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Published: March 28th 2016
Leaning backwards, Chris slowly walked himself over the edge of the cliff. P could barely look over the ledge. Finding his footing and feeling confident, he took a few more steps backwards and began his descent.
Then came the water - a tap operated waterfall sending litres of water per minute over the cliff. Chris immediately lost his footing as the rock became slippery and swung outwards and then sideways crashing into the wall then becoming entangled in a tree branch. Thankfully this wasn't another near death experience like we had on the Great Wall.
Dangerous yes. But luckily we were on a tour of extreme activities with a very proficient guide who only spoke Spanish. We guess thats a good and bad thing.
San Gil is the hub of extreme activities in Colombia and many tourists (domestic and foreign) flock here for that adrenalin fix of extreme sports.
We weren't really interested in any of the extreme sports it had to offer though. We intended on doing a mountain bike tour and to generally just meander around the quaint centre of town.
The hostel we stayed in wasn't too far from the plaza, a short
walk up a steep hill. The plaza was where all the locals came to sit, relax, converse, eat and drink. At night it's pretty much the same but with the added barbecued meat and corn stands dotted around it. In the centre of the green plaza was a huge tree, which has probably been there since the beginning of time. Stretching out from here are many streets leading in all directions with beautifully painted houses and shop fronts. We noticed there seemed to be a lot of bakeries selling fresh smelling cakes and pastries. Families would dine in treating themselves to a slice of cake a fizzy drink. The town was a relaxing place just to walk around with everything being quite central.
Across the ugly grey cement bridge over the river we went looking for a view point of the whole town. There's a shopping centre complete with cinema and not much else on the other side apart from more residential properties. We did however manage to find one of our favourite frozen yogurt shops and treated ourselves to an electric blue raspberry one each with a couple toppings. Nom.
We'd actually arrived in San Gil at
a special time for the locals as it was the 'Festival of lights' or 'Day of conception' as its also known. This is the unofficial start of Christmas as locals attend church in the evening all holding candles. Locals unable to attend church would light candles of many colours outside of their homes, shops and street stalls to commemorate the date. The following day you can see many blue and white flags hung outside of homes, some with the image of virgin Mary on.
If throwing yourself off bridges or dangling from cliffs isn't your thing don't worry, San Gil isn't all go go go. Whilst here we caught a bus to the nearby town of Burichara. Burichara is what we thought San Gil would be like; small quiet and quaint cobblestone village with white washed walls and red tiled roofs. Whilst there we did the fairly easy 2hr walk along an ancient path used for hundreds of years by the indigenous people of the area. The path was pretty straight forward with a cobbled path leading the way. We were a bit concerned at one point when we came across a partially rotting head of a goat. As
far as we knew there were no dangerously wild animals in the area. We wondered where the body of it was.
The ancient path leads to an even smaller village by the name of Guane. Guane is a nice place to stroll around, eat ice cream and people watch. Apparently the palaeontology museum is worth a visit but we were pretty worn out still from our previous days travel so caught the next bus going straight back to San Gil.
Looking at the tours available we found the biking activities to be out of our price range unfortunately. Whereas activities for bungee jumps cost around 30,000COP (£7) which was ridiculously cheap. We were never going to be bungee jumping though. Never.
At our hostel we got speaking to one danish couple and they mentioned they had done the paragliding excursion and highly recommended it. Another couple we spoke with did the grade 5 water rapids tour and said they found that fun too. Having already done white water rafting in Thailand a few years ago we didn't feel the need to try it again...on faster water.
After much procrastination however we not only decided to attempt
paragliding but also the half day excursion our hostel offered that included the following activities: canyoning, bouldering, cliff jumping & caving. 7 activities in total. For the whole day it was going to cost us 150,000COP (£34) each. Not bad hey!
Our guide Kamil picked us up from our hostel and drove us about 30mins outside of town to the beginning of the tour. We immediately established our guide only spoke spanish and with only us 2 (and our basic spanish) on the trip we knew it was going to be interesting.
Kamil led us down a well walked slope as we practiced our spanish asking him questions and attempting to understand his answers. We had no idea what to expect from this tour as we travelled further down with our helmets securely fastened on.
