A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about mountains

Finding my way

Exploring, mountains, working, and thinking

sunny 25 °C
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The last couple of months have gone both fast and slow. I have officially hit the 6 month traveling mark, it’s Christmas and New Year season (and you can’t walk a metre without being reminded of this in Colombia!), I have worked and lived in the jungle, I have taken people on tours, cleaned and cooked meals for 30 people, and I have up and quit my job like never before in my life. It has been a complete roller coaster ride, and I can’t say I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute because that would be a lie. But I like to give the percentage of 85% loving this crazy ride, and 15% wanting to get straight off and run back to New Zealand screaming.

During my time in Bogota I went to some amazing places with Kat’s parents. We went to Paipa for a long weekend (Colombia has 26 long weekends a year by the way!). Paipa is a thermal city/ town, kind of like Rotorua in New Zealand. It has a large lake and the houses and hotels are all built around them. Our hotel was so beautiful, I had the most amazing views out across the lake from my room!
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We did lots of touring around, we went to neighbouring towns and drove right up into the mountains that eventually lead to the border to Venezuela. We went to a town that sells only feijoas, and of course with my allergy I couldn’t taste a thing!
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We went and saw museums, and the Puente de Boyaca up close – the place where Colombia won back its independence.
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We saw the vargas swamp lancers statues where artist Rodrigo Arenas has created Colombia’s largest monument in bronze to remember the large battle that happened there when the 14 soldiers of Simon Bolivar’s army, armed only with lances, won a battle against the Spanish.
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Mama Kat and I went out in one of those little paddle boats where you ride it like a bicycle to move. We had the aim of a puntico rojo but we just kept going in circles, crashing into other boats, and laughing like maniacs because we got absolutely nowhere! It was one of the funniest things ever!
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We went to a beautiful beach called Playa Blanca, that is actually part of a lake. We ate the best trout I have ever eaten in my entire life on that beach. We were going to go for a boat ride but it was so cold. Because the lake was high up in the mountains, it was about 9 degrees and we weren’t equipped for that cold temperature.
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We drove through towns famous for potatoes, others famous for sausages, and areas where they grow nothing but onions – it was so bizarre putting my head out the window to smell that! We stopped and had photos on top of a mountain that looked right over Tota lake to where playa blanca was on the other side.
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We went to a little village called Pueblo Boyaca that had different areas of housing styles to represent all of the different towns within the municipality of Boyaca. This was my favourite part because there were rainbow houses and white houses and beautiful gardens. There was even a shop that sold only things painted with cats on them, so of course Papá Kat bought me something from there because I was so excited.
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We went to a Catholic church, one of only 2 in the world, that has a sculpture of the devil inside. Everything in the church is covered with gold leaf, and it’s really sad because in the lower parts you can see where people have come in and tried to scratch it off. The town itself is a coal town, and that too is sad because it has a high rate of child exploitation where they force the kids into the mines and then to make the statues later on. Not everything is rainbow and butterflies, sunshine and beaches, on this trip and I hate reminders of this even though they are necessary.
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We also went to a town that is famous for knitwear. A very famous thing from Boyaca district is a ruana, so we went searching to find me one that I liked and that papa Kat would agree to aswell - funny, he didn't like the same rainbow ones I did!
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We had such a lovely weekend together and it was so sad when it was time to go home to the city. But home we went, and that was ok too because I had made some new friends on couch surfing. We got together one night, a huge group of us, and we made pasta from scratch! Another night we went out to dance bachata – which of course made me very happy!
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I found a job at the hostel in the mountains, where I had stayed earlier in the year. They were looking for volunteers so I bought a plane ticket to Santa Marta and then made the trip by dirtbike (in the pouring rain) with all of my things, up to the top of the mountain.
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It was great to be back in paradise, even if I was immediately put straight to work. I literally didn’t stop working for even 5 minutes, for my first 2.5 weeks. I was the first of the new volunteers to arrive and I worked my ass off – changing 20 beds worth of sheets every day, cleaning up, cooking lunch, taking tours, translating Spanish and English, and doing reception check ins/ check outs. It was hectic, but I still had an amazing time. I loved meeting the travellers who came through, learning about their stories and their travels, and just being on top of the world with that view.
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Finally some new volunteers came through, and things became a little less hectic which meant my work load got lighter and I had more time to enjoy the surroundings of where I was. One of the days I took a 3.5 hour hiking tour through the jungle with a group of travellers. The view from the top was even more spectacular than from the hostel. It looked right over the entire city, and to another city called Baranquilla which is hours away by car!
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We had headed off to visit a coffee farm called La Victoria. It is the oldest coffee farm in the region, 122 years old and every piece of machinery is both original and hydro-powered. 90_DSC00461.jpgDSC00460.jpg90_DSC00453.jpg90_DSC00450.jpg90_DSC00448.jpg
The hydro power machinery brings the beans in from all over the 160 hectares around the property so that the pickers only need to walk to drop off points rather than all the way to the main building. We also got to taste fresh coffee beans and their surrounding fruit - kinda gross! DSC00447.jpg
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I found it fascinating to learn about coffee production, to know how little the local people get paid – just 200 pesos (10 cents NZ) per box that they collect, and that it takes 7 kilos of the fruit to make just 1 kilo of coffee. 90_DSC00444.jpg
