Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Interior of Colombia

The red lines show where we traveled in Colombia
Wow, what an 11 day adventure we just had traveling around beautiful Colombia.  I first need to say, not once did we feel afraid, uncomfortable or uneasy about anything.  The people are so friendly and gracious throughout the country.   There are an abundance of military and police on every corner in the cities and even in Leticia.  That also gave us a feeling of security. We flew from Cartagena to Medellin, which is a very old but beautiful city and we have been told also very wealthy.  Once it was the center of the drug tradingbusiness.  Quoting from Glen Tuttle’s story:
When one speaks of Medellin, Colombia most Americans think of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Drug Cartel of the 1980s.  During that time, Medellin was the center of
Escobar’s drug organization which was controlling 80% of the world’s cocaine market, and taking in an estimated 30 billion dollars annually.  Corruption and intimidation characterized the Colombian system during Escobar's heyday. He had an effective, inescapable strategy that was referred to as plata o plomo; Spanish or silver or lead, meaning "accept a bribe or face assassination."  Through a joint effort with the U.S., Escobar was finally located and eventually killed in a shootout with Colombian police in 1992, and the Medellin Cartel began to disintegrate.
They have cleaned up the city and I mean cleaned up in every way.  We watched people sweeping the streets and sidewalks continuously.  They have built and outstanding metro train system including a unique tram and cable car that takes you to the top of a mountain.  On top is a nature preserve where people come to hike, bike and study the nature also multiple vendors with fresh fruit and crafts.  It was a “Do not miss” on our trip.  We loved the city and the old architecture seen in  the churches and buildings.  80% of Colombia is catholic and it shows with the ornate churches (more like cathedrals) throughout Medellin and Bogota. 
Basilica Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria:
the most important church there, dating to 1776

We couldn't believe we were seeing a 1940's NYC taxi mounted on the top of a building in a remote area
Man hanging from a tree doing arobatics.  This is typical all over the city. They stop at red traffic lights also and put on a performance

Plaza de las Luces:  300 lit from within metal masts, floodlit at night

Monumento a la Raza: 125 ft tall dramatically
twisted metal sculpture tells the history of Antioquia

Up close view of the sculpture.  It really was quite dramatic

Birds of peace by Botero.  Story has it in 1995 a bomb was set off in the square during a concert where 27 young people were killed.  The Bird on the left was the only one there at the time and it was torn apart.  Botero was so moved by what happen that he donated the bird on the left in 2000.  Really an interesting story.

Medellin's idea of a shopping mall
Our fruit for the day.  Yum!!!  Only $1.25 US

Plaza Botero named after the famous sculpturer who did 23 bronze statues in the square.  He is also a famous painter.  All his figures are very large.  I added a few below for you to see what he does

He loves to do naked women in unflattering poses

Love this one standing on someone head

Her head is to the left under the woman. She must have been really mad
Then we rented a car (quite a dialogue with one girl there and no English) but we got a new car fully equipped and off we went to the mountains to the Hacienda Venecia which is a coffee farm.  We had no idea what we were getting into.  We were told it was a 4 hour trip which turned into a 6 hour nightmare of extremely curving mountains 1 lane roads with 5000 semi- trucks, construction everywhere and small villages at the very top with people walking everywhere including from of your car.  Talk about stress.  On top of it all, it was a manual transmission which literally wore Harry out shifting up and down on all the curves going up and then down the mountains. I was chicken and he did the driving.  Can’t tell you how happy we were to get to the end and then a 3 kilometer drive on an old dirt and stone road up and down before we actually reached the hacienda.  We had met up with a young German couple at the place we stopped to get directions into the hacienda.  They had just been delivered by a 6 hour bus drive.  So they piled in with us and we drove in together.  We had a wonderful time at the hacienda and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a real taste of the coffee country. It was a group of about 14 of us who sat by the pool, all ate together and then played games in the evening.
Inside the hacienda with the other people.
 Harry working on getting some fresh espresso out of the machine

Lovely pool at the Hacienda and the grounds around it

  People from Germany, Australia, France, Japan, Netherlands and USA were staying there.  Great fun!!.  They all spoke English.  Yea!!!.  So the next morning our guide, who also spoke English, first gave us a 1.5 hours talk on coffee:  how and where it is grown, processed and roasted all over the world.  He was very knowledgeable and fun. We found out that Brazil is the largest producer of arabica coffee in the world, Vietnam is number 2 (who would have guessed that) and Colombia is number 3.  Learned more about coffee then we thought we could ever know.  As Jenny said, now we will become coffee snobs reading every package!!  We hiked through the coffee bean fields, across a stream and up into where they actually process the beans. 

