Barichara and Bucaramanga, Colombia 31st August - 5th September


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September 7th 2010
Published: September 7th 2010
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The trip from Villa de Leyva to Barichara took us just over 6 hours on 4 minibuses. It was with the usual sort of bus drivers, whose national sport is dodgy overtaking. However, the scenery at times was spectacular as we got closer to the Andes and lower down too. We moved more into sugar cane, banana and tobacco growing country and passed a group of vultures tucking into a road kill feast.

Our first night in Barichara was a little disappointing. Firstly our chosen Hotel was closed, so we made do with the hostel across the road and then secondly our chosen restaurant for the evening was closed on Tuesdays. Barichara at this time of year is hardly the liveliest, but this seemed dead - although to be fair, the Lonely Planet guide did say that Barichara has no nightlife.

Having now been here a full day, I'd have to question the Lonely Planet's description of Barichara being a "Hollywood filmmakers dream". Yes it is a pretty town, although in my opinion not as pretty as Villa de Leyva, and yes it has the backdrop of the Andes that you can see if you climb the streets to
Barichara: CathedralBarichara: CathedralBarichara: Cathedral

An inside view
the top of the town. It has nice rolling streets and it is pretty, as you can see from the photos. But would Hollywood really be interested, even if a few Spanish TV companies have been ? I am sure I am missing something, so if any Hollywood filmmakers happen to read this, maybe you can point out what it is.

I'd also question the Lonely Planet's description of Barichara as a *Gourmet's Paradise*. Yes it has got a nice restaurant with local ant delicacies (yes the 6-legged crawly things), amongst other things, but this is only open for lunch (in the low season at least). The quality of the food isn't quite upto Villa de Leyva standards, plus most of the few Restaurants that there are close by 9pm.

With few tourists, Colombian or foreign, being around, our first night was spent eating at an empty restaurant run by a Spanish guy and his Colombian wife. I felt a little sorry for him. The place was so deserted and he walked around with a book in his hand clearly wishing there were more guests to attend to. The food was OK, but certainly not gourmet. Felicity had a derivation of Maccaroni cheese and I had 6 meatballs with a tomato sauce. The wine was OK but it is probably not a place we'd visit again.

The next day (today as I write this) we looked at a few other places to stay. To be honest the Posada Dona Floz M, that we were staying at was fine for 60,000 Pesos (USD35) per night. But it had a cold shower (although supposedly there is hot water), no breakfast and no Internet connection, We thought we could do better. Our chosen place, the Hotel Corata, was now open and we had a look and negotiated a price of 80,000 Pesos (USD45) per night. This had Wifi internet (although availabilty is determined by when they turn on the hotel's computer - which isn't often ), breakfast and hot water.

Hot water is a bit of a luxury in Barichara and water is also in short supply, since they've not managed to properly work their water supply yet and the area is quite dry.

As we wandered around the town during the day we went in search of restaurants, and this included other Hotels. While we inspected the menu, we also saw some of the rooms. Most of the rooms in the various places we saw looked architecturally similar to those in the Posada Dona Flor M - including the Corata that we are staying at. The extra price you pay at the other places (which can be easily more than twice what we are paying) seems to be for slightly nicer sheets, maybe a bigger TV (to watch the same Colombian TV shows). a breakfast of varying quality and maybe WiFi. You pays your money and you takes your chance.

Evening restaurant choice is definitely limited, so we plumped for one of the more expensive (than where we were) hotels. The Nube Posada has a restaurant that gets good reviews in Lonely Planet, which seem justified. The menu is small, but the quality of the food and wine is good and the hostess is charming too. So much so, we came back the next night to try the rest of the menu.

Back to the Hotel Corata. After having an animated discussion over WiFi availability on our first night there, we considered moving back across the road. It wasn't just WiFi issues though, the hotel is quite noisy, If you are not woken up by the Church's irregular bell ringing between 5 and 6, the hotel's family will probably manage to wake you at 7am. The hotel's management probably sensed our concern, although they didn't do much to address it. After our first breakfast there, I checked out the wireless router that sits out by reception. It was turned off. I was spotted and soon after and without me saying anything, it was turned on. As we left for the day, the manager nervously asked "you are staying another night aren't you ?".

We did stay, but as I write this, just before breakfast (at 9am) on the last day in Barichara, the WiFi is off. Bottom line - don't expect WiFi at the Hotel Corata.

Our second full day in Barichara was largely spent being at one with nature, as we walked down the 9km "Camino Real" to the tiny town of Guane. The "Camino Real“ is actually a rocky route through some lovely countryside and great mountain views, which takes about two hours to complete, including the inevitable photo opportunity stops. Guane itself is tiny and whilst picturesque , it doesn't have much to offer, especially if its main attraction, the museum of palaeontology, is closed as it was when we were there. However, despite it only having 4 streets, it does seem to have almost as many eateries as Barichara - although most are probably closed at night.

