating in their soccer jerseys, reveling and dancing, making a lot of noise….and just plain being happy. After Central America, the energy was refreshing, and, not normally soccer fans, we too were unexpectedly swept up in the passion South Americans have for the game.

Inside the Walled City we found lots of pricy, touristy restaurants.  We were hungry, so we decided on this less fancy sidewalk café in the church plaza. The food tasted ok and was fun to look at, but the celebratory atmosphere in the plaza was the best part.

Inside the Walled City we found lots of pricy, touristy restaurants. We were hungry, so we decided on this less fancy sidewalk café in the church plaza. The food tasted ok and was fun to look at, but the celebratory atmosphere in the plaza was the best part.

In the plaza, musicians were singing and playing cool instruments, and there were a lot of hawkers.  One guy, Luis, really wanted us to buy his jewelry, but ended up sharing Ned's ice cream instead.

In the plaza, musicians were singing and playing cool instruments, and there were a lot of hawkers. One guy, Luis, really wanted us to buy his jewelry, but ended up sharing Ned’s ice cream instead.

But this was the main attraction in the plaza!  Vendors were lined up selling little replicas of the lovely lady.

But this was the main attraction in the plaza! Vendors were lined up selling little replicas of the lovely lady.

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A resourceful mother and son team.  Mom was cutting little soccer ornaments out of wood, while the youngster painted them in bright colors.

A resourceful mother and son team. Mom was cutting little soccer ornaments out of wood, while the youngster painted them in bright colors.

Part of “The Wall”

Part of “The Wall”

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Back in our own neighborhood people were doing more ordinary things…like reading the paper…

Back in our own neighborhood people were doing more ordinary things…like reading the paper…

…and making homemade ink.  No, really!  We stopped to ask this guy what he was doing.  He explained that he was extracting a henna-like ink from these fruits to be used for temporary tattooing.  He wrings the ink out of the fruit using a cloth and discards the leftover brown fiber.  What covered his hands and forearms didn’t look very temporary to us!

…and making homemade ink. No, really! We stopped to ask this guy what he was doing. He explained that he was extracting a henna-like ink from these fruits to be used for temporary tattooing. He wrings the ink out of the fruit using a cloth and discards the leftover brown fiber. What covered his hands and forearms didn’t look very temporary to us!

As much as we were enjoying Cartagena, the weather was miserably hot with temperatures around 100 and 90% humidity.  We went back to the hotel to rest in our relatively cool room.  (the A/C could barely keep up).  Outside our shuttered windows, we could hear the vibrant sounds of a lively community...music played, a dog barked, church bells chimed, and the clippity clop of horse hooves faded off down the street.  A totally cool place to hang out.  All good.  Oh wait!  Ned just captured a cockroach the size of a small cat (ok, mouse) in a cup and threw it out our window.  Hope no one was hanging out directly below!

As much as we were enjoying Cartagena, the weather was miserably hot with temperatures around 100 and 90% humidity. We went back to the hotel to rest in our relatively cool room. (the A/C could barely keep up). Outside our shuttered windows, we could hear the vibrant sounds of a lively community…music played, a dog barked, church bells chimed, and the clippity clop of horse hooves faded off down the street. A totally cool place to hang out. All good. Oh wait! Ned just captured a cockroach the size of a small cat (ok, mouse) in a cup and threw it out our window. Hope no one was hanging out directly below!

Night time in our little local barrio was even more fun.  Everyone comes out to enjoy the balmy evenings after roasting all day.

Night time in our little local barrio was even more fun. Everyone comes out to enjoy the balmy evenings after roasting all day.

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The local church square was alive and vibrant.  It's a poorer area but did not have a scary, druggy feel.  Just good folks.  Street vendors selling spicy smelling food, kids playing soccer (oops, fútbol) and riding bikes, teenage boys showing off their horses, old women sitting, taking it all in.  We sat and enjoyed the vibe for over an hour.

The local church square was alive and vibrant. It’s a poorer area but did not have a scary, druggy feel. Just good folks. Street vendors selling spicy smelling food, kids playing soccer (oops, fútbol) and riding bikes, teenage boys showing off their horses, old women sitting, taking it all in. We sat and enjoyed the vibe for over an hour.

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We loved watching this artist create our delicious pizza out of fresh, local ingredients.

