We took a rather long minibus ride from there to a town called Neiva which gave us access to our next stop. The minibus took all day and spent most of the time on an unmade road, made worse by recent heavy rains and an earthquake. Google maps and the such like gave the journey time as just a few hours, but we knew this was completely inaccurate -
A quick juice in Neiva was grabbed as we, now in the dark, took another minibus to our destination at Villavieja. A meal was grabbed, relaxed for a couple of hours and it was then bed time. After breakfast the next morning our transport arrived for the few kilometres to the Tatacoa Desert. These, I am used to and have done many miles in them, no doubt you may remember I rented one last year for a month in Sri Lanka -
If you are thinking Sahara, Australian outback etc you’ll be disappointed. Relatively it is very small and is not a sandy desert - but - interesting in itself. A stop at the end of the tuktuk ride at a cafe where we took another juice - this time sugar cane, freshly made -
The national park intrigues me considerably, assuming there is a reasonable trail to walk to see all of those things.
The desert park with cactus is also splendid. Naturally, the lone cactus on the promontory is my favourite, even though it is doomed to disappear after a few more rainy seasons. And speaking of rain, I imagine that it must be a really scary place during a downpour. And it must have a totally different look afterwards.
K2, the park with the hot springs has about a 1km walk from the road along an easy path, large enough for a small car. It is called Puracé National Natural Park and has a few things to see, like the springs as well as the waterfalls, a lagoon and the nice clear pond which are also just off the road. The guides to the Springs only speak Spanish but it is more or less a requirement you take one and though I can't remember the cost, they were cheap. He'll show you "the good stuff" even if you can't speak the language. They are picked up at a small shed at the entrance not to the park itself, but by the path that leads to the hot springs. For some the elevation left them a little out of puff, and is wasn't down to the age of our group.
We also took a guide, the one who brought the tuktuks, who has lived by the desert all his life and as we were walking round he was regularly pointing out here the scenery had changes, parts fallen down due to the erosion and so on. He did say when it rained the place was a death trap
Mossie/Mick - the iced cake cactus has on the photo little red dots on them which are fruit and can be eaten. They taste very good, the one I had, fresh, crispy with a little tart taste. Mick, can you identify them?
Considering the guy at #30 had had a few rough(ish) travelling days and lacked sleep due to heat, cold or noise, I bet when he's on par he scrubs up well. Mind you, I think he prefers the slightly roughish, active, outdoor, façade.
Thanks for that illuminating, hopeful, and rather touching link to the story of the women's prison restaurant. Surprising and charming.
If I were forced to choose between seeing the mossy green area of the hot springs or the dry wonders of the cactusy desert, I would still be dithering. The first one is a fairy land and the second full of fabulous cactus in their native habitat. So happy you all got to do both! Say what you will, I think your pictures are great. You're looking good there too, in the mist.
The city of Oaxaca is at 1,555 meters & that elevation bothers some people. Over three times as much would definitely put a strain on the lungs!
“The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá (Spanish: Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá) is an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 metres (220 yd) underground in a halite mountain near the town of Zipaquirá, in Cundinamarca, Colombia. It is a tourist destination and place of pilgrimage in the country. The temple at the bottom has three sections, representing the birth, life, and death of Jesus. The icons, ornaments and architectural details are hand carved in the halite rock. Some marble sculptures are included. The Salt Cathedral is considered one of the most notable achievements of Colombian architecture, being described as a "Jewel of Modern Architecture". The cathedral represents a valuable cultural, environmental and religious patrimony for the Colombian people.” It is worth a day out to and the scale of it is to be seen -
We have friends in Bogota. The city is at a height of 2,640 m (8,660 ft). Our friends live another 300m above that. Needless to say, some can be affected by the height if not acclimatised to it. I could feel the shortness of breath whilst there. After the group trip finished we had a day with our friends just bumbling about, not doing much at all, just visiting a very small local town for breakfast and an ice cream - plus more fruit juice. The types of juice are many and very tasty. I tend to go for the tarter types like normal lemon or maracuya (passion fruit) or one called lulo. I always ask for any juice to be without sugar -
This next photo shows a delight for me - shelled fresh peas. I tried to ask for half a kilo but was told the measurements are in pounds (USA), so I got one pound and spent the next couple of hours walking around and dipping into the bag -
This next set show some potatoes. There are three types that go together to make up a very Colombian dish, a soup called Ajiaco -
A discussion over what was for breakfast in the numerous pots -
Then a real surprise. A group of Royal Enfield motorbikes also stopping off. They are not now British made and are available in Colombia. One anomaly is the last photo of an ACE. There are organised tours that go through South America, and Colombia, this may have been one of them -
Talking about food, the arepa is ubiquitous with the country. Made usually with maize flour and can have a number of fillings. In fact the style of this and all the food is very regional and you don’t have to go far to get a different take on things. One poor thing about the food is the cheese, or lack of it. An Indian paneer is the best similarity. But the country makes up for it with a vast diversity of other dishes/foods. It must be said that when travelling and grabbing a bit to eat, the options favour the arepa and variations of it and numerous types of empanada, a baked or fried type of small pasty which also has various combinations of fillings. The best I had was in a section just outside Bogota that used something like proper corned beef. It was really good.