I also found it fascinating that the fruit didn’t taste or smell like coffee until it had gone through the washing/ selecting phase and was in the drying phase, ready to be toasted. Only then could you taste it ever so slightly.
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I had no idea there were so many different types of quality, nor did I really understand how large coffee trees could grow!
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It was cool seeing the entire process, complete to getting put into the bags for export!
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It was really funny though (or maybe not and I am a terrible guide) because one girl was a mess. Crying, falling down, saying 'this is the worst day of my life.' Especially after we got chased out of some land by wild dogs and one dog nipped one of the others on the butt. Everyone else saw the funny side... but she did not. I suppose there is always one huh!? So I arranged Motor tours for the way back, and we lost her. And her friends were worried that she would be even more of a mess, crying and scared as she had never been on a motorbike and she was wondering where the helmets and safety gear were when we set off - um honey, we are in the Caribbean jungle of Colombia! Anyway, she finally did catch up to us and she had the biggest grin ever and told me after 'thanks Katy, that was actually the best day of my life ever and I can't believe I did it!"
I loved working in the mountains, the toucans and the hummingbirds, and the endless change in the landscape due to the clouds and storms, time of day, sunshine and rain that would roll through.
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One day it rained so hard I put some glasses out to catch the water. I then created a drink called rum and rain; it was so good I think I can never look at rain the same way again. I will always see it as God’s mixer for rum!
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On one of the days, I took the hostel cat (Pancake) down to the nearest town (10km down a very very rough dirt road) to the vet to be castrated. I had to take him down in a backpack, the poor cat was totally traumatised – as was I. When we got there, it was none of this hand your cat to the receptionist deal like I do in New Zealand with Bob. I waited on the street with 50 other locals and their pets, for 3 hours, while we waited our turn. The poor cat was very distressed, and I even more so when I had to hold him down for his injections and then hold him up while he vomited a rat before they would anaesthetise him!
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We had thanksgiving dinner in the mountains, complete with turkey (for meat eaters) that was cooked underground in the earth oven. This was a fun night and everyone got together to eat and drink and be merry.
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Sadly however, my time was cut short because one of the owners and I had a huge personality clash. He was always using a lot of heavy drugs and so was either high on life or down in the dumps with the after effects. He had half learned Spanish (badly) purely as a means to get what he wanted and had no desire to actually speak with and get to know the local people. He asked me to help him with his Spanish and then got angry when I did. He treated the local people badly, underpaid them, and said horrible things about them behind their backs. This was something I could not stand for seeing as I love this country almost as much as I love my own. I know I am loud, and can be highly annoying at times, but I worked my ass off and felt that I genuinely did a good job. However, I made the decision to leave because of the abusive manner in which he treated me and others. Most of the staff found him to be highly irritable, had a bad energy, and made other people feel down about themselves – and as I travel around the world that is definitely not how I choose to spend my time feeling! However, I am still grateful for the time I had there, the experience, the beauty of the place, and the good people I did meet there.
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I will miss nights sleeping out under the shooting stars on the big hammock with friends, I will miss living in the mountains and dancing in the rain. But I choose to see it as lesson learned rather than something to hold a grudge over or be sad about. I have learned I will never again work for an expat organisation while in Latin America, instead working for the local people. This is purely because I want to be working in a purely Spanish speaking environment. And 2, I will never work for people who are high on drugs all of the time. And by learning 2 more things that I don't want, I am getting closer to finding what it is that I do want. And so now, I write this from the family house of my good friend Didier. I am staying here for the moment thanks to their wonderful kindness and understanding of my situation. It is also a very strange feeling as I waved his parents and son off at the airport yesterday as they made their way to New Zealand to be with Didi and Cindy for Christmas. I have never truly understood the desire to get into someone’s suitcase quite so much…
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And again, I am unsure of which way I am going to go now. I know I have 1 month until my flight to the Dominican Republic on January 16th. I have Christmas, New Years, and my birthday to get through here without any friends and not even a single plan other than to spend a lot of time editing and working on the book to get some money back into my account. I have also decided to spend my birthday at the hairdressers, as my hair has become almost out of control due to the sea, the pool, the humidity, the jungle, and the endless wandering.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who told me that he is worried about me and wanted to know if I am happy. The truth is, yes I am fine and I am enjoying my travels and my adventures. My Spanish is growing from strength to strength and I love that I can speak two languages and that I can truly immerse myself in the life here in a way not many other travellers can. But I have not found anything on my travels yet, that is equal to or better than the life I had at home. And I wonder if that is why I keep searching, am still unable to stop and stay put in one place, and why I still struggle to find my place in the world. However, I remind myself that I am only 6 months in, that I have seen more of the world than many people ever will, and that I have some very big plans for the next year of wandering ahead. Including a much needed beach day tomorrow with Didi’s brother Ariel. Bring on the sea, it has been 2 months since I have even smelt it x
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Posted by chasingsummer 11:01 Archived in Colombia Tagged mountains trees hiking jungle caribbean adventures giant_hammock Comments (0)

