The Turtle, Guatapé, a Motor Boat and Getting Burned

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South America » Colombia » Medellin » Guatape
March 22nd 2010
Published: March 22nd 2010
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I'd been told by three different people that Piedra del Peñol (a giant rock that bears a striking resemblance to Rio de Janeiro's Sugar Loaf Mountain and lies about 2 hours east of Medellín) and Guatapé (a town approximately 3km from the rock) are well worth checking out.

Martha had organised a "carro particular" (not a particular car but a private car) to take me there with her family. Nice - a family outing. Travelling alone has many benefits but it's nice to have good company occasionally. Total cost for hiring the car and driver for the day was about £50 - a bit steep, but then not at all pricey when you consider what it would cost to go by taxi.
Then plan was to go to the rock, then to Guatapé and then to a nearby mountain lake where you can bathe and soak up the sun.
The car was to pick me up at 9am from my hostel. At 10am, I called Martha to find out what was happening. Apparently the car had been taken in for a service but was "on it's way". But Sergio and Martha's kids were on their way over to me in
Como un Pez en el AguaComo un Pez en el AguaComo un Pez en el Agua

My morning espresso awaits
a taxi so I didn't have to wait alone.
They arrived at about 10.30 and, feeling a bit peckish, we went to "Como un pez en el agua" (the nearby café) for my (now) ritual double espresso and a slice of chocolate cake while we waited.

11 am came and went. Finally at midday, the car arrived. Looking at it, I didn't really expect that it would get us out of the city, let alone 2 hours east. Still, I have faith that things always work out in the end so we jumped in the car and off we set.
Within 10 minutes the car had stalled at a set of traffic lights and the driver was unable to restart it for about 5 minutes. Finally he got it started again. This didn't look good.
We neared the center of Medellín and he pulled into a garage - looks like the car needed some more servicing so we went for a wander around the center for the "30 minutes" that it would take to get things fixed.
At 12.30 we arrived back at the garage and the driver and car were nowhere to be seen. Apparently, Martha had told
Palacio de la Cultura "Rafael Uribe Uribe"Palacio de la Cultura "Rafael Uribe Uribe"Palacio de la Cultura "Rafael Uribe Uribe"

While we were waiting for La Tortuga, I at least got the opportunity to get a shot of this stunning building.
him that we were in the Plaza Bolivar and he'd taken it upon himself to come find us! She called him and told him to come pick us up at the garage. Thirty minutes later he still hadn't shown up (I'm guessing that his car had had another moment). It was now 1pm and, a smidgen frustrated, I said "Look, this car isn't even going to get us out of the city - let's just take a bus". And I'm super-pleased that we did. We jumped in a cab to the bus terminal. I felt a bit bad because the guy is Martha's friend - but I figured that we'd waited 4 hours already and, as I said, I had no faith that the car would actually get us there. From this point forward, the private car was referred to as "la tortuga" - the turtle.

The bus was small but actually really comfortable - and really cheap. The revised plan was to go directly to Guatapé (passing by but not stopping at the rock). The mountain lake would have to wait for another day.
Finally at 3pm we arrived at Guatapé - a really beautiful colonial village built
My travelling companionsMy travelling companionsMy travelling companions

Left to Right: Alejandro, Vanesa, Martha y Sergio
on an enormous lake. The bus dropped us in the main square (Plaza Simón Bolívar - he has a square in every town it seems) where the church (Iglesia La Inmaculada Concepción) and the giant fountain dominate.
We were starving - it was 3pm after all, so we headed down to the waterfront to get some "lunch" - mine was Bandeja Paisa (the best that I've ever tasted). Looking out over the lake the lane markings and frequent sighting of rowers pulling their way through the still blue water showed that we'd inadvertently stumbled upon another South American Games venue - I couldn't think of a better place for it. The sun was shining, the air was fresh with the breeze rolling off the lake. And Guatapé quickly became one of my favorite places in Colombia.

With lunch done, we walked along the edge of the lake. A local offered us a boat ride for 30.000 COP. We said that we'd think about it and kept walking. Then Vanessa saw the zip line and somehow (really, I have no idea how) persuaded me that it would be a cool thing to do.
And it was! We were hoisted in
On the road to GuatapéOn the road to GuatapéOn the road to Guatapé

Stunning blue lakes abound...really breathtaking.
tandem to the end of the line and, without warning, I was unclipped from the train that was myself, Vanessa and zip-line operator and pushed off the end of the platform. I was flying! Unfortunately, I was flying backwards and, no matter how I tried, I couldn't get my harness to face in the direction that I was travelling. No matter, I was loving the ride!
I turned my head to see the vertical crash mat rapidly approaching - I had a feeling that this was going to take the wind out of me a bit. But somehow, in the last few meters, I managed to spin around to a certain extent such that I could "land" using my legs rather than my back. Thud! Didn't hurt a bit!
What a buzz! Certainly worth the 10.000 COP that it set me back. Vanessa followed soon after but her landing was much more graceful.

Still buzzing from the zip-line, we walked along the length of the lake and stopped on the bridge to look out over the spectacular view that confronted us. The sun was beginning to make it's descent and the colors of the lake and the surrounding hills
Piedra del PenolPiedra del PenolPiedra del Penol

Some say it's a meteorite..I'm not so sure.

I really wanted to go back to the guy who'd offered us a boat ride so that's what we did. It was plenty big enough to hold the 6 of us (including driver) and I was suitably impressed that we were provided with life jackets which actually buckled up and everything.
The driver fired up the engines and we set off.
The views on the lake were delicious. As the sun was setting I actually began to feel a bit chilly.
I said to the driver as we set off "can I drive?" (only half jokingly). No, that really wasn't an option. More than his job was worth and all that. "But if I slip you and extra 10.000 COP, can I drive?" Nooooo, no, no, no, no. We got to the end of the lake and started heading back. And like a spoiled child "ahhh, go on, you can let me drive, there's nobody else about...nobody will know". Finally, he conceded! Result! He throttled down and slid over to let me take the steering wheel.

