Waaaaay back in Bucaramanga...

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June 7th 2010
Published: June 7th 2010
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video games with Felipe
Several weeks ago we spent a few days in the city of Bucaramanga. Bucaramanga originally was not on our agenda because we heard that it was just another big city with nothing special to see or do, so we skipped right over it on our way from San Gil to Taganga. However, I met a nice lady in Taganga who was from Bucaramanga and was somewhat offended that we didn't visit her city. So, she invited us to come stay with her and her family. She gave me not one, not two, but three phone numbers to contact her as well as an email address. While we were in Cartagena, Ryan and I talked it over and decided it might be a cool experience to go stay with a "host family" of sorts. So, our last day in Cartagena I called her up (her name is Carmenza) and asked if the invite was still on the table. She was thrilled to hear from me and invited us to come the next day.

After an overnight bus from Cartagena, we arrived in Bucaramanga around 7 a.m. and took a taxi to Carmenza's apartment. Carmenza, a widow, lives on the 5th floor of an apartment building with her 25-year-old son, her 30-year-old daughter, her 11-year-old grandson, and a young couple who are renting a room in her apartment. So, in all, there are 6 people living in a 3-bedroom apartment, and then we arrived so you do the math. Carmenza so graciously gave us her bedroom, although I tried to protest, saying we'd be happy on the couch. So that meant that she slept in a different bedroom with her adult son, daughter, and her grandson while we were there. In these very close-knit Latin families, sharing beds is really no big deal whatsoever. We also all shared a bathroom, with the exception of the 2 renters who had their own. And surprisingly, we never felt cramped.

Our first day there, after showers and naps, we ate a homemade brunch of soup and arepas. In the Santander region, a common breakfast food is a soup called caldo, which is mostly potatoes and eggs in a broth. And I don't think I've mentioned arepas yet in my blogs, but they are corn flour that has been fried into a hard disc that you could probably use as a small frisbee and they often taste like cardboard or like nothing at all. Sometimes they come with cheese or butter, which often doesn't really improve the taste, unfortunately. Arepas in Colombia are a staple. They eat them every day, with practically every meal. They sell them on every street corner and all the locals seem to eat them with gusto. As for me, if I never see another one I'll be okay with it... if I could only be so lucky!

Anyway, we spent the afternoon with Carmenza's son's girlfriend, Sandra, who took us around to look for a hat for Ryan. It was an unsuccessful trip through a few shopping malls, although the malls themselves were pretty cool and we also got some ice cream in one of them.

That night one of Carmenza's friends and one of Felipe's (the 11-yr-old grandson) friends came over. Carmenza made delicious empanadas while Ryan and I played games with the 2 boys and Carmenza's friend. Then all of us ate empanadas until we couldn't possibly eat any more. After dinner, Ryan and I went out with Ruben (the 25-yr-old son) and Sandra (his girlfriend) and some of their friends. We ended up at a Mexican bar called El Sombrero, where we drank aguardiente (similar to Sambuca) and danced all night. But when we first got there, there was a duo lip sync-ing some very bizarre theatrical songs. Then there was a mariachi band. Then they played American and Latin hip-hop and everyone jammed on the dance floor. We ended the night at a street-side restaurant where, according to Sandra, they sold the best burgers in town. These burgers were: 1 beef patty, a couple slices of ham, shredded chicken, cheese, tartar sauce, pineapple sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Ryan and I shared one. At the time, I'm sure it was delicious, but thinking back on it... gah..... Don't think I'd do that again.

The next day we slept until about 11:30 a.m. because we had gotten in so late the night before. We planned to go to a big canyon called Chicamocha, and national park called Panachi. We assumed we'd be going there on our own, but when I asked Carmenza which bus we should take, she announced that she'd be coming with us. So, the three of us bussed out to the canyon. It was nice of Carmenza to join us, firstly because it would've been hard to get there on our own, and secondly because it cost money to get into the park and she's already been there half a dozen times. Our first hour there was lovely. We took a "teleferico" (a gondola) down into the canyon and back up the other side where you can get out and roam around. This part we did on our own because the teleferico costs even more money and Carmenza didn't want to come. The canyon is extremely large and very beautiful. There are really cool plants that grow in it and a large, chocolately river that flows through the center. Unfortunately, my camera battery died while we were there and I forgot to bring my spare one!!