Crazy Colombia!

so many adventures in so many places

sunny 30 °C

I don’t really know where to even start the adventures of the last 10 days, things have been so busy and so crazy. I have been out of Bogotá and seen many different towns, landscapes, waterfalls, deserts, valleys, mountains, and rivers! It has been just magical. I know I need to write today, because if I let too much time go by, I will forget everything and the pictures I have will just become a blur.

After the Salt Cathedral, my friend Jaime and I met in the centre of the city to go to visit the Museo de oro (Museum of gold). The amount of gold is absolutely astounding, and the designs from the ancient native tribes of Colombia are fantastic. DSC04343.jpgDSC04342.jpg90_DSC04341.jpg90_DSC04338.jpg
The way they were able to manipulate the gold, to create their pieces of art, and to portray their significant images were incredible. This one was my favourite, and it turns out that it is a very important and well known image throughout Colombia!DSC04339.jpg
After the Museo de oro, we went for a walk around the Presidential house and (as my luck in life with always finding army boys goes) we stumbled across a group of Army boys doing a parade!
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I then managed to pluck up the courage to ask these 2 guards for a photo, who could see I was scared because of their massive guns. I could see the smirks on their faces as they gave each other commands and then started doing all their gun tricks with me standing in the middle. It was so funny, but kinda terrifying too! They were so much more relaxed than the guards in London, and they told me to have a good day. It’s weird though, even after so many years of travelling, years in the States with family, and a lot of time spent on farms, I can just never get used to seeing guns!
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We found these amazing llamas, and I went absolutely nuts. The man who owned the llama wanted me to climb on and have a ride, but I felt like I may break the poor animal. I just gave it lots of cuddles and kisses instead, stroking the soft fur. I think the llama was grateful he didn’t have to take me for a ride, he certainly wasn’t very big! DSC04353.jpg90_DSC04351.jpgDSC04347.jpg90_DSC04346.jpg
We then went for a walk through the Candelaria which is a beautiful part of the inner city, with colonial style buildings and lots of pretty street art.DSC04364.jpg90_DSC04361.jpg90_DSC04360.jpg
We went to watch the Mexico game in a bar, where I tried chicha. This is an indigenous drink available in many different forms, but the type I had was made from corn. It wasn’t the most amazing tasting drink of my life, but it was pretty good and I had no trouble finishing it off – despite its intense potency! 20140617_140055.jpg Luckily we found Arepas Rellenas to take the edge off, these are delicious Arepas (no explanation other than amazing) filled with whatever you choose - so I got mushrooms, cheese, and tomatoes much to the mans confusion, he kept thinking he heard my order wrong as he couldn't understand why I didn't want any meat!! 90_20140617_161842.jpg
On the Thursday, I went to Parque 93 with Ari and her friends to watch the Colombia vs. Ivory Coast football game. I can’t even explain the craziness of Colombians when it comes to football. Parque 93 is a big park in Bogota that puts up a giant screen for the games. It is basically the main “go to” point for party people at game time – and omg, was it what! We were there really early so that we could have an area to sit down. But it was still really squashed. And after each goal, everyone would go absolutely mad, throwing foam and flour, jumping up and down. We were near the outside of the seated area, and at one point the crowds standing around us were pushing in so hard that people were falling all over us. It was quite scary, but I will really hand it to the people here, they could see us girls getting trampled and at goal time and close to the end, there was always people helping us get to our feet, and at one point when the crowd was really pushing in, I had one stranger standing behind me kinda holding/ bracing my head as if he was my helmet, so that I wouldn’t get crushed! I don’t think I have ever known such consideration in any of my travels through any other country.20140619_092759.jpg90_20140619_104853.jpg