We eventually stopped on a rock with a narrow drop into a shallow pool of water. Kamil explained we needed to jump from this tall rock into the centre of this pool. P asked were there rocks in there. He said yes but we would be ok as long as we jumped in the specific area he highlighted by throwing small twigs
P kindly offered Chris up first for the jump. Some may have found this jump easy enough but for us both jumping from high platforms really got our heart rates pumping. Chris nervously walked to the edge and walked back again, saying he couldn't do it. Kamil didn't seem to take no for an answer and told us 5 year olds jump of this all the time. No pressure then!
It probably took around 5 mins (maybe longer) of going back and forth to the edge and counting down from 3 in Spanish and then English before Chris finally jumped.
Next up was P and it was pretty much the same process of her working up the courage to take the plunge. "Voy a" she kept saying meaning she was going to jump, only to get scared again at the lat minute. At one point she suspected Kamil was going to give her a helping hand so she told him to stand further back. It probably took around the same time as Chris to jump but she did it.
We both did it. It felt like such an achievement for us both, to overcome
our fear and not bottle it.
After that we were ready for anything. We abseiled down a cliff, scrambled up & down large rocks and rappelled down a waterfall. We then entered a cave with a large cavernous system formed over millions of years by tectonic plate movement. Apparently indigenous people used to live in the caves many many years ago too, as evidenced with the black soot on the ceiling of the entrance from cooking.
As the tour was all in Spanish we found it difficult to follow exactly what Kamil was explaining, only being able to pick out words we knew and constructing a rough understanding.
We walked through large open spaces with bats huddled together on the ceiling, some really narrow passages and even had to wade through water underneath low ceilinged rock formations. At one bit Kamil asked us do we trust him before he took our torches of us and turned them off.
He wanted us to follow him in the complete darkness by holding our arms out wide and feeling our way through. It was such an unnerving feeling as your imagination runs wild; all you can feel is the
wall to your left and right, the sound of quiet shuffling of feet around you and the view of complete nothingness. Eventually after about 2minutes of shuffling in the dark Kamil handed us our torches back. It was such a bizarre experience looking around us as the scenery and rock formations had changed from a narrow corridor to a huge underground open space.
Kamil dropped us back at our hostel where we had lunch (crisp butties aka sandwich with cheese spread) for an hour before we had to go on our next outing. We were still buzzing from the cave tour.
Our paragliding company was based in the plaza where they picked us up and took us 40mins to the other side of town up some very steep roads. Getting to the top of a hill we understood why the woman in the office advised us to bring something warm. The air up here was windy and cool, perfect for paragliding but not for wearing shorts. We were in a group of around 10 people from ages 7 to 60+. The way the paragliding instructors decide who goes first is on weight; not sure why.
one of the first people out of the group to get strapped up and sent of into the skies. Due to the wind being an uncontrollable factor Chris was up in the air before he'd even sat down fully. Sitting down is really the only thing thats required of us as the driver? flyer? Whatever they're called; deals with all the wind changes and adjustments. Once comfortable however and seated properly Chris was able to take in the amazing views of the town below. Even the group we travelled with who stood on the hill watching looked like little lego figurines.
It took a while to get to P's turn as she was a bit nervous about all the twists and turns the pilots/the paraglider man/instructor? does whilst up in the air.
Up she went as the strong winds caught the canvas and whisked her off the floor. Picking up on her nerves the paraglider man/controller? tried not to do too many spins and even encouraged her to take a selfie of them both whilst in the air. After a while she did get into it but prefers both feet on the ground from now on.
high up though, we were able to appreciate the amazing views; from the blue skies above us, the green farmland below (sometimes vice versa) and the seemingly never ending canyon in the distance.
The whole day was so exhilarating. We doubt we would have had this much fun and adventure if we solely did the bike tour for the same price! Thats for sure.
Transport: Overnight bus from Santa Marta to San Gil 21,000COP
Tot: 2.63s; Tpl: 0.129s; cc: 14; qc: 41; dbt: 0.0565s; 2; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb