Published: May 1st 2011April 23rd 2011
You must have maximal 5 murders per 100.000 inhabitants a year to be a safe country, says the United Nations, which knows these things precisely. Ciudad Juarez in Mexico has 191 murders. So it is clearly not so safe. It is even the best place in the world to be, when you are tired of life. Compared with Ciudad Juarez the Colombian town Cali is doing very well with its 86 murders, as we read in the ´Revista Credencial´of january 2011, a Colombian magazin. Medellín is even better with only 62 murders. And it is becoming ever more better every year. At an average Colombia has 39 murders a year. Europe has 7 murders. Is Colombia safe? Despite the FARC and the drugscartels it is, says the Lonely Planet. Mostly they operate deep in the wilderness, too far for average tourists like us. In the past it was better not to travel at night, because of robberies. Nowadays the risk is not that big anymore.
It is night and we are driving in a bus of company Bolivariana to Bógota. It takes 20 hours. We just passed the border between Ecuador and Colombia at Ipiales. It was the easiest of
all borders in South America. The customer speaks English, knows that Slovakia is not the same as Slovenia, that it is part of the EU and he is even friendly. ´The more criminal a country is, the friendlier the people are´, we think, inclined to suspect everyone. The Colombians are defenitely warm and friendly people, but we never feel unsafe, as we will find out during our stay here.
It is dark and it is raining. We hear the flip flop movements of the windshield wipers of our bus. There is soft music on the radio. Salsa of course. Good salsa, because we are near Calí, the capital of salsa. Cali has about 2.000.000 inhabitants. While I am listening to the music I try to find out how many murders take place out there. It must be 172 a year. So every other day someone is murdered here. It is 5 o´clock in the morning when we arrive at Bógota. And it is still raining.
´Here you can see how one of the bullets went through his hat´, says the police officer friendly. He smiles at us, as if he was the one who killed the man. We
stand in the Museo Historica Policia. The hat is of Pablo Escobar, the world´s greatest outlaw, the most elusive cocaine trafficker, the richest and most successful criminal in world history. ´But we got him´, continues the policeman, ´that was on december 2 of 1993. After a hunt of almost two years we found him in a house somewhere in Medellin.´
Even Colombian painter Fernando Botero portrayed the moment that Escobar was killed by a rain of bullets.
"I'm a decent man who exports flowers," said Escobar once in an interview. Unfortunely his death did not stop the export of ´flowers´. Other drugcartels took over. Nevertheless it was a beginning of the decriminalisation of Colombia. Now you can read in hostels not to use cocaïne, because you support the guerilla movements with it.
"Plata o plomo," used Escobar to say: ´silver or lead´. It worked: people accepted rather presents of silver or gold than a bullet in their body. We see a Harley Davidson with parts of silver and gold. ´A gift to a "friend", explains our policeofficer. Another ´gift´ is a pistol of silver.
When we leave the museum we get a candy of the policeofficer. A gift of a
We head to Museo Botero to see the painting he made of Escobar´s death. It is a beautiful museum. We see paintings from Picasso, Braque, van Dongen (!), Dali, Renoir, Matisse, Miró and Monet. But the maior part of the exhibition are Botero´s. Inevitable all people he depicts are butterfat. But not only the people. Whatever Botero paints suffers under some kind of obesitas, from banana´s to melons, from cups to bowls. Why? He himself says in an interview with the ´City Paper of Bogota´: ´Roundness is an exalted form of sensuality´. We wonder how an exalted and sensual Pablo Escobar would look like at the moment he is seized by bullets, but we cannot find the painting.
For the original Indians gold had another meaning than for Escobar. For them gold had the same appearance as the sun and the sun was their god. In the Museo del Oro we see beautiful examples of golden crafts. Often they are circular, to symbolize the circular existence. The museum shows how the Indians made their golden objects. How they used moulds of bee wax, of Trigona bees who do not sting. Often gold and copper are mixed. When
heated the coppermolecules come to the surface and form a thin layer, we learn. This will soon oxidize and the object gets an ugly green appearance. That is why the Indians used the acid of the sheep-sorrel plant (Oxalis pubescens) to remove it. Another plant used by the Indians was the coca plant, so that the shamans could get their visions. Apparently not only gold had another meaning for the Indians than for Escobar.
Bogota is a cultural city. The little streets of the old town and Candalaría, where our hostel (Platypus) is, boasts lots of little restaurants and pubs. It is full of life. It is easy to get lost in all those narrow streets as we experienced one night. But there are enough people around who can help you.