Controls for speedboats are pretty straight forward - push the lever down to go faster, pull it up to go more slowly, use the steering wheel to point yourself in the general direction in which you want to go.
I started slowly and gradually got faster. Suddenly, I was aware that there were actually a number of other boats around and it was entirely my responsibility to make sure that I didn't crash into them. I basically drove us the whole length of the lake (although I rescinded my seat before we reached the shore so that our friendly driver wouldn't get the sack). What a blast!

As we clambered off the boat, the sun was truly set and it was dark. We headed off to the main square to get a coffee so we could warm up. While we were there, we were chatting about how it was a shame that we had arrived so late and that we hadn't had time to visit the mountain lakes. And then it occurred to us that it might be worth seeing if we could stay in Guatapé for the night. So Sergio and the kids went off to see if there were any cheap hotels whilst Martha and I hung out in the square taking photos and chatting.
Shortly they came back and there were, apparently, two places up the street. 80.000 COP secured enough rooms for us all and we embarked on a quick shopping tour to pick up toothbrushes and toothpaste (the bare minimum to survive a night on the road), before heading off to get some dinner at a local pizzeria.
The kids headed off to bed whilst Martha, Sergio and I wandered along the lake and then stopped to pick up some beers and headed back to the hotel.
It had been an exhausting day and it wasn't long before we hit the sack, music from the local bars pounding my hotel room matter - I slept like a baby.

Saturday morning we woke early (unsurprisingly, given the early night). We managed to secure a taxi to San Rafael (a small town near the lakes) and then on to the lakes. It was about a half hour drive through winding mountain roads (occasionally having to leave our lane to dodge rock falls and stray cattle). We arrived in San Rafael at the peak of morning rush hour and grabbed some breakfast and also managed to pick up a roast chicken / potatoes / arepas for

One of the nice things about having travel companions is that you actually get to take photos of yourself.
later consumption.
The driver took us to the lake next to San Rafael but when we got there he explained that there was actually somewhere much better about 10 minutes away. So we took his advice and moved on.
Arriving at our destination (which also had a campsite), I could see (down a steep set of steps) a beautiful mountain stream gushing over a bed of rocks and leading to a small lake surrounded by trees. In the lake people were bathing. The sun was hot. Music rang out from a wooden structure that served as a restaurant / bar. A small beach-like area played host to a handful of sun-worshipers. What a delicious spot!
Our driver explained that he had to be in Medellín later that day and that, if we wanted, he would wait for us and drive us there for 100.000 COP. £30 for (effectively) a private taxi for the day didn't seem too bad to me - particularly as I had no idea how we were going to get back otherwise. So we agreed that that's what we would do and he headed off to get his swimming kit saying that he'd be back in an hour or so.

We descended the steep steps to the (extremely rocky) beach area and stripped off for a dip. The water was just right. Felt horribly cold at first, of course, but it was the perfect temperature to cool me down in the hot sun.
It occurred to me that I never swam in open water that's not the sea before. It was beautifully refreshing and I spent an hour just bobbing around and relaxing.
We decided to tuck into our chicken feast so headed back up the steps and ate.
Then back down to the lake. This time with a giant inflatable ring which proved a huge hit with the kids (and me, if I'm honest).
And we basically spent the whole day just hanging out there. It was really, really relaxing - sitting on the rocks watching the water spill into the lake, swimming around, hanging out on the beach.
But I was stupid. I should have known that, despite a month in Colombia, my skin is really not used to so much sun. I'd totally forgotten to bring sun cream and by the time that I felt my skin burning, it was already too late.
The Intrepid Zip LinersThe Intrepid Zip LinersThe Intrepid Zip Liners

Sounds like a really bad name for a band.
I covered up but, as I say, the damage was done. What a fool!
At five we headed back towards Guatapé then made a quick stop at Piedra del Penol (taking a couple of photos and grabbing a quick bite to eat) before making the drive back to Medellín.
The driver dropped me at my hotel and I said goodbye to my travelling companions. I'd spent a great two days with them and I thanked my lucky stars that I'd run into these lovely people in Pueblito Paisa last week - how different my stay here might have been otherwise.

It was Saturday night and I really wanted to experience some of the Zona Rosa nightlife. But I was exhausted and my skin was burning (what an idiot), so I just went to get some dinner, took a couple of photos and headed back to the hotel to sleep.

So that's Friday and Saturday covered. I'm catching up slowly! Sorry if this all seems a bit rushed. I'm actually considering flying down to Cali tomorrow and I need to go and find out if I can get a plane ticket. I hope so!

Hasta luego!

Me Zip LiningMe Zip LiningMe Zip Lining

Yep, it's me. For some reason I couldn't face forward.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


In the Motor BoatIn the Motor Boat
In the Motor Boat

Like the cat that got the cream
I can do thatI can do that
I can do that

After constant whining that I wanted to drive, the captain of the vessel finally conceded.

6th April 2010
Great report and pics! Planning a trip to Medillen and def wanna check out Guatape overnight. Do you remember the hotel you stayed at? Trying to find rooms there and having trouble. thanks
7th April 2010

Hi Stef. Pleased you enjoyed the post. The hotel in Guatapé was Hotel Real (if I remember correctly). It was OK but really nothing special. There seems to be a good directory of hotels / cabins etc in the area here: Hope you have a great time in Medellín (and Guatapé)! I'm sure that you will. Just don't forget the sunblock :) Chris
10th April 2010

Great. Thank you!

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