A whole thread could be done on the food, most good, some not so for my tastes, but as I came from Zambia where there is a dearth, I did enjoy it. There regions, as does the countryside and produce, have great variations in the same dish and availability. Obviously, more fish on the coasts, but also a large number of soups in the colder regions. We even had mole sauce, called here mole poblano, which most of the group didn’t actually like. For me it was fine. (Mole - “In contemporary Mexico, the term is used for a number of sauces, some quite dissimilar, including black, red/colorado, yellow, green, almendrado, de olla, huaxmole, guacamole, and pipián. Generally, a mole sauce contains a fruit, chili pepper, nut, and such spices as black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and chocolate.”)
Here is the device they use to finish off cooking the arepas, driven by a small electric motor the plates turn in front of the fire -
On to our breakfast. A bland(ish) but easy breakfast soup. There are others that are more highly spiced and herbed, but this was a breakfast one. Accompanied by the arepa “con queso” inside -
A speciality, cacao with cheese (and an aprepa, obviously) -
A comprehensive article on Colombian Cuisine is in the link. For me, I’d go back purely for the tremendous amounts of fruit juices -
Weather - Bogota, for me, cold and wet. Coastal, as expected, hot and humid. Inland depending on height, hot and dry or cold and dry.
One last thing. Mrs M organised the trip to coincide with her birthday. It also coincided with mine. But due to work commitments etc, mine was spent on the journey back. Due to the difficulty of the route from Lusaka to Bogota there were numerous permutations I went through involving time and cost and we ended up flying outbound from Lusaka to Johannesburg, then to Sao Paulo in Brazil where we overnighted, then direct to Bogota. The return was Bogota to Santiago in Chile, then Sao Paulo, to J’Burg and finish back in Lusaka. We set off Sunday evening and arrived back Tuesday lunchtime. Though a slightly circuitous route it turned out to be the cheapest by far. We even considered via Portugal or Angola or Cairo.
This meant that on my birthday I was in Colombia, Chile and Brazil. Not many can say that. One good thing was the leg from Chile to Brazil flew over the Andes. Quite spectacular in real life from a plane and coming down to the lowlands -
Conclusion - yep, I’d go back again without a problem. The scenery is definitely an attraction and there is plenty to see. I’d like to try more of the food as well, though take more time travelling and get proper meals rather than off the cuff things during the day. Breakfasts are usually good with a lot of fruit available. Buses, taxis and internal flights are cheap. There is no proper rail network. Accommodation is not cheap, like in parts of Asia, but far from expensive. The one five star hotel we stayed in was about $80 for the room. Travel and transportation is easy, most locals are quite friendly and helpful, history and sights abound.
I would though, not go with a group. Though no-one complained you could see from time to time they were not happy. Either the heat or the travel or whatever, but there were down moments amongst all of them. Plus, me shepherding Mrs M alone and trying to keep her safe is far easier than with a number of others who I would have to constantly remind to have their hats, suncream, passports or whatever with them, tell them to watch out for petty crime in the busy places like Bogota and to be ready at a certain time to leave for the bus/plane etc. Also they tended to wander off, as you do in a new place, and the rest of us would have to wait for them to return. I’d be a little more removed mentally if they were not all known to me and I’d tell them we are meeting wherever at whatever time and if you are not there, tough luck. Things like that. Mrs M has not really had to monitor a group before and it was a little eye opener for her the way I tried to manage them. Subtly and sometimes not so.
All in all, a good holiday with plenty of new experiences, memories, anecdotes and talking points for me and everyone else. The trip was designed as a bit on the go regularly so to show off parts of the country with the thought that anyone interested could go back another time, concentrate on one or two areas or take more time. Travelling by road was also designed rather than fly everywhere all the time to see better the countryside. There’s been recently from the old Top Gear presenters, now The Grand Tour, a two part special on Colombia, which does show some parts of it off and all were enamoured with the country.
My first experience in 2002 led me to wonder a) if the bras women wear are different to European (Mrs M says no, but I can’t dispute this as I have no hands on experience. Lots of beautifully kept long dark hair as well) and b) when I was walking along holding hands with our newly adopted twin girls, then aged a cute three years old, it was amazing how many smiles and looks up and down I got from the local women. I was completely ignored before.