Villa de Leyva
It makes it much easier to imagine how this part of Colombia was covered by the sea once, now it is raining all the time and big parts of the country are under water. Still we bike across the mud and water to Museo El Fósil, not far from Villa de Leyva. A couple of Ara´s accompany us for a while high in
The main fossil is a Kronosaur (a member of the Pliosaur family). It is a monster of about 12 meter long with crocodilelike teeth. Not only his teeth the whole body with its short neck and long head (2 meter) is crocodilelike. All Pliosaurs had such short necks and long heads opposite to the Plesiosaurs which have long necks and little heads. Richard Owen, the famous anatomist and paleaontologist of the 19th century, thought even that Pliosaurs represented a link between Plesiosaurs and crocodiles. He gave them the name Pliosaur, which means more Saurian. (Owen was the man Darwin sent his specimens to from his voyage on the Beagle. When Darwin came up with his evolutiontheory Owen was shocked).
About 120 million years ago Kronosaurs made the waters of the Thetys sea unsafe for other marine animals like Plesiosaurs, Ichtyosaurs and other Pliosaurs. Probably he ate even his own kids. We suppose that is why he is called after Kronos, the Titan in Greek mythology who swallowed his own kids as soon they were born. Another Kronosaur was found in Australia. Still it does not support the continental shift theory of Weber like the Mesosaur does (the
fossil we saw in Namibia and which is also found in Brasil). The Kronosaur is marine and could swim freely in the oceans, while Mesosaurs lived in freshwater.
At night we see fireflies around our apartment. The females blink with a frequency to attract male flies. Each species has his own frequency. Some females abuse it. They imitate the frequency of another (smaller) species. A male attracted by the bigger light soon find his end in the guts of the betraying females.
Villa de Leyva itself is a beautiful village from the 16th century. Our guesthouse (Renacer Guesthouse) is one of the best we have had. Still we leave. The weather is too bad.
It takes only a few hours to come to San Gil. We try to escape the rain, but the weather is only worse. We sleep at the Macondo Guesthouse (we do not know why the Lonely Planet is so enthusiastic about this hostel). So we leave again after one night.
On our way to Bucaramanga we see what the rain has done. The rivers are swollen to torrents which stream with a devastating speed across the landscape, everywhere are landslides,
some villages are completely covered by water. We hear that it takes 12 hours to nearby Pamplona and that the road to Cucuta at the border with Venezuela is even fully blocked. We stay one night at the very friendly hotel San Nicolas. The best way to escape is to go out of the mountains, we think. So instead of going to the East, to Venezuela we decide to go to the North to the Caribbean coast and afterwards to Venezuela. We hear that the roads are ok and we can buy tickets. The only problem is we have to wait 12 hours.
While we are waiting at the busstation a policeman comes to us. He wants to know from where we are.
´I am from Holland´, I say.
´They are not so good in football´, he says.
´But I am born in Amsterdam´, I say.
It does not help. At the tv screen behind the policeman I see meanwhile how PSV is loosing of some club from Venezuela.
It takes 9 hours to come with the nightbus of Copetran (excellent company) to Santa Marta at the Caribbean coast.
We arrive early
in the morning at Santa Marta. The sun is shining and it is already a bit warm. It is 5 minutes walking from our hotel (Casa Familia) to the Caribbean Sea. We realize that we covered by bus all the continent, from Tierra del Fuego in the very South to the Caribbean Sea in the North.
Santa Marta has a nice boulevard with restaurants and pubs. In the evening a cool wind comes into our room together with the sounds of Salsa.
We take a collectivo to the beach of Taganga and from there to the Playa Grande with a boat. The whole area gives us a Caribbean feeling: the blue sea, the flavors of the fish restaurants, the juices of all kinds of tropical fruits, the South American music. For the rest of the day we swim in the Caribbean Sea and when we are not swimming we sit in the shadow of a big Acacia.
A 30 kilometer farther sits the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. In about 50 minutes we walk across a humid jungle to the beach. The path is often muddy and slippery. But it is beautiful. We see gigantic trees and in between
big boulders grow a dazzling amount of plants. We hear the song of all kinds of birds. According to the broschure there are 27 species here, which are endemic for the region. Others are almost extinct like the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus). There are tigercats, armadillos, condors, white eagles and green tortoises. On the beach lay lots of coconuts. Some of them are germinating. Hidden between the lush vegetation we find little restaurants which sell seafood and juices made of tropical fruits. It is almost paradise.
We have seen all sides of the South American continent now: the Atlantic and the Pacific side, the very South and the Caribbean Sea. From here we can go on further to the North, but first we like to see more of South America. Venezuela will be our next stop.
There are more photos below