Ryan and I spent some time roaming around the other side... he found a hat and we ate lunch there. When we headed back on the teleferico it started raining. It continued to rain the rest of the time we were there, but there was no stopping us. Carmenza wanted to show us the whole park so we roamed around the same side of the canyon that we started on. There was a large bronze sculpture that depicted the revolution that freed Colombia from Spanish rule. It's actually really cool and Carmenza explained everything on it, so we had quite the history lesson. Wish I had some pics!

We continued to roam around in the rain until the sun went down and it got quite cold. We had to wait on the side of the road, in the rain, until a bus came by that was going back to Bucaramanga. On the miserable bus ride back, I nearly vomited because the road is so curvy and the bus was full so I was sitting on a cushion on the floor by the steps to board where fumes from under the bus seemed to be seeping in. But despite the rain and the cold, and the crappy bus ride home, I'm really glad we went. It's a really beautiful and interesting park. It would have been really great if the weather had been better. Our fault for partying all night the night before and sleeping in too late!!

The next day, Ryan and I again wrongly assumed we'd be on our own. To our surprise, Carmenza had the entire day planned out for us. First we would be going to a nearby town called Giron for a full tour of the city with our personal tour guide and photographer, Carmenza. Then we would be taking a tour of Bucaramanga, including all the city's highlights as well as the hotel where her daughter, Angelica, works. It's called Hotel Chicamocha and is one of the finest hotels in the city. Nothing was that notable about the day. Giron was a small, pretty, colonial town which was worth a visit. We just walked around a lot and Carmenza showed us all the town plazas, the doorway that was voted "most beautiful doorway in all of Giron", some big trees, some churches, and a restaurant that is popular in town. Carmenza insisted on taking pictures of Ryan and I in every single location that we stopped at. It was a long day, to say the least. We didn't get back to the apartment until about 11 p.m.

The next day... guess what... Carmenza had made plans for us to take a bus to her friend's apartment complex where there was a giant pool. We spent about 5 hours there swimming. It was really nice and relaxing. Ryan was happy to be swimming laps. That evening Ryan and I finally escaped the apartment without the company of Carmenza so that we could go get her a little gift and some groceries. We also left that night for Medellin on an overnight bus.

All in all, Bucaramanga was definitely worth the side trip. It is a clean city that also seemed safe, at least in the area we stayed in. Maybe not so safe after dark in the downtown center, but Carmenza's apartment was in a very nice neighborhood. I don't think we ever saw any street dogs, which was nice. Carmenza said it's not allowed to have your dogs off leash in Bucaramanga. If only all of Colombia were like that.... The city is nestled in the mountains and has a nice climate, although it rained on us every day we were there.

Carmenza herself was exceptionally gracious for inviting us into her home, sharing her bedroom, cooking for us, showing us ALL the sights in and around the city, and being a kind of mother to us while we were under her roof. However, since Ryan and I are American adults who don't live with their mothers anymore and we are used to having a little freedom, you could say we were ready to move along after a few days. She also had an interesting habit of photo sharing. First of all, she showed us about 75 photos on her computer, and then she personally showed me 99 photos on her tiny cell phone, meticulously going through each one and explaining them in detail. "This is a salad I ate at a restaurant here in Bucaramanga called La Puerta Roja. It was so delicious. It had avocado, onions, tomato, carrots, peppers, cheese..." and so on. Or, "This is a friend of Felipe's. His name is Nicholas. His mother and I have known each other since our children were in kindergarten...." Except all in Spanish, of course. And secondly, she once got her hands on my camera and decided it would be a-okay to look at each and every one of my 700-something photos. I'm absolutely certain it was out of innocent curiosity, but I felt like my privacy had been slightly invaded. Alas, these were but minor irritations in an otherwise great visit to a great city. Ryan actually let it slip that he could see himself living in Bucaramanga. Hmm, he might become a main attraction as the only 6'4 blonde guy in the city and Carmenza can bring her house guests to come take pictures in front of him. "This is an American guy named Ryan who once stayed at my apartment. I cooked food for him and he even slept in my bed! Stand with him and let me take your picture!!!"

Additional photos below
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why is she all over my man?!

7th June 2010

Looks like Ryan really likes that blue striped shirt!
8th June 2010

Ryan's Hat
Did you buy a hat, I want to see a picture it. Hope you have fun in Equador. Miss you guys!
15th June 2010

What a joy
What a joy to hear how you 2 have been doing. Kathryn, I hope we can meet soon. I live between Dallas and Ft. Worth and you are welcome anytime. This is such a great time in your lives to live out such an exciting adventure. Ryan, I hope your dad keeps me on the list to receive your updates. Take care.

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