This is the name of the place we stayed and their own coffee label.  They are one of the biggest exports of coffee in Colombia.

Coffee bean fields. The landscape is beautiful and
 Banana trees grow among the coffee fields

The story of Juan and how it all got started.  We have been told his coffee is absolutely the best.  We will be buying some here in Cartagena.  

Our tour guide and instructor.  He has a coffee roaster in his hands and is roasting coffee for us as he talks

Orchids grow wild all over Colombia.  You can just go along the jungle and the fields and pick them.  Amazing

The peacock was showing off for Harry.  He was quite beautiful

 Quite an adventure.  We didn’t leave til midafternoon so our drive back which was once again a nightmare proceeded into darkness coming down the mountain back into Medellin.  In the future, we would recommend you take a bus.

Next adventure:  Off to Bogota by Avianca airlines.  We can’t say enough good things about this airline.  We flew 5 flights with them and each was outstanding and extremely reasonably priced.   They are very efficient, clean, on time and friendly.  The planes are beautiful inside with bigger seats, and very fancy stuff on the back of the seats for each passenger.  Our own TV with all kinds of choices including a great selection of first run movies in English, a cup holder, cellphone holder, a place to hang up a coat or jacket and a regular phone and radio.  Plus when the seats recline, they glide back (so comfortable).  They also serve sandwiches free on long flights and all our luggage was free to check in.   
Bogota is a city of 7.1 million people. (Almost the size of NYC).  It is very modern and busy but also has an old city in the La Candelaria area which has the most outstanding old architecturally designed buildings. 

We were not allowed to take pictures in this cathedral but here is what the inside looked like.  Talk about ornate and solid gold.  It was amazing inside.  All the cathedrals are Catholic.  80% of Colombia is Catholic

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion:  1823 with a chapel next door that contains the tombs of 2 of the national heros

Carts like this all over town making juice out of fresh fruit.
 People drink juice, not pop

2 alpacas (we think) sunny themselves in the plaza

Check out the foot in this fresco.
Iglesia del Carmen.  Another impressive Cathedral

The president's palace:  Casa de Narino

We wondered all over the area.  Two “must see things”  were the gold museum (Oro Museum) which was free for old folks like us.  5000  gold relics dating from 9000 years ago when the tribes first discovered the different ores in South America (and we were taught Columbus discovered Am).  Ha Ha.  These indigenous tribes have been here forever.  The museum was fascinating.

Just examples of all the gold relics that the ancient tribes made

This is how the old chiefs decorated themselves in gold

The other “must see” was the Monserrat Monastery at the top of the mountain outside of Bogota.  We took a tram to the top.  It was just magnificent and the view was outstanding.

View up the mountain from the cable car we were riding

Cable car as we took it up the  moutain

View of Bogota from the top of the mountain at the monastery

Cerro de Monserrate, 10,431 ft up.  It has been a center of worship since 1657

View of the surrounding gardens and landscape on top of the mountain

Us in our long pants on a hot day.  No shorts

So from there we flew to Leticia, a town on the Amazon sitting between Colombia, Brazil and Peru. We were very excited to be 4 degrees latitude south of the equator where all the toilets flush backward.  This is where the adventure really got interesting.  We stayed at a beautiful hotel in this very poor town the first night and then we were to move to an Eco lodge in the jungle.  Before we left we took a walk to Brazil.  I just love saying we walked to Brazil.  We saw military at the border but no one stopped us and the traffic back and forth with motorcycles was amazing with no one being stopped.  We took pictures of the street signs so we could say we were in Brazil but honestly it didn’t look any different than Leticia, other then they currency is Reales.  We looked in the grocery store and the prices were very cheap.

Streets of Leticia where everyone drives motorcycles and scooters.  the white thing is a motortaxi
Largest lilly pads anywhere seen
Our hotel lobby in Leticia.  Quite pretty and their are pink dolphins in the Amazon

Our pool at the hotel.  All for $32.50 a night including free buffet breakfast.  Can you beat that.

The key to our room.  Won't be losing that key

Proof of our walk to Brazil

Finally we took a taxi to our Eco lodge way out in the boonies only to find the place was closed up, not a soul around.  The taxi driver finally found a person to talk to (of course all Spanish) and found out the English owner had flown back to England and was not back.  We had tried to call the place, only to find out our phone had run out of Pecos.  So the taxi driver took our phone number and some money promising to recharge our phone when he got back in town.  In the meantime Pedro, one of the employees and the guide arrived and took us through the mud to our cabin.  He and the cook only speak Spanish so he finally called a lady (Diana) who came to interpret.  In the meantime our phone got charged (thank heavens for Memo, the taxi driver) only to find out that Avianca had called and said our flight to Cartagena was cancelled.  By this time my stress level was way up.  Up til now all had gone perfect.  Diana helped us try to plan our tours but we were not feeling great about all this.  She might be able to get us a very expensive interpreter but was not sure. 

