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Published: April 25th 2012
Sunset over the river
Day 193 Saturday 21st
We need to get tickets out of here for tomorrow so before breakfast we went in search of this and the first stop was the Brasila Expresso office near our hotel but they only go back towards Cartagena but he said to head towards the Cementario – really no one leaves this town. We walked around and could not see anything obvious but just opposite where we had dinner last night there was a small office selling tickets to Bucaramanga. After a bit of discussion we have arranged to be picked up at the hotel at 6.30am tomorrow and taken to El Banco by we think a Land Rover Collectivo and then a bus to Bucaramanga at 9.30 we hope this is in the morning and not the night.
We stopped at a café for a sandwich for brunch and to discuss if we would do the boat tour the hotel is offering. As we were leaving this morning the lady running the hotel took us to another guest who explained that the hotel was organising a boat tour of the area for the guests at 2.00pm, but we are not sure
The town from the boat
if sitting on a boat in the full sun would be fun.
We walked around for a while and then went back to the hotel to see if we could find out more info about the boat tour but there was no one around who could help us. We waited till 2.00pm and had just about given up when finally at 2.30pm there was a knock at the door and we all starting congregating in the foyer. One of the guests was in heavy negotiations with the boat operator and we later found out she was changing all the details to suit herself and not informing the others except the price would be more.
We were all aboard by 3.00pm and heading down the Magdalena River passing the town and cruising past children swimming and men fishing. This area is full of wildlife we did not expect like iguanas, birds including Aguilas which are eagles; this area is beautiful. The boat had to keep lifting the motor so it would not entangle fishing nets dotted all over the water just marked with small foam squares so the driver and lookout had to keep their eyes peeled for them
One of the churches from the boat
or we would have had some very unhappy fisherman chasing us. The first stop was a family that were growing mangoes and fruit that were living on land surrounded by water and swamp. The next stop was their son’s family house where we saw Howler monkeys living in the trees, but unfortunately I did not get a good photo of them they were too fast and the foliage too thick. Later we visited another family but this one could have been omitted from the tour as they had two monkeys on chains living in a small cage. The main reason to stop here was to see the macaws that had been hand raised and now living around the property as the birds are territorial they remain.
As we started back the sun was setting and the area became magical with the vivid red and orange glow across the landscape. Eventually we were losing daylight and still not near the town, soon all the light was disappearing and we were tearing along the river in complete darkness with no lights, and this was on a fast flowing river full of large logs and other such debris. To add to the
The pigs living on the river
level of danger none of us had life jackets so it was with a lot of relief when we finally arrived back in Mompox in the dark at 7.00pm. The trip had been worth it, but you can tell this is a fledging tourist venture which could improve, but not too much that it loses its charm.
We quickly got changed and went to the Plaza for dinner, another great steak and relaxed with watching the kids playing in front of the church climbing all over everything. We have to go back to the hotel to pack as we have an early start tomorrow, on the way back we saw a woman on a motorbike with a baby about 18 months old hanging onto the petrol tank without any other support I guess her theory is survival of the fittest or well balanced. We stopped at the bakery and picked up a sweet bread that had sultanas and jam (tea cake) for the bus trip tomorrow.
Day 194 Sunday 22nd
Up at 5.30am we paid the bill yesterday so we would have no problems leaving the hotel this morning. We were in
Aguila - Eagle
the foyer by 6.15am to wait for our transport to the bus terminal at El Banco, we could see the bus to Cartagena next door getting ready to leave. When two of the guests (one of which was the one changing the boat plans yesterday) came into the foyer, I assumed they were going to Cartagena and asked. They wanted to go to Bucaramanga which is our destination via El Banco I said have you arranged this and to our surprise although they spoke Spanish and asked the hotel for help they could not work out how to get out of town. We explained where we had brought the tickets and one of them took off, our taxi arrived and the other one started to talk to him next thing we know she has hijacked our taxi and not explaining what is going on we are driving all over town. We end up at the ticket office and where the other one came out she asked us why we had not put her backpack in the taxi; us not her friend sitting in the front sit, well if they had explained what they were planning it might have helped. So
we all went back to the hotel in our taxi and they proceeded to have a good old chat inside while we waited, during this time I realised we would be crammed in the back so I moved to the front and when she came back out she had the hide to ask me to move. I am glad that we helped them because the info in town is not good and it is always important to help other travellers, but we can’t wait to dump these …. women.
