Category Archives: Travel Planning

The Finca of Santander Valley #21N #ParoNacional21N

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.)

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Bogota Protests

Unrest

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).

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The Finca

The Finca

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.

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Views of the Chicamocha canyon

The National Park is basically a crappy would-be amusement park located across an awesome canyon. The views were worth the 50,000 COP (15 USD) and the cable car covers 6.3 kilometers, descending all the way down to the bottom before climbing back up. Views of giant cactuses, little farms, grazing goats, and a big brown river accompany the trip. For some reason, you can buy a ticket for just the park and not just the cable car, even though the park is on the other side of the canyon.
Apart from the visit to the National Park, we got to spend some time in the small town; meeting locals, picking citrus fruits off over-laden trees, playing with wild cats and dogs, reading books, and so on and so on.
But the best thing we did was: Take several busses to get to one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia.

Barichara

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Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción – Founded in the 1700s

It’s an old town, one so pretty and so untouched by history that many films and telenovelas are filmed here. The famous snack around here are the famous hormigas culonas – or big-ass ants. I declined the offer of a free sample and we climbed to the top of the town. Pretty as it was, we didn’t spend a super long time in Barichara. We’d come for the walk to another pretty town.
The walk we did was only 5 km and took just over an hour. If you have more time, you can do a 3-day hike connecting lots of these small towns and if/when I come back to Colombia, it’s DEFINITELY something I’d do.

El Camino Real

El Camino Real

El Camino Real

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Tunnel of trees

Cactus Friends along the way

Cactus Friends along the way

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.

Guane

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.

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It would have been nice to stay and see the stars, but we had to get a move on. From Guane, we caught a bus back to Barichara, where we transferred to another bus going to San Gil, took a cab to another bus station in San Gil, hopped on a 3 hour bus to Bucaramanga, then got on the night bus to Medellin. It took about 12 hours altogether, but considering our 8 hour night bus took 20 hours to get to Bucaramanga on the way here, it was super easy, barely an inconvenience.
The demonstrations in Medellin have faded and the city feels normal. This part of South America, for now of course, is still safe and incredible to travel around.

The 5th Continent

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Colorful Streets

I’m a fast walker but a slow traveler. Despite having been on the road for most of my adult life, I haven’t been to that many countries. I’m not someone who feels I’ve “crossed-out” a country after visiting it for a week or three or eight (though fair play to those who do.) A lot of my trips involve returning to countries I’ve been to previously. Thus I’ve been to Nepal 4 times, Japan 4 times, Thailand and Malaysia 10+ times.

Thus I’ve not been to many countries relative to the amount of time I’ve spent on the road. Nor have I been to that many continents; this week I’ll visit my 5th continent. Which technically is, as you’ll note, most of them, but considering many people get to 6 or 7 on a year round-the-world-trip, isn’t that much for someone who’s largely lived abroad since 2005.

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Viva Colombia

Where Am I Going?

I’m going to South America. Specifically: Medellin, Colombia.

I was finishing up my first contract in Korea in 2009, when I started this blog and when things like #rtw and BootsnAll and the Matador Network were becoming a big deal, Around then, the travel blogosphere was going crazy over Medellin.  Digital nomads flocked there, touting what an amazing place it was. It hadn’t been on my radar at all previously.

It’s been high on my wishlist ever since then. Probably not the number one place on the continent–that could be a hike in Torres Del Paine, or the Bolivian salt flats, or hiking the Inca Trail, probably, but it’s definitely in the top three (depending on the street).

When Zulia suggested traveling to South America, we agreed that Medellin would be the perfect place to base our travels. I’m pretty excited–the last time I went to a new country for the first time was when I went to Scandinavia in 2014. That was 5 years ago but feels more like 35!

Where Else? How Long?

The more I’ve traveled, the more I try to resist planning too much in advance. I’ll know much more in a few weeks than I do now. and see no reason to lock in itineraries or hotel rooms. And I don’t fear a blank schedule; I know there is always plenty to do, even if it’s nothing. So there’s not much set in stone, but I do think I’d love to have a quick visit to Peru as well.

I’ll only have 5 weeks or so. Not even enough time to see a region properly, let alone a country, let alone a continent.  But for me, a key part of a successful trip is managing my expectations–i.e, having as few as possible before leaving for the trip. But I am hoping to do some trekking, to see some new cities and new cultures and to eat a whole lot o’ plantains.

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Rainbow HIlls of Peru

After this trip I’ll desperately need to get a job. Getting work in Portland, as has been the case my whole life, is pretty much the hardest thing ever. So I’ll teach abroad again. I have some leads on jobs in Asia, but if I find something awesome in South America, well, so much the better.

 

Viva Colombia

That’s about it for now. Do you have anywhere to recommend in Colombia? Or elsewhere?