After the game, the streets were ACTUALLY crazy! Trumpets blowing, flour and foam was all over us, and just everyone dancing, jumping, screaming, laughing, even crying, in celebration. It was as if Colombia had won the entire world cup! Of course, I was having the time of my life with my Colombia tee shirt, trumpet, and people to laugh and dance and jump with! I couldn’t take many pictures because it is very dangerous to have your cell phone out on the street here, but these are what I did manage to take and it shows a little bit of the craziness. Just imagine it all around you, and as far as you can possibly see!IMG-20140619-WA0002.jpg20140619_104921.jpg
On Friday night, I had my date with a guy I met from Medellin. We had met earlier in the week at a Spanish/ English language exchange and decided to meet for a drink on the Friday. We met at the same bar we first met at, and then made our way around Calle 85 – kinda the main drinking street in Bogota. We made the plan to go around all the bars trying different cocktails… Mojitos de lulo, pisco sours, margaritas, tequila sunrises lead us dancing salsa and bachaata for the rest of the night in a club. We also ended up drinking what is called a giraffe, a 3 litre tall vessel of beer! Things got way too out of control when he introduced me to aquardiente – a very famous drink in Colombia that literally translates as fire water. I can’t really explain what it tastes like but I will try. It is similar to those old fashioned blackballs and black zambuca, but it is completely clear. So far, I have only drunk it straight as shots, but it is so delicious and addictive – and very very strong!
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I came home late afternoon Saturday, looking and feeling like an absolute mess. I slept until Sunday morning, when Ari, Papa and Mama Kat, and I went on a big drive out of the city to see some beautiful places. We went to some really lovely little towns and my favourite was Raquira which is a town known for its handmade crafts. The buildings were all multi coloured, and all the shops sold beautiful items. We weren’t there for very long which was a shame as I would have loved to spend a week exploring it properly – next time! 20140622_114327.jpg90_20140622_113632.jpg90_20140622_113619.jpg
We then went to Villa de Leyva which is a very old town, I think nearly 600 years old. It was all white with cobbled streets. We went to see the main part of the town, and then to a fossil museum. It turns out that quite a huge part of Colombia never used to exist, and that what is now a desert was once part of the ocean! This explained the salt mines and salt cathedral, and the beautiful fossils in the museum that were all dug up from underneath Villa de Leyva, including cool dinosaur bones! The landscape here was very dry and dusty, completely different to the luscious green that is found in most other parts of Colombia that I have seen so far. 20140622_154840.jpg20140622_142115.jpg20140622_151449.jpg90_20140622_152500.jpg
We saw many amazing things on our drive including the point in Boyaca where Colombia achieved it’s independency from Spain, this is a very significant place for people here so I was happy I got to see it! 11176_med_..oyac__Tunja.jpg