The road to El Banco is rough and muddy and the taxi we are in is a wreck the door and window handles do not work the car is full of rust and the fan belt is slipping there were times we thought the taxi would breakdown or just get bogged. We bounced along with dogs, pigs, cows and people wandering in front of us and our taxi never swerving; a few times I do not know how we missed them the driver seemed indifferent. This area has been hit with one bad flood after another starting two years ago and it has turned the entire road network into billy
goat trails. It was the worst road I have ever travelled on, and although our driver never swerved to miss locals he did for the huge gapping holes in the road, so we were constantly being thrown from one side of the car to the other. A few times he didn’t quite miss the holes and boy did the taxi slam in and out of the potholes, with our heads hitting the roof and the driver’s door flying open. At one point we had a large mud hole in the middle of the road so he decided to go around but the sides of the road were like a rollercoaster ride and we got temporarily stuck before he headed into the middle. In the back I could hear commotion and saw that the water was coming into the taxi so I had to quickly grab the daypacks off the floor that I jammed at my feet. Thankfully we only got one side of the camera bag muddy, but any longer and the mud would have been through everything. I tried to do the window up but it did not work so mud sprayed through the taxi. If this taxi does
this trip on a regular basis no wonder it is a bomb, this is really a 4 wheel drive road.
We arrived in El Banco an hour early for the bus so we ate half our tea cake for breakfast. The bus left at 9.30am the journey was through beautiful countryside and thankfully was uneventful. We needed to decide where we were staying as the bus terminal is located roughly between two towns Bucarmanga a large city or the small colonial town of Giron. We chose Giron and got a taxi to one of the few hotels in the town Hotel Las Nieves this was the wrong decision as the hotel is overpriced for the tiny uninspired room that charges 77,000 pesos ($40) for fan only and no breakfast. We were going to stay three nights but when I tried the hot water as I desperately needed to wash my hair that was dusty and muddy there was none. Scott walked downstairs and was told there was no hot water, frio (cold) is OK and it would be if the water was not freezing. We have decided to book out in the morning.
It is Sunday night and
Hand raised parrot
the town plaza is full of people and street vendors, which is lucky as the restaurants close at 6.00pm here, so we grabbed a mixed meat kebab on a stick with a potato on top which are common food at vendors. Opposite the plaza there was a bar so we stopped for a beer before going back to our lovely hotel room.
Day 195 Monday 23rd
Adding to the charms of our hotel is the fact that it is very noisy first thing (5.30am) in the morning. The rooms are situated around a large courtyard that serves as a café in the town, so all the noise of the kitchen echoes through our door, including the sqwark of a dozen caged parrots in the foyer. Our room is also outfitted with a large crucifix (in case of vampires] attacks I guess) and a large Icon of St Barbara spearing a serpent, which seemed to say to me “keep it in your pants otherwise this is what you can expect”. So with all the racket, and only a cold shower on offer it was easy for us to be packed early and checking out.
Checking for fleas
Despite telling them we would be there 3 nights, the woman at reception didn’t seem a bit surprised on our early departure, and I wonder if she had correctly guessed our time of leaving in the hotel sweep.
Outside a taxi was waiting and our driver was only too happy to whisk us to the booos terminal whilst learning how bad our Spanish was along the way. Once again we are unsure of our ultimate destination, it is either the town of San Gil, or the nearby (20km) town of Barichara. San Gil is the adventure capital of Colombia with paragliding, white water rafting, rappelling, canyoning, etc, none of which we are interested in of course but it does have a good selection of hotels and restaurants at budget prices. Barichara however is a picture perfect old colonial town but supposedly is very expensive. Barichara was our first choice but we couldn’t a direct bus there and so we got a bus to San Gil. We could have ran down and jumped on a bus that was just about to leave but we both felt we needed breakfast first and so got tickets for the later 10.40 bus. This
Party time in the town plaza
gave us time to relax with a greasy fried empanada and a coke for brekkie…yummy. I ended up having a coffee as well, which only reminded me why I haven’t had one for a long time….yuck.