We loved watching this artist create our delicious pizza out of fresh, local ingredients.

A few nights later, our Swiss friends, Simone, Michael and Michele caught up with us after their not-so-wonderful boat ride from Panama City.  It was great to see them again, and they were happy to be in Cartagena.  We had another great meal in our local church plaza.  (Note, everyone but Michele and me in Colombia fútbol jerseys!)

A few nights later, our Swiss friends, Simone, Michael and Michele caught up with us after their not-so-wonderful boat ride from Panama City. It was great to see them again, and they were happy to be in Cartagena. We had another great meal in our local church plaza. (Note, everyone but Michele and me in Colombia fútbol jerseys!)

An Argentinean and a Swiss guy accompanied our meal with wonderful Argentinean music.

An Argentinean and a Swiss guy accompanied our meal with wonderful Argentinean music.

This was our favorite breakfast place in Cartagena. We ate there 5 times!  Dadiana and her daughter Laura are the owners of Locombia, where, for little money, you get lots of good food and cheerful service.

This was our favorite breakfast place in Cartagena. We ate there 5 times! Dadiana and her daughter Laura are the owners of Locombia, where, for little money, you get lots of good food and cheerful service.

Monday June 16. It’s port day! Get our game faces on…time to face the mother of all border crossing/bureaucratic nightmares. We got to our favorite brekky place at 7 am, then took our first taxi to Seaboard Marine (the shipping company) on the far side of the port. We stood in line to exchange our passports for a badge to enter the secure area. We were then directed to the offices of Seaboard Marine, the shipping company that brought Charlotte over, only to find out that the ship did not sail! Charlotte was still stuffed in a container in Panama! The boat was now not due to arrive in Cartagena until sometime Wednesday. Evidently the delay was due to heavy rain…blah blah blah. The very nice, helpful lady at Seaboard told us that Panama was notorious for unreliable shipping departures. Fortunately, we could still get the Aduana paper work done over at the DIAN offices (customs). We took our second taxi ride back to other side of the port. More badges to enter. It was a huge office building with masses of employees stuffed in cubicles. We were directed (by another very kind security officer) to the cubicle of a young man who asked us to fill out the all important import papers. Then, what do you think he asked for? Yes, copies! What a surprise. And of course we had to exit the compound, give back our badges, go to the copy place down the street, get the badges back, then back to cubicle. You mean nowhere in this gargantuan office complex is there a copier??!!! Next, we were able to set up an appointment with a customs inspector for Thursday at 8:00am to approve Charlotte into Colombia. In the mean time, what were to do until Thursday? These itchy feet of ours make it hard to stay in one place for very long.

So we decided to fly to Bogotá, the capitol of Colombia!  Ned and I have a car enthusiast friend based in Bogotá who knows many people involved with Colombian auto racing, past and present.  He had offered to get us together with two Colombian race car drivers who drove one of Ned’s Porsche race cars professionally back in the 70’s.  We were interested in obtaining more history on the car, and this was an amazing opportunity.  Unfortunately, our friend was leaving the country on Saturday and would not be in Bogotá when we planned to drive through in a few weeks.  We couldn’t miss this generous offer, so flying in to see him while we waited for Charlotte seemed like a great idea.   On Tuesday June 17, dressed in our wrinkled tropical wear and flip flops, we caught our 9:30am flight to chilly Bogotá. All our clothes and shoes were in Charlotte. We had only brought along small day packs to Colombia.  Bogotá’s climate is a consistent 50-60 degrees year round, and it was embarrassing to be meeting with our friends in our inappropriate, living-on-the-road-in-the-tropics-wear.  But heck, we were driving around the world!  Getting off the plane, a Bogotáean woman actually laughed at my sun dress and flip flops saying. "Hace frio!"  Meaning, “It's cold!” ‘Ya, I know it's cold, but we’re only here a few hours.  Surely we could endure the cold and ridicule!