On the following Tuesday, I met with Kat’s cousin Marce and we took a flota (the name for those giant busses that aren’t quite busses, usually schools and old people homes have them) for 2.5 hours to get to her parent’s house in the country. The farm itself is a blackberry farm, and of course the blackberries are super delicious! I got to try some new fruit that I hadn’t ever seen in my life, it tastes like a tomato but of course the most amazing thing is that it comes inside a little flower. I immediately thought of Grace who loves tomatoes, flowers, and anything that comes inside a little package! 90_20140624_191329.jpg
We stayed at the farm for two nights before heading to San Gil on a 4 hour flota ride… 20140629_173144.jpg20140629_172635.jpg20140629_172624.jpg90_20140629_172606.jpg
The great thing about San Gil is – IT IS WARM! And, it is also the adventure capital of Colombia due to its vast number of caves, waterfalls, river rapids, cliffs for abseiling down, mountains for paragliding off etc. I was very tempted to go caving through a massive series of tunnels and caves that resulted in a 6 metre jump into water at the end, all in the pitch black… But I was told that the smells and dampness in there was very strong, and I didn’t want to find out half way inside that it was a dangerous place for an asthmatic… See, I am making wise choices!
We did however find a massive 8 meter waterfall to jump off which made for a great afternoon. A group of Colombian tourists came up after their abseiling and were most impressed to see a crazy kiwi girl laughing and jumping off easily wearing only a bikini, while they were jumping off in their life jackets, wetsuits, aqua shoes, and screaming for their lives! 90_20140628_121013.jpg20140628_115238.jpg90_20140628_115214.jpg20140628_105602.jpg
The way we got to the waterfalls and back was on the back of moto-taxis, which was crazy because I was wearing a summer dress and had a bag full of fruit between my legs! Oh dear!
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Marce and I went to a beautiful place called Parque Nacional de Chicamocha. It was stunning. Beautiful mountains and very deep canyons with rivers right at the bottom. The view was 360 degrees, and went for as far as the eye could see. I was in complete awe, I couldn’t stop looking at everything. I feel my pictures just do not do it any justice whatsoever!
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Right at the top, was a giant culumpio (swing) that goes out over the canyon. Naturally, I basically ran up the hill to get there, super excited for that amazing feeling of I NEARLY DIED BUT I DIDN’T! The swing was super scary, super fun, and with a spectacular view. I love how things like this in Colombia are so cheap. What would be a ridiculously priced activity in New Zealand cost just $8 here, so it was something I didn’t even have to hesitate about doing!20140627_130425.jpg90_20140627_130343.jpg
We watched the game in San Gil, and then partied all night afterwards – drinking of course, Aguardiente! Because the town is the adventure capital of Colombia, I managed to stumble across 3 other Kiwis and about 4 Australians, all who said that the only place on their travels they have found other Kiwis and Ozzies has been in San Gil! Trust the Kiwis to follow the smell of adventure! Just because we were in a smaller town, it made no difference to the scale of celbrations after the game! Absolutely NUTS!180_20140628_172828.jpg20140628_171225.jpg20140628_170825.jpg90_20140628_174419.jpg20140628_170623.jpg
Marce and I also went to a small town nearby to San Gil. This town is yet another gorgeous place, on the edge of a hill looking out towards a beautiful mountain range. The town itself is called Barichara and full of lovely little shops, cafes, and restaurants. I bought a few arts and crafts here, and we had a lovely lunch. I can really see myself living in a town like this one day. It reminds me a lot of Vejer, where I lived in Spain. In Colombia it is very easy to work out which town/ area is a Spanish colonial town, especially after being in Spain last year.cathedral.jpgbarichara_572610.jpgbarichara_hill.jpg1246570767..a_santander.jpg
Marce and I caught 2 flotas all the way back to Bogota, stopping off at the farm to collect the rest of our belongings and saying our farewells on the way. I was determined to get back to Bogota because I had a very important date – Paddy was finally back in town from his trip to the Amazon! Paddy and I had met in Spain last year and instantly became like brothers. We nearly died together in our adventures to Morocco, tore Spain apart with our craziness and identical sense of humour, and just had an instant love for each other that made seeing him a huge appeal about my coming to Bogota where he has been studying here for the past 6 months. I turned up at his house where he ran outside and picked me up, twirling me around and jumping up and down with me, before I had even had a chance to pay the laughing taxi driver – who had of course had the very lucky and grand experience of hyperactive Katy in broken Spanish mode. We went out and partied all night before sleeping all day and going to get amazing vegetarian pizzas for lunch – that actually tasted like pizza not an overload of cheese! It is very hard to find vegetarian food here, and I am craving real vegetables so when the waiter brought me my food I was so excited!
Maybe this picture can show how excited I was to see my boy!
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I have now spent the last 24 hours recovering from too much aguardiente, a terrible stomach reaction to eating chicken (never again), and just all round different food and things here. But I have about 5 hours to improve before I meet Paddy for Gringo Tuesday for yet another night of Kate and Paddy craziness – bring it on! We both leave Bogota on the 4th – he is going back to Switzerland, and I to Santa Marta which is the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Bring on aqua coloured sea, white sand, perfect tanning weather, and fresh lobster from the sea!

Posted by chasingsummer 13:21 Archived in Colombia Tagged mountains deserts bogota fossils san_gil los_partidos Comments (0)

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