Our bus today was once again with Copetran, but instead of getting a large coach we got a mini bus that was filled with broken seats, including our own. None of the seats would stay upright and all would sag slowly to the horizontal. Some took the whole journey to slowly fully recline like Shelleys, others like mine just wouldn’t stay up whilst others fell at the slightest bump. The guy in front of Shelley was fine till we hit a large bump at which she could check out the fillings in his back teeth and she was lucky she didn’t have her legs broken. The journey had us slowly climbing back into the foothills of the Andes once more and the scenery was nothing more than spectacular. The terrain is near vertical with dotted with landslides everywhere you look. There were plenty of road works where large chunks had disappeared into the valley or been inundated and it wasn’t any wonder when
Shelley with her burden on arrival
you see how they had cleared the land so harshly and how they construct their roads.
At 1.30 we finally reached the town of San Gil, which from the short bus journey through it to the bus terminal didn’t look much, so we decided to see if we could push onto Barichara. According to the Lonely Planet to get to Barichara we would need to transfer to another bus terminal on the other side of town, which would mean the added hassle and cost of a taxi. Luckily for us I spoke to a woman at one of the bus companies and she arranged to have a mini bus come over and pick us for free if we used them. The cost of the tickets for both of us to Barichara was 8,000 pesos ($5) and we got the free transfers so how could we refuse. At 1.45 a minibus came and picked us up and drove us to the other bus terminal where we transferred to another bus headed for Barichara. The driver even carried Shelley’s backpack, which is something I am sure he would have regretted as it not only weighs a tonne but is now covered
Scott with his burden on arrival
At 2 we were on our way to Barichara and although the bus started out near empty as we went along plenty of locals hailed us down so that on our arrival at 2.45 the bus was full. Once in town we dragged our bags out of the back to discover that they were now even more putrid than before, but had to throw them on regardless and go in search of a Hotel. Our first pick from the Lonely Planet was a good 3 block downhill walk but when no one answered the door and it appeared to be shut it was a bad 3 blocks uphill walk to where we had started. Our second choice the Hotel Curata was a further 2 block walk but thankfully was open and had a room at exactly the rate the Lonely Planet said it would be (a first for us in 12 years of travelling). The Hotel Curata is in a 300 year old colonial house and our room although not large in floor plan has a huge 7 metre high ceiling making the place cavernous. The room is really lovely and unlike the previous crap hotel we
Its a dog's life
have warm water to shower with, which was our first priority. After cleaning up we hit the town to discover what our new home is like.
Barichara was founded back in 1705, which makes it a fairly young town when compared to most towns in South America, but what makes this town unique is that nothing much has changed over those 300 years. The town is caught in a time capsule, and is filled with cobble stoned roads and colonial white washed homes, with no sign of besser blocks or concrete slabs. The whole town was declared a national monument in 1978 and heaps of local movies and TV shows are shot here because it is just so picture perfect. To top it off the mountain scenery around town is beautiful and the climate is near perfect year round. The temperature on our arrival was about 25 degrees, which made a nice change from Mompox’s 36. A lot of shops around town are filled with boutique clothes and handbags, or smart restaurants and cafes, but there are plenty of more local oriented shops. We discovered a lot of places weren’t open and we sort of figured that maybe they
Iglesia de Santa Barbara
only open for the weekend when the place gets a lot more tourists, but it was still great just wandering around. After the dusty day we have had we were hanging for a beer but there isn’t any bar as such in town and so had to resort to sitting in a convenience store and having a beer. The place we chose was sort of like the really old fashioned general store and it is where the locals drink, and had a great vibe about it and felt better than sitting in some swank watering hole. The guys running the place were great and we had a good old fashioned spanglish conversation over a couple of beers. Whilst here a huge storm started rolling in from the mountains and the whole town was lit by almost continual lightening flashes. We grabbed some more water paid our bill and scampered to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The food was sensational and whilst feasting a dog came inside to escape the storm and of course laid next to Shelley for protection. Thankfully the restaurant owners were fine with having the dog inside and it stayed with us till the storm passed and
Catedral de la Immaculada Concepcion
we headed home. Today had been our second day in a row of moving and so we were both buggered and despite our bed being as hard as a slab of slate we both crashed quickly.