So we decided to fly to Bogotá, the capitol of Colombia! Ned and I have a car enthusiast friend based in Bogotá who knows many people involved with Colombian auto racing, past and present. He had offered to get us together with two Colombian race car drivers who drove one of Ned’s Porsche race cars professionally back in the 70’s. We were interested in obtaining more history on the car, and this was an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately, our friend was leaving the country on Saturday and would not be in Bogotá when we planned to drive through in a few weeks. We couldn’t miss this generous offer, so flying in to see him while we waited for Charlotte seemed like a great idea.
On Tuesday June 17, dressed in our wrinkled tropical wear and flip flops, we caught our 9:30am flight to chilly Bogotá. All our clothes and shoes were in Charlotte. We had only brought along small day packs to Colombia. Bogotá’s climate is a consistent 50-60 degrees year round, and it was embarrassing to be meeting with our friends in our inappropriate, living-on-the-road-in-the-tropics-wear. But heck, we were driving around the world! Getting off the plane, a Bogotáean woman actually laughed at my sun dress and flip flops saying. “Hace frio!” Meaning, “It’s cold!” ‘Ya, I know it’s cold, but we’re only here a few hours. Surely we could endure the cold and ridicule!

Kat and I spent an amazing day in Bogotá with our wonderful host. He had a driver pick us up at the airport (in an armored Land Cruiser!) and take us through the city's dreadfully snarled traffic to his private "man cave/restoration shop." There we were served a wonderful lunch while we had a couple of private hours with two of Colombia's most famous (rival) race car drivers. They shared information and memories from their days together as teammates in the '70's, racing America's most famous long distance IMSA endurance races (Daytona, Sebring, etc.) in what is now my vintage race car. I came away with some new found history on the car, but better yet, two wonderful new found friends. Later in the afternoon we were driven to our host's home for wine and a viewing of his car collection, complete with beauties like these C Type and E Type Jags, an Allard, a Cobra and a dozen more great cars of similar caliper. The icing on the cake was sharing this time with a former mechanic (now a close neighbor) who worked on my car extensively during its heyday!  All too soon it was time for us to be driven back the 1½ grueling hours in bumper to bumper traffic to the airport. We arrived back in muggy, hot Cartagena at 9:30pm, knowing we had experienced a very special day.

Kat and I spent an amazing day in Bogotá with our wonderful host. He had a driver pick us up at the airport (in an armored Land Cruiser!) and take us through the city’s dreadfully snarled traffic to his private “man cave/restoration shop.” There we were served a wonderful lunch while we had a couple of private hours with two of Colombia’s most famous (rival) race car drivers. They shared information and memories from their days together as teammates in the ’70’s, racing America’s most famous long distance IMSA endurance races (Daytona, Sebring, etc.) in what is now my vintage race car. I came away with some new found history on the car, but better yet, two wonderful new found friends. Later in the afternoon we were driven to our host’s home for wine and a viewing of his car collection, complete with beauties like these C Type and E Type Jags, an Allard, a Cobra and a dozen more great cars of similar caliper. The icing on the cake was sharing this time with a former mechanic (now a close neighbor) who worked on my car extensively during its heyday! All too soon it was time for us to be driven back the 1½ grueling hours in bumper to bumper traffic to the airport. We arrived back in muggy, hot Cartagena at 9:30pm, knowing we had experienced a very special day.

Thursday June 19.  Port day, take two!  Our first glimpse that Charlotte was alive and well! Ned and I arrived early for our 8:00am appointment with the inspector.  We checked into the compound, got our badges and floundered around for a while before discovering where we were to meet him.

Thursday June 19. Port day, take two! Our first glimpse that Charlotte was alive and well!
Ned and I arrived early for our 8:00am appointment with the inspector. We checked into the compound, got our badges and floundered around for a while before discovering where we were to meet him.

We never did find our assigned inspector, but a different one took pity on us and, after a 30 minute wait, took the 2 minutes to check the VIN number and scribble something on our customs form.  We had been hoping that we could finish up here on this side of the port, but our new inspector friend, Federico, informed us that we would have to go back to the DIAN offices to get his boss’ signature.  Ughhh, another two taxi rides!  Federico then surprised us by kindly offering to drive us over in his company truck.

We never did find our assigned inspector, but a different one took pity on us and, after a 30 minute wait, took the 2 minutes to check the VIN number and scribble something on our customs form. We had been hoping that we could finish up here on this side of the port, but our new inspector friend, Federico, informed us that we would have to go back to the DIAN offices to get his boss’ signature. Ughhh, another two taxi rides! Federico then surprised us by kindly offering to drive us over in his company truck.

This is where poor Charlotte spent the last week.  Makes our little hotel seem like the Waldorf Astoria!

