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Published: January 17th 2016
Once home to drugs lords like Pablo Escobar, Colombia still conjures up a worryingly dangerous image. But, after more than 40 years, the government is winning its long fight with the drugs cartels, supported by foreign money and by offering amnesty to some criminals.
There are still a lot of armed police on the streets. Private security men, too, stand around, each armed and with a rottweiler on a chain. We are not sure whether to be worried or reassured but they do look very bored, both men and dogs. Maybe this level of security is part of how you turn a failing state into a prospering one?
We are starting our trip in the capital Bogotá which is an interesting mix of old and new; rich and poor. We are staying on the edge of the old town, all cobbled lanes, low rise houses, iron balconies and terracotta tiles. But across the park is "downtown" with its new shiny skyscrapers!
Bogota is high, at 2650 metres and we feel it whenever we climb the steeper streets or up the narrow stairs in our hostel. The city is full of churches, plazas and impressive colonial buildings - all
reminders that the Spanish ruled here for 300 years. Today's culture embraces graffitti, or rather street art, adorning every possible wall.
Coffee shops abound, and no Starbucks. The coffee is wonderful and they take pride in what they serve. Comment on how good their coffee is and they will explain where it comes from and request that you inspect and smell the beans!
Towering over the city are a chain of mountains, the very beginnings of the Andes, heading south to eventually fall into the Pacific near Cape Horn. We take a funicular up to 3200 metres and enjoy a spectacular, but smoggy, view over the city. Hummingbirds flit past us, enjoying the flowers in this little park on a hill top.
And there are even special benefits for us older travelers. The funicular is discounted for those who are over 62. The gold museum is free for the over 60s, as is Bolivar's house. I am beginning to like Colombia.
Next, we head west to the Chicaque Nature Reserve. It takes an hour in a little minibus along clogged streets to get to the edge of the city and just another thirty minutes gets us
to the reserve entrance.
Here we transfer to an ancient jeep for a 15 minute precipitous descent through the cloud forest until we reach the track's end, a man and a horse. Our bags get put onto the horse which the man then mounts. We dutifully follow along a narrow forest path downhill. Eventually we arrive at a clearing and here is El Refugio, the office and restaurant for the reserve. We check in, discovering that nobody speaks any English. A lady leads us off down yet another narrow path and ten minutes later find our accommodation, our house in a walnut tree.
Before we climb to the house, our guide opens a little shed hidden in the trees. We are delighted to find that it is our luxury bathroom! Then, to reach the house, we climb two ladders and cross a rope bridge. High in the tree, we find a semi-circular bedroom / living room, all made of wood like a ship's cabin. In front is a semi-circular verandah looking out into the cloud forest. It is truly magical as we sit with a glass of wine to watch the sun set.
Dinner is taken in
El Refugio - it is an interesting walk there and back on a dark forest path lit only by our torches and flitting fireflies.
In the morning a man with a wicker basket appears, bringing our breakfast. He carefully lays it out on our verandah, checkered tablecloth and all! It is a great way to start our days of wandering, and getting a little lost, in the reserve.
Our second night in the tree house is windy. Our huge tree sways and creaks in the wind, and so does our little cabin. It is the complete treehouse experience!
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