Of course you know that many countries in South America have recently gone of the rails. Venezuela has become a failed state. Ecuador, Haiti to Honduras are suffering from demonstrations. Chile was once a model of stability but has declared a state of emergency. Most recently, Bolivia* ousted their leader.
*(A quick diversion on Bolivia. The Western news I follow is calling it a coup, another example of Western Powers ousting a popular leader. If I were still in North America, I would have never questioned that take considering how many times that has been exactly the case. However, having heard from several actual Bolivians, they HATED Morales and considered him a murderous dictator. I’m not informed enough to say which take is right, but it’s interesting to note the discrepancy.)
In Colombia, there was a worry that things could go bad as well. A coalition of left-wing leaders including FARC, former Mayors, the three largest unions, farmers, indigenous groups, environmentalists, students, artists, and even Bogota’s two biggest football bravas (hooligans) have gathered, promising millions of marchers in the streets across all the big cities.
What brings all these disparate groups together? Well since Ivan Duque was elected there have been 188 deaths of human rights activists, community leaders, and demobilized FARC combatants. Recently, an entire camp of “dissidents” was killed but later it was revealed that 8 of the 19 were children. The army goes so far as to kill civilians then dress them in camo. Simply put, a lot of shit has been going down and people don’t want to take it anymore.
The marches were considered the biggest threat to Duque since taking the presidency a little over a year ago. Colombia’s government did not take them lightly; closing the land and water crossings, expelling 25 Venezuelans for allegedly fomenting violence, imposing curfews, and sent 8,000 soldiers to the big cities to augment the police. I’m writing this Sunday night, 3 days later, and there are still thousands of demonstrators in Bogota. (To learn more, follow the twitter hashtags in the title: #21N #ParoNacional21N).
With all this in mind, Zulia and I left Medellin and went to a farm in the area of Bucaramanga. We stayed with the mother of a friend of hers. We kept hearing about the finca, the farm, which would be safe. When I heard farm, I imagined crops and produce. But as I understand it, finca is better translated as country house or perhaps the New Zealand word bach.
Whatever you call it, the finca was beautiful and safe and a good base to explore the Santander region. The entire area is packed with rugged terrain, deep river valleys, craggy mountains, beautiful colonial towns, and the infamous Chicamocha National Park.
El Camino Real
This walk was hyper-pleasant as it was mostly flat with beautiful views of the valley and scattered cows, horses, farms and lots of big cactuses. A few hikers coming the other way greeted us with a weary “buenas tardes.” As the afternoon clouds gathered, we reached our ultimate destination.
This little town doesn’t have much of a presence on Google, but it’s worth the trip. Not only is the walk amazing, but Gaune was, to my eye, just as pretty as Barichara. It has similar narrow cobblestone streets and a big square with a historic church and friendly wild dogs.