This is where poor Charlotte spent the last week. Makes our little hotel seem like the Waldorf Astoria!

A final taxi ride back to the other side of the port and another 45 minutes of fumbling rewarded us with the final step…getting the key back.

A final taxi ride back to the other side of the port and another 45 minutes of fumbling rewarded us with the final step…getting the key back.

Happy Ned drives Charlotte out of the compound…while I go turn in our badges.

Happy Ned drives Charlotte out of the compound…while I go turn in our badges.

Freedom at last! Looking back, the overall process of springing Charlotte wasn’t that bad here on the Colombian side.  All of the people involved were very nice and everything flowed smoothly.

Freedom at last!
Looking back, the overall process of springing Charlotte wasn’t that bad here on the Colombian side. All of the people involved were very nice and everything flowed smoothly.

We rushed back to our little village…Colombia was just starting another World Cup fútbol game, and we joined the locals in this bar to cheer on “our” team.  Ned had even bought a yellow jersey so we didn’t stick out too much.

We rushed back to our little village…Colombia was just starting another World Cup fútbol game, and we joined the locals in this bar to cheer on “our” team. Ned had even bought a yellow jersey so we didn’t stick out too much.

Another victory for Colombia resulted in a massive street party.

Another victory for Colombia resulted in a massive street party.

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Driving Charlotte from her (illegal) parking spot on the street took us through the heart of the reveling.

Driving Charlotte from her (illegal) parking spot on the street took us through the heart of the reveling.

The next day, Friday, we said goodbye to our comfy neighborhood, our hostess, Patricia and our Swiss friends and made our way through the teeming urban hell of the rest of Cartagena.  We were so happy to be back in Charlotte and we loved being on this new continent.

The next day, Friday, we said goodbye to our comfy neighborhood, our hostess, Patricia and our Swiss friends and made our way through the teeming urban hell of the rest of Cartagena. We were so happy to be back in Charlotte and we loved being on this new continent.

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How many lanes of traffic can fit on a two-lane highway? It took over an hour to get out of the huge city, but we finally headed southeast on the 90, then east on the 80.  The area was all swampland; hot and humid.  Even driving down the road with the windows open I was dripping sweat. Our goal was to get to a higher elevation with hopefully cooler temperatures at the Parque Sierra Nevada northeast of Cartagena.  We did not want to go the coastal route, thinking that it would be worse.  Now I couldn’t imagine it being worse.  It was miserably hot.  And loud.  The small towns along the 90 boasted numerous roadside places to eat....all blasting music...no, I mean REALLY blasting.  I'm not going to call them restaurants or cafés; they all had the colorful kindergarten chair thing going and most looked like food poisoning waiting to happen.  They also had pool tables in at least 4 or 5 different places. It was really weird. The roads were jammed with trucks, and the truck drivers were kamikazes, playing chicken with oncoming traffic to pass other trucks.  It was insane. And hot. Then the road construction started.  There was one-way controlled traffic all along the 90, but the roads were still rutted and potholed.  To make matters worse, they collected $3-4 tolls every 10 miles!

How many lanes of traffic can fit on a two-lane highway?
It took over an hour to get out of the huge city, but we finally headed southeast on the 90, then east on the 80. The area was all swampland; hot and humid. Even driving down the road with the windows open I was dripping sweat. Our goal was to get to a higher elevation with hopefully cooler temperatures at the Parque Sierra Nevada northeast of Cartagena. We did not want to go the coastal route, thinking that it would be worse. Now I couldn’t imagine it being worse. It was miserably hot. And loud. The small towns along the 90 boasted numerous roadside places to eat….all blasting music…no, I mean REALLY blasting. I’m not going to call them restaurants or cafés; they all had the colorful kindergarten chair thing going and most looked like food poisoning waiting to happen. They also had pool tables in at least 4 or 5 different places. It was really weird. The roads were jammed with trucks, and the truck drivers were kamikazes, playing chicken with oncoming traffic to pass other trucks. It was insane. And hot. Then the road construction started. There was one-way controlled traffic all along the 90, but the roads were still rutted and potholed. To make matters worse, they collected $3-4 tolls every 10 miles!

By dark we were hungry and nowhere near higher elevation, nor could we find anywhere we wanted to eat or camp.   One place looked like it had pretty good pollo asado (which we determined to be the safest thing to eat) so we stopped.