Well, thanks for all this, Mark. Nice to see your take on it all. Like you, my best food memory is the fruit juices. I actually found some frozen lulos here in Toulouse and made a dessert with them. However, I did not like arepas, and, as you say, they are everywhere for breakfast, I was stuck eating the tasteless white bread or some kind of pastry.
We also went to Zapaquira and to some of the towns around Bogota. It is an interesting country, with friendly people. And easily-understood Spanish.
Living down here with all the Central and South American immigrants, I've been amazed at how bad their cuisine can be. From Colombia, wall paper paste Arepas are a common street food. The Colombian empanadas here are deep fried and tasteless. As an indicator there are few Columbian restaurants here. To get an idea of the cuisine the Colombians bring with them, I've attached a link below. Yup, arepas and empanadas.
Your aerial photos are excellent, since we all know how hard it is to get photos out of an airplane window that do not look like total shit.
I am particularly impressed by all of the produce at the market, which makes it all that much more disturbing that South American cuisine does not have a great reputation apart from seafood. I know that a lot of the "problem" is just that different cultures have different tastes so we shouldn't really judge the food when we travel, but it's hard not to. About the only item that I fell in love with in Brazil, for example, was bolinho de bacalhau (fried codfish balls), probably because they were fried, but the Brazilian friend who was also on part of the trip hated cod and always ordered boring pork things.
I see that most of the same things are in season at the same time as in Mexico. That is an enormous maracuyá you show. There are some things I can't identify -- the yucca? and cassava? between the plantains & the papayas. What is the vegetable that sort of looks like a flattened leek, left side in the picture with the shelled peas? I was able to identify the lulo, but only because I'd looked up the word first.
Interesting that you were served mole in Columbia. Mole Poblano is probably the best known outside of Mexico. (although Oaxacan moles are better -- just saying). I am intrigued by the food. Coincidentally, in my continuing quest for a reliable source of cornmeal here, I bought a bag of a corn product somewhere between flour and meal. This was in Wal-Mart & all the writing on the package was in Spanish, English, & French. It is "pre-cooked corn flour" and the only other info was a recipe for arepas which I ignored, thinking it was some kind of Philippine tamal. See how much I wind up learning from Anyport!
The flight over the Andes was a fabulous plus to your trip, even after all the gorgeous landscape and other wonders you all saw. Good to know that you all made it back with friendships intact. Totally agree with you about traveling in groups. Usually one other person is the ideal number for excursions, and that person needs to be curious and open to whatever comes along.
At any rate, huge thanks for showing up some of Columbia. Years ago when Bjd did the same, it showcased that country as a worthy travel destination. Time passed and my interest retreated to the back of my mind, but you have revived it in a big way.
bjd, would you go back? I need to have a look at your report, I'd forgotten about it.
huckle/K2, one thing over the years I've noticed is how the food of a country can be thought of as good yet some of it, especially when it travels out of that country, is crap. Same with UK food and that's why I defend it when I need. It can be really good, but within and without there is too much rubbish being sold. I understand Peru has some fine restaurants but I've no idea about the rest of the food.
bixa, I stood and took the photos of the little market and felt I also needed to ask someone what every single fruit and veg was and make a written plan and graphic to identify each item. I'm afraid I can't answer your question about the flat leeks nor, now, identify much else. A lot are foreign to this small town English lad and I'd need repetitive exposure to them to even grasp what things might be. I could classify the stuff as fruit or veg, but that's about it. I asked a Colombian woman at the time what things were and she looked at me with an, "Are you really asking me?" look on her face as though it was all obvious. I'll bring you some cornmeal from Zambia. Mole was an unusual thing on the menus, no doubt the one we did have have not up to par. I'll have to wait until Mexico appears on my holiday bookings.
Mossie, "Where are the Andes? .......... on the end of your armies." An old kid's joke I remember. I told it to Mrs M on the plane. She wasn't impressed.
mich, Mrs M had the day she wanted. That was a present for me as well. I enjoyed her enjoyment.
Yes, I would go back to Colombia, or to anywhere else in S America. The only problem is that I really don't like to sit so long in airplanes! Right now we are in the midst of moving, but are talking about a trip somewhere once things settle down.
RE the Andes. The first time I flew to Chile, most people got off the airplane in Buenos Aires. As we flew over the Andes,the pilot announced, "That's Aconcagua if you look out the right hand windows", so we all rushed over to see it. It's the highest peak in the Andes. We also crossed them by bus. Extremely impressive.
Those of us on the trip have been sharing photos. I’ll post a bit of a melange in no particular order for the simple reason I’m lazy and a little busy today so I don’t have time to sort them all chronologically. I’ve tried to do it using the computer filing system but failed miserably as they seem to have gone through too many processes and copying, repetition etc. Think of them as random windows into Colombia -