Santander - not just a cash machine

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February 11th 2011
Published: February 11th 2011
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After a year of work, I was finally granted some paid leave, so I decided a little holiday was in order. Accompanied by Maureen and my former office drone Ellie, I paid a visit to the eastern province of Colombia, Santander, next to the Venezuelan border. No, nothing to do with the Spanish bank. Probably named so by unimaginative Conquistadores with pointy little beards.
So, Santander. It's dramatic. Craggy. Jaggedy. Hot. There are majestic canyons, fast-flowing rapids, and gorgeous little picture-postcard colonial villages. The Santanderians are a friendly bunch, too, despite their prelediction for their local 'delicacy', fried ants. Apparently they taste of coffee and ground dirt. I'd sooner just eat that. Ellie was a little braver though (see picture).
Our week-long trip took in the hubbub of Bucaramanga, the department capital and nothing too different from Medellin where we had just left. Save, that is, for Girón, a cutesy little village tucked into a far corner of the city with whitewashed buildings and cobbles, where we stayed on our last night. Lovely though Girón was, nothing touched the elegance of Barichara, which out-cutes everywhere else I have seen in the entire country (even Villa de Leyva). Virtually everything you look

Toytown taxi with two gears and its kindly owner.
at in Barichara is a photo opportunity.
We based ourselves in the bigger town of San Gil, the undisputed adventure sports capital of Colombia. Not sure if walking, sitting and idly chatting count as adrenaline sports, but if they do, we did a lot of them. We did go on a couple of gentle hikes (from Barichara to the hamlet of Guane, descending a staggeringly beautiful canyon, and back to Barichara in a 'taxi' in which even Noddy would have felt a bit cramped for leg-room). We spent an afternoon exploring San Gil's enchanting Parque Gallineral, a floral enclave dominated with ethereal trees with wispy wizard beards (not sure if that is the official Latin taxonomy, but hey) and visited the Juan Curí waterfalls and had a dip in the icy waters of the plunge pool.
A surprise hit of the holiday was the food (never a likely stand-out in Colombia) which included a restaurant in Barichara whose owner was a loitering Spaniard with a parrot friend. We discovered a place in San Gil which served up monster paella - something i didn't think was possible to get hold of in Colombia. We tried to go to the so-called 'ant restaurant' in Barichara but it was closed for refurbishment. Maybe (ahem) they were making it bigger to attract a different species of clientele.

Other highlights: I didn't get sunburnt (while Ellie, if anything, became whiter), I got my mitts on the long-awaited Keith Richards autobiography which Ellie kindly exported for me, and I met the best friend of Ashes legend Alistair Cook in San Gil. I told him to tell AC that I love him. Oh, and new exotic fruit discoveries: feijoa, borojó and curuba. All great.
On return to Medellín I gave the girls a whistle stop tour of the city before they headed home to London. Awesome holiday had by all: check! Now back to the humdrum reality of life in Medellín. Well, humdrum with a swimming pool in the shade of a palm tree in the back garden. Did I mention there was a swimming pool?

Additional photos below
Photos: 12, Displayed: 12



4.30 in the morning from my balcony, just as Ellie and Maureen had to head off to Miami.

Ellie and avian amigo. She is missing out on the mango ceviche.
Parque GallineralParque Gallineral
Parque Gallineral

Wispy trees.
San GilSan Gil
San Gil

Me and Maureen by the fountain in the main square.

Ellie ate this.

View of the city from the airport cafe

4th May 2011

Big Ass Ants
Me too:

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