By dark we were hungry and nowhere near higher elevation, nor could we find anywhere we wanted to eat or camp. One place looked like it had pretty good pollo asado (which we determined to be the safest thing to eat) so we stopped.

The people were decidedly unfriendly, and the music from across the street was so loud we literally could not hear each other speak.  The taciturn young man brought our plates which looked good, but we didn't dare eat the lettuce, tomato or cheese. We ate the chicken (which actually was delicious) and the boiled potatoes.  And we fought the flies for our dinner.  We ate quickly while an exuberant teenager asked us about our car.  I asked him about the music, and he grinned, telling us that it played 24/7.  I then asked him how they sleep, and he said they just go inside their houses. ‘Ya, that would work!  The music was brain splitting, and we scarfed our food before the flies could.  After eating, I jumped up to use the baño and wash the chicken grease off my hands....no sink.  The still non speaking owner pointed to two big bowls...one with murky water, the other with soapy murky water.  Uhhhh, no thanks!  Oh god, is that where they wash the dishes?  We were so going to get sick tonight!  I opted for baby wipes.  Ironically, the town was called El Difícil (The Difficult).

The people were decidedly unfriendly, and the music from across the street was so loud we literally could not hear each other speak. The taciturn young man brought our plates which looked good, but we didn’t dare eat the lettuce, tomato or cheese. We ate the chicken (which actually was delicious) and the boiled potatoes. And we fought the flies for our dinner. We ate quickly while an exuberant teenager asked us about our car. I asked him about the music, and he grinned, telling us that it played 24/7. I then asked him how they sleep, and he said they just go inside their houses. ‘Ya, that would work! The music was brain splitting, and we scarfed our food before the flies could. After eating, I jumped up to use the baño and wash the chicken grease off my hands….no sink. The still non speaking owner pointed to two big bowls…one with murky water, the other with soapy murky water. Uhhhh, no thanks! Oh god, is that where they wash the dishes? We were so going to get sick tonight! I opted for baby wipes. Ironically, the town was called El Difícil (The Difficult).

It was now 7:30 and dark, and we were still in the boggy lowlands. Where were those damn mountains?? So far, we have really liked Colombia, but this area was not great. Around 9:00pm we pulled off the highway and went up a dirt road about 5 miles. It was still agonizingly hot, but looked quiet enough. We figured no one would bother us till morning…we would get up early and move on. Wrong on both counts. And what happened to our rule about hiding off the road? And the one about not trying to find camping in the dark?

The night was miserable. Dogs barked, cows mood, and donkeys brayed, letting us know we were close to a pueblo or rancho. Too close. Sweating, I lay on my towel dripping, even with the fan on. Ned seemed ok and fell asleep, which is good because he is the driver. It was taking massive concentration to not get squashed like a bug by the trucks on these roads. Oh, speaking of bugs…yes, there were lots inside our little hothouse. We spent the first hour hunting them down with the bug zapper. Sweet revenge! Around 1:00am Ned woke up to say we had to turn the fan off or it would draw down the battery. Really? I was dripping sweat WITH the fan! The air was perfectly still. No breeze. Just lightning flashing in the distance and no rain to cool things down. Wait, did I just say I wanted rain? Yup, it’s all about perspective again!
I read all night.

Around dawn, 4:30am, I was finally dozing off when a little motorcycle drove up…adrenaline rush, but it kept going. Trying to go back to sleep, I heard another motorcycle! Arggg. Then around 5:00 some guys came up on bicycles and on foot, uttering something loud and guttural. Shit! I grabbed my pepper spray and tried to stay hidden. Now Ned was awake. They kept saying something but we couldn’t understand them. It sounded like a native language (we had heard there were a lot of indigenous people up north). The men ended up just hanging around Charlotte for about 15 minutes, smoking cigarettes, while the smoke drifted in through our screens in the still dawn air. That was it. We were out of there. Just hope the battery lived through 4 hours of running the fan! Yes! Back down the dirt road toward the highway, with me still in my jammies.

Uh, oh…oncoming headlights stopped right in front of us, blocking our way. It was a big Chevy pickup…full of police. Jeez, what happened to our quiet little, out of the way camping spot? Five officers scrambled out, pointing their AK47’s at us…

Stay tuned next time to find out how we got out of this one!