Our cabin for the night.  Slight difference from the hotel in town

 So after much to do, we ended up hiking through the jungle with Pedro, the next morning, in the rain, over what he calls a bridge (see picture) to see an indigenous tribe called Maluko.

One of the fancier bridges we crossed.  The old lady with the white hair is me. Pedro is watching out for me

Pedro and me hiking in the mud and the jungle

Another thing they call a bridge

  Very interesting people who live in a large hut and served us their food (I couldn’t eat it, it was awful).  Didn’t tell them that just smiled and said no.  We learned how they cook and live.  Watched a young man do some great carving and then the Chief (old grandma in her nightgown) pulled us aside to have us snort some coco laced tobacco.  Needless to say we declined but we watch Pedro first snort then take a spoon of stuff in his mouth and then lick some strong tobacco paste.  It was gross and it made him high.  Pedro was great though and we learned enough from him by using our dictionary and fumbling through some Spanish that we were glad we didn’t pay for an interpreter which Diana could not get.

The Grandma in her nightgown is the chief.  Pedro was demonstrating their ceremonial masks

The chief teaching us how to snort coco and chew tobacco

We decided to leave the Eco Lodge after 1 night and go back to town to our fancy hotel with a swimming pool and free breakfast for $32 a night.  Memo, our taxi driver was great and came for us.  One night in that place was enough.
Diana had arranged an Amazon tour for us the next day and it was great. It was a husband and wife and little boy, Antonio who picked us up.  We first went to their house (boathouse on the Amazon.  We saw 6 people living there and 2 beds.  Not sure how that works.

The family with the boat.  We were on their boathouse first

  Then they took us about  12 miles in a boat up the Amazon into Peru, to a village where there were lots of animals, including a sloth, large snakes, monkeys, tortoises etc.  See the pictures.  Then we traveled into the jungle tributaries to find birds and monkeys.

In Peru in a village with all the animals

Monkey taking advantage

A very lovable sloth

Harry showing off with an water anaconda
A land anaconda
A very large lizard

This anaconda is at least 6 feet long

Her pet sloth in an unflattering position

2 giant turtles caught by the man on the right

A baby monkey

Their pet parrot
  They were wonderful and again, with our elementary Spanish and our dictionary we had a wonderful day with them and no need of an interpreter.

This was the boat we rode in all day

Marta and myself enjoying the view and looking for animals
The whole trip was fantastic and we would highly recommend anyone going to Colombia to do some of the things we did.  Our young German couple found a much better deal on with a 3 day jungle trip that we would recommend over what happen to us.  It was a hostile with a guide that speaks 6 languages and really knows what he is doing.  It is called La Jangada Hospedaj and is located right in town.

So interesting things about Colombia:

1.     There are no toilet seats or toilet paper in Colombia especially in public places so plan to carry a roll of toilet paper with you, ladies and plan to squat
2.  Almost no one speaks English so if you are coming this way, really brush up on your Spanish. We have really struggled through
3.  Everyone drives motorcycles with whole families on board, everywhere.
4.  Big breasts are desired by women.  When girls turn 15, they ask for breast enhancements as a gift.  (See picture of the manikins)

Check out the white shirt

      5.  Everything is very cheap compared to US prices

6    6. Spices are not a part of the culture.  The food here is very bland.  Their big meal is at lunch and everything is fried or bread dough or cornmeal based.
      7.   Leticia was the only place where we had to have bottled water.
       8. We have never seen anywhere so much fresh fruit and quite delicious looking all through Colombia
       9. In Bogota no one wears shorts.  We stood out so badly and got so many stares that we finally went into a store and bought long pants.  It gets chilly at night but we were very comfortable in the daytime in shorts but clearly no one else was.  They were even wearing heavy jackets.
1    10.   Fish is a huge industry here and very cheap.  We can have a very large fish dinner for $6. We are eating fish every day for dinner but I am getting sick of rice.  They pile it on.
1    11.   Cell phones are everywhere.  We have not seen a Colombian without a cellphone.
1    12.   TV is a trip.  Tons of US programs but mostly dubbed.  We have been able to get CNN in English and a few movies or sitcoms in English with Spanish subtitles in the hotels.
1    13.   Every hotel room has a double or queen bed and an extra single bed.  That is their standard.  Kind of strange

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