Nevertheless the main reason for going to Guane is the walk, to burn off those calories that are easy to amass in Colombia. Most people walk the downhill route from Barichara and take the bus back up the hill. We decided to walk both ways. This could have been a bit of a mistake, since about 15 minutes into the walk back it started raining and it didn't stop until we reached Barichara, 2hours later. But whilst it made the stones a bit slippery, it was a light refreshing rain which made for a nice cool walk back.

Today after spending 3 nights in Barichara, we are moving onto Bucaramanga a large city about 3 and a half hours from Barichara by two buses.

We left Barichara at 11:30am on the bus to San Gil and on arrival caught a taxi to one of the other 3 bus stations in order to continue on to Bucaramanga. The drivers were from the same school of overtaking as all our others had been and the countryside was the usual green pretty rolling hills that we were getting used to.

Until about 90 minutes out of San Gil that is. Then we reached the top of the hills and as we started down the other side the view became absolutely spectacular. This journey descending into Bucaramanga really makes you appreciate the beauty of the Andes and Colombia, something that my snaps from the fast moving bus cannot really justify. This is the Chicamocha canyon and the most impressive mountain views so far this trip.

Bucaramanga is a big city. No where near as big as Bogotá, but traffic-wise just as mad. We had chosen the Antigua Belén Bed & Breakfast from Trip Advisor, for our 2 nights stay. This proved to be a good choice. The rooms are very nice in this B&B and it has a nice patio area, where you can eat breakfast or drink a beer that they have in the fridge at near cost prices. With all the old cameras and watches and various other 'antique'
Barichara: Camino Real-1Barichara: Camino Real-1Barichara: Camino Real-1

The start from Barichara to Guane
stuff, the layout of the hotel is certainly unusual, but the staff are very helpful and want you to enjoy the place. The only issue was the rather unreliable WiFi that this B&B has. Is this issue going to follow us around Colombia I wonder ?

Bucaramanga is not really a tourist destination, despite the scenery less than an hour out of town. This was easy to spot by the lack of tourists and the looks we the foreigners, and especially Felicity, got from some locals.

This wasn't a place we planned to explore, but rather one to do some housekeeping things in the one day that we were going to stay here. After two months or so of travelling we, well me especially, needed some urgent hair surgery. So a trip to a hairdressers to snip out the grey bits and shave off the beard that was appearing on my neck was a must. They did a good job at Jhon Alonso's (their spelling) for less than a fifth of the price in Switzerland for me and a quarter of the cost for Felicity's highlights & cuts. We had to find Citibank - the only bank in Colombia whose ATMs allow you to be a pesos millionaire (ca USD550). Most other banks only allow between a third and a half of that. Since we were avoiding credit cards (due to the added cost) we needed to find Citi in the big Cities, like Bogotá and Bucaramanga.

In someways it was just as well that we weren't planning a tour de Bucaramanga, since the weather decided it was storm time in the afternoon. After our haircuts we took refuge in the local cinema and watched Cats and Dogs and then with the storm still raging, Oceans. Given that it was raining cats & dogs and the roads were starting to look like oceans these were appropriate choices. Oceans is a documentary some of which was filmed in the Galapagos islands - one of our planned destinations at the end of September/start of October.

For the two nights we were in Bucaramanga we visited a couple of good restaurants. The first night it was the Tex-Mex Guru restaurant which gets good reviews in a number of travel guides. The second night was a locals favourite, Mercagan Carnes a Parilla. If you like meat and are hungry this is a great and economical place to go.

After the second night's stay, we got up early at 6:30am to get suitably coffeed before tackling what we thought was going to be a 12 hour bus journey to the Caribbean coastal town of Cartagena. It turned out to be a little more.

Places we have visited and can recommend

Barichara

Hotels
Posada Dona Flor M (Good cheap, basic place to stay)
Carrera 7 no 4-05, Barichara

Restaurants/Cafes
Le Nube Posada
Calle 7 no 7-39, Barichara

Panaderia Central (good coffee and doughnuts when fresh)
Main Square of Barichara

Bucaramanga

Hotel
Antigua Belén Bed & Breakfast (ca $45/night per double room)
Carrera 31 No. 17-22, San Alonso, Bucaramanga

Restaurant
Guru (Tex-Mex style - good Brochetta Mixta)
Carrera 29 No. 42-44, Bucaramanga

Mercagan Carnes a Parilla (huge tasty cheap steaks & supermarket price quality wine)
Corner of Calle 45 and Carrera 34, Bucaramanga


Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


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Barichara: Guane-1

Inside the Church at Guane
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Barichara: Guane-2

A Street view
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Barichara: Guane-3

The Museum of Palaeontology that was closed when we were there.
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On the Road to Bucaramanga-4

The Chicamocha canyon
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On the Road to Bucaramanga-5

The Chicamocha canyon


10th September 2010

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