Day 8 of 44
We flew direct to Medellin from London via Bogota with Avianca just over a week ago. Jet lag settled quickly and everyday has been filled with Spanish classes and various activities. This has given us a really interesting insight into Colombia´s history and recent transformation. I will admit that I actually had no idea about Colombia before we chose it as a destination. Many people will quote various films, books and drug related references, however for me my learning has come in the presence of being here. Many people have been reserved when we announced our destination and even most blogs and government travel sites generally provide some kind of warning when travelling here. Morocco and Turkey carried the same warnings when we travelled and we had a blast in both countries with many memories shared.
Before leaving Medellin we wanted to take a day trip out of town to a region between El Peñol and Guatape. The hostel provides all inclusive (except the entrance fee of $9aud) and very long day trips to this region for 100,000 pesos ($47 AUD). We decided against this and opted to find our own way there on the local public transportation service. This would be a great opportunity to practice our new Spanish conversation skills, observe life passing by the bus, be amongst locals and check out what we wanted to do in our own time, whilst saving a pretty penny or two.
Confidence in doing so was gained from various online blogs and chatting to other people at the hostel. Plus, Sarah and I managed to get around Turkey for three weeks without issue so what could go wrong?
The city transportation systems have really opened up the areas you can visit. Awake early, we were on the metro from El Poblado to Caribe station, approximately 20minutes. From here it was only a few minutes along the walkway to the North Bus terminal. As we entered I was reminded of Kuala Lumpur´s bus station where all the ticket offices are lined up with numbers for each whilst men spruik the endless number of destinations you can go. Flashing signs intend to distract but on good advice we continued to counter 14. Sarah smashed out the Spanish request for two tickets to Gautape and the exchange happened quickly at 13500 pesos each ($6aud). The lady´s response not understood but her expression seemed to mean that the bus was leaving shortly. Through the security scanner we went and rushed to get on the mobile which then pulled out. These buses are so unique throughout Latin and South America. They are very individually designed and adorned, however the government is currently trying to streamline their looks.
We were on the Snoop Dogg mobile, a 19 seater bus come truck. I think it is half and half. It has grunt. The driver has his luck charms hanging from the mirror. A single winged fluffy bird and dream catcher is what we would hold our trust in, whilst bopping along to some Colombian tunes. We get the back row and already know this is the last option one should choose as you feel every single bump. Sarah soon remarks ´Next time I take the bus, I am wearing a sports bra!´ A bra is a bra right?
I presume the driver makes his tips by picking up people who hail him down for short journeys. There are also sellers that jump on briefly at the toll booth to sell their snacks and bags of crisps hanging from a rod. On the way home, a boy jumped on, announced something, turned a beat on with a speaker around his waist and rapped a whole song. I don´t know if it was an original but it sounded pretty good. He requested a clap and some coins at the end. This reminded me of the metro journeys in Berlin when buskers would do the same to earn some small change.
We gained 1000m in altitude as we climbed up the valley, twisting and turning around endless mountains. The region is so green and tropical. Small farms are growing an array of crops. I spot a man resembling a cowboy up the front. He wears a white cowboy hat, is barefoot and has a machete encased in a leather sleeve hanging of his belt. As we pass through El Peñon the views of La Piedra rock come into full view. It was much larger than I expected. Pretty green bays open up in the landscape whilst we are treated to clear blue sky above. This is special because it rains daily so we decided to get off at La Piedra before going onto Guatape. I made this request in Spanish to the driver and he obviously understood me.
At the side of the road, next to a fuel station the tuk-tuks and horses are ready in wait to take you the final kilometer to the starting point for about $1.50. Though this is cheap it´s hardly worth it so we chose to walk. La Piedra comes into full-on view around the bend and is magnificent. It must be about 22 years since I visited Uluru in Australia and no doubt I expressed the same wow when I saw it.
To reach the top, 740 steps zig-zag their way to the top. Thankfully there are markers every 25 steps erring you to fulfillment. We pass a number of people taking a rest and half way we pause at a shrine to Jesus´ mother which no doubt provides a time for reflection over the remarkable land below. I´m not sure if there is any cultural significance of the rock, but interesting to see how it has been made into a very attractive tourist destination.
At the peak the 360 degree views are breathtaking under the good weather conditions. Clouds hover in the distance and large flies buzz around biting every person in their midst. Sparrows play and vultures hover above.
On the walk down we see that the concrete stairs are built externally and only support rods intrude into the massive rock.
We send the tuk-tuks away once more with the phrase of ´no gracias, vamos a pie´, meaning no thank you, we will walk. We walked along the road, similar to any British country road which doesn’t provide a pedestrian footpath. Actually I think we had more room here to be honest. An opportunity arose to veer to the right, along some concrete stairs amongst overgrown grasses. Could there be Guerillas up there? Let´s go see! Instead we had an alternative view point across the water to the rock. Impressive!.
We crossed a wonky suspension bridge, passed a number of brightly coloured terraced houses before reaching Guatape in under 40 minutes.
The colourful frescoes continue and indeed are endless. A lady tends to her numerous plants hanging from her balcony, locals go about their daily business whilst tourists meander around the township.
We found the marvelous stairs and a number of market stalls. We have become interested in Colombian souvenirs. Watch this space!.
We buy a cup shaped ice-cream for our journey home. Locally made it lasted longer than any Magnum due to its hard milky consistency that refused to be bitten into.
Soon we realised that the glorious sunshine took advantage of our British tans. you can see exactly where the sunscreen didn’t reach.
Tomorrow we head south to Salento