Day 196 Tuesday 24th
We have discovered that we may have slipped into the Colombian bible belt as our room like the past two have crucifix’s and the town does have an over abundance of religious shops. Also the town’s main church rang its bell every hour on the hour all night, something we have never experienced before anywhere. I wasn’t sure if the church may be acting like some sort of huge cuckoo clock or the local minister just had the urge to piss everyone off in town, as it sure worked on me. Thankfully we had nothing planned today other than a good walk around town so this allowed us to sleep in to the decadent hour of 8.30. Our hotel doesn’t supply a breakfast so we headed downtown to a café but before going we put in our laundry to be done. After travelling for 6 months in South America we have coped really
well with next to no Spanish, getting hotels, buses, eating, etc, except when it comes to getting our clothes cleaned. By far our most painful, difficult, confusing conversations have revolved around getting a bag of dirty laundry done, and this morning was no exception. By the time we walked away we were left unsure if we would ever see our clothes again, and I had the distinct feeling the cleaner was going to carry our bag out the back and throw it in the bin…fingers crossed this doesn’t happen.
The café downtown although having plenty of promise ended up serving us crap coffee. Despite almost pleading with the woman for “pequenito leche” (tiny milk) repeatedly, we got a mug of hot milk with a dash of coffee. Poor Shelley just can’t drink the stuff but I manage thanks to my desperation and cast iron stomach. Shelley in her desperation for coffee then went for an expresso and for her pain got an undrinkable cup of bitter burnt beans. They may grow the stuff here but they sure don’t know how to make a decent cup.
Today was yet another beautiful day with plenty of sunshine, a few clouds
Catedral at night from our hotel
and the temperature in the mid twenties, a perfect day to stroll around a perfectly quaint town. Spent several hours roaming the streets of Barichara before stopping for lunch and then returning to our hotel. On our return we discovered that the cleaner had sorted our clothes and bags. We always leave our room in a tidy state and try and consolidate our clothes on top of our bags, it may not look good but at least all our crap is in the one spot. This wasn’t good enough for our cleaner who took all the piled clothes on top of bags and sorted it into the cupboard and rearranged all our stuff so she could zip up our bags. When I walked back into the room I found my bag zipped up and standing in the corner and our jumpers and shirts hanging in the closet and our undies and t-shirts nicely sorted and sitting on the shelves inside. Didn’t really worry us as there isn’t anything too personnel amongst the stuff but we found it rather amusing and it is the first time ever that we have had someone do it, we sort of felt like we have
Busy streets of Barichara
moved in with grandma.
The hotel has a lovely balcony running around an open courtyard with fabulous views over the town and across to the town cathedral. This was the perfect spot for us to chill and do some research on our next couple of destinations. We had actually picked up a bottle of red wine and were going to get some cheese and crackers and sit back tonight on this balcony and watch the sunset, till we discovered the no alcohol policy of the hotel….damn. Late in the arvo we wander down the hill to the plaza and onto our little convenience store for a beer or two. The mood wasn’t very good inside as Barcelona had just been beaten by Chelsea in the European cup and it would seem all the locals were going for Barcelona. A large group of locals were drowning their sorrows in a fast and very animated way and when we took notice they did their very best pantomime at their disgust at the loss. After giving our condolences and downing a couple of beers ourselves we moved onto the restaurant we ate at last night and had another great feed. We love
Peak hour in Barichara
this town so much we have decided to stay on an extra night.
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