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Published: March 3rd 2010
There's no point trying to deny it - Sunday was all about recovering from the excesses of Friday and Saturday.
The hotel where I'm staying is clean and comfortable, located in (what I'm told is) the best area in Bucaramanga and the staff are super-friendly.
But one BIG gripe that I have with the place is that it's noisy - every morning I'm woken at around 6.30 by traffic and chattering in the restaurant, cleaning staff etc etc.
It's really more due to the design of the building. My room looks out onto another room across the tiny atrium of the hotel. Two floors below is the restaurant, reception area, main entrance etc. The windows are single glazed and there is no escaping the noise first thing in the mornings - other than judicious use of ear plugs.
So Sunday I was woken early (at about 7 - 2 hours sleep!) and failed dismally to get back to sleep. I struggled downstairs and got myself some breakfast. From there I just wandered, sat in bars drinking juices of fruits that I have never seen before, people watching. Eventually I summoned the strength to look at the computer and update
the blog, had a quick hunt around for places to stay in Santa Marta (my next port of call), ate....why am I dragging this out? Sunday was a non-event. Quite literally nothing to write home about. And I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Yesterday I decided to check out a place nearby called Girón. It's a small colonial town (although bigger than I expected) around 20 minutes drive away from my hotel. One of the problems with Bucaramanga (for me, at least) is that it's not a touristy place at all. As a result, simple things like a map of the local area are pretty difficult to come across - so I was entirely reliant on my guidebook in order to get information about where to go and what to do.
The other thing that I've noticed is that, when staying for only a couple of days in a place, it's much nicer to stay in a small town - for a number of reasons. In a small town, you get the sense that you've seen quite a lot of the town before you leave. It's difficult to say "yeah, I know Bucaramanga" because, in truth, I know about a thousandth
A lampost in Giron
...well, some of it
of it if I'm lucky. But I can say without much hesitation that I know San Gil and Villa de Leyva pretty well.
Another point is that it's much more difficult to navigate around a city (particularly without a map). In a small town you're only a few blocks away from everything - everything is walkable. In a city, it's pretty easy to get pretty lost pretty quickly.
And the final thing that I've noticed is that, in the small towns, people seem to be more open and friendly. Not that people aren't friendly here in Bucaramanga - I've been shown enormous hospitality in the short time that I've been here. It's just that, as with any city I guess, anonymity reigns - people have their own lives to get on with and there is less of a curiosity about strangers in town which reduces the opportunities for interaction.
Anyway, I got sidetracked, forgive me. I was heading to Girón, right?
The porter at the hotel hailed me a cab and off we went. Again the day was super-hot and really sticky and the air from the open windows was like a hairdryer on low heat. Less than
five minutes after leaving, I could feel my clothes sticking to me like a badly fitted second skin.
I think we were heading south - I asked the driver but he wasn't really sure about the direction (which worried me a bit).
One noticeable change in the geography of this area is that all of the road cuttings indicate that the town is built on or around a predominantly sandstone base. This makes for pretty interesting scenery as you pass by stone walls riddled with vertical ravines (not sure of the word) which have been cut out by the rain. They look like sand-colored Cadburys Flakes that have been up-ended and then stuck together in a fairly haphazard fashion. Really quite beautiful. I bet it's a pain if you want to build a house though!
We passed by the industrial area of the city. It's easy to see why this town seems to be so relatively wealthy - the industry here appears to be in fine form with car plants, industrial machinery manufacturers (I think) - all appeared to be busy. And for an industrial area, it actually seemed pretty nice. Small huts dot the roadside selling soft drinks
and snacks, occasionally people sitting outside sheltering from the sun and cooling down as the traffic from the dual carriageway roars past.
We reach Girón and I hand over my 10.000 COP to the driver.
My first impression of Girón was "everything's closed". And it was only then that it occurred to me that for all of my trips to these little places I always arrive at a stupid time - pretty much always around midday. And of course, that's when everything closes for a couple of hours. It explains why pretty much everywhere that I go to seems deadly quiet.
It's also a stupid time because it's ridiculously hot. Unfortunately, by the time that I've had breakfast and showered and sorted out some emails and what-not, about midday is usually the earliest I can make it. Think that I'm going to have to work on my schedule a bit.
So, Girón was effectively closed for a couple of hours and I was melting. I stopped at a (largely empty) pastry shop and ordered myself a juice. There was no air conditioning but a cooling breeze intermittently rippled through providing some relief.
I wondered what there was
to do or see in Girón. I asked at the shop if there was a tourist office. They didn't know. I gave up on the conversation at the pastry shop pretty quickly and decided to go to try to find something to eat. I stumbled across a place called Restaurante Mansion Del Fraile on the main square. It was the sign outside reading "platos tipicos" (or something like that) that attracted me.
Unfortunately, it seemed that none of the regional dishes were available that day - so I went for the sirloin steak...and wasn't disappointed! It was cooked to perfection! The service was super-attentive (although I was, of course, the only guy in the place). They were also able to tell me (approximately where the tourist office was).
With lunch finished, I wandered around the place for a while. Although colonial, it didn't really have the same vibe as Villa de Leyva or Barichara. The place felt a bit more "lived in". It's difficult to describe...but I didn't feel quite as comfortable. Of course the insupportable heat did nothing to alay that.
At 2pm the tourist office opened. It is in the same building as the culture office - the
guy there was very nice and helpful and seemed genuinely pleased to give me information. But looking through the supplied map and brochure, I found little to inspire me. I guess that I was there at the wrong time. And I guess that, had I not been to Barichara and VdL, I would have been more impressed. As it was, I went to see the church, bought myself some Listerine (very colonial) and headed back to the hotel.
The heat here just wipes you out. I could easily have slept for 8 hours straight after getting back. As it was I watched some TV, checked up on emails etc. Then I met up with David and his girlfriend. We went for a bite to eat locally. I can't remember what I had (in terms of what it was called) but it was a fried plantain base with a sort of chicken and mushroom topping (kind of like a soup but not so soupy and more chicken and mushroomy, if you get my drift). I also got my first PINT of lager since arriving here. That was nice. Sort of reminded me of home....
And with that, it was
off for a couple more drinks and home.
I'm sorry if this posting seems a little rushed. The truth is that I've got about 30 minutes before I have to check out of the hotel here and then I'll be heading off up north - an overnight 10 hour coach journey awaits me...but I wanted to get this written, otherwise I'd be two days behind :S
So, that's all for now. The next time I write, I'll be frying on the caribbean coast... 😊
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