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COLOMBIA    DIARY  4


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 From the northern part of Colombia, I now enters the eastern part.
11.
I head further south, first at the high plain I've been driven on for some time. It is still astonishing, but I find it hard to find truly new plants and motives. After 100 kilometres, the road turn into the hills or mountains - and from being a almost empty four-lane highway, it turn two-lane and filled with heavy trucks.
That does make it a bit hard to stop and make photos along the road, but I try while driving. I get stopped at a police check-point, but besides from waiting a long time, I get buy unharmed.

I reach the big and fairly modern city of Bucaramanga in the early afternoon, and drive to my hotel. Here are no parking, but paid, and I hope the hotel have. It does, and I get a nice room with a desk fairly cheap. I have two sights around; the marked and a mountain road. The market is 500 metres away, and I start with it. If the city seem interesting, I might save the mountains for tomorrow. I had hoped for a cosy imperial town, loaded with cafés and alike, but not this time. Maybe the next!

Despite the historical lack, it is rather interesting. At first the marked disappoint; only some vegetable stands. Then I figure next floor is fruits, then come fish and meat, wood-work, spices and herbs and whatever on the flowering stores. It look like a fairly new parking house that have changed branch. I try to make some photos of the goods and their owners, and I get a lot of wide smiles. As a new, here are huge piles of hand-made cigars.

The streets around the centre of town are busy. Besides from  the shops, here are a lot of carts with any kind of eating and drinking, watch repair and fruits. The hotel is in the electric-ware street, some streets have cloths, others shoos. I fail to find the one with restaurants, but get a nice meal at the market's food court.

As I make a bigger loop, I get to the remains of the old city, around the square with chess players and alike. Here are several churches, but I have not experienced any religious behaviour at all! The new city have mazes of shops within the big blocks, and in several floors.
I walk around till dusk, then I desperately try to find a restaurant. End up in some strange place with great shakes and some pirogues or alike. They have to sorts without meat, and along with two genuine strawberry milkshakes, I call it supper. The road to Bucaramanga and the town

12. I try to sneak out of Bucaramanga before anyone else -  and fails. I am heading up a small mountain road, leading towards Venezuela. I had expected to have it pretty much by my self, but wrong again. The first part, from Bucaramanga's 1010 metres to around 2000 metres is hilly farmland. Then the cloud forest dominates.

The motives are fantastic, but I could do with some sun. The clouds move in-between the bigger trees and the ranges. The trees are covered in bromeliads and other epiphytes. Here are quite some flowers, most familiar - within the family.
The waterfalls and rivers are clear, as there have been no de-forestation above. I follow a ravine into the forest, but getting into the forest itself is impossible: Too dense and too steep.
It is interesting to follow the changes in the vegetation, caused by direction to the height, sun and "rain-side". Some plants cope anywhere, some only in specific areas.

In around 3000 metres high, the trees disappears, and huge, soft grass fields start. The farmers huts are shaggy, the farmers dressed in cowboy hats, Wellingtons and ponchos. They do farm some onions, carrots and leek. The few villages are poor too, and the main income is from selling things to truck drivers and other travellers.
Despite the endless grassland, I don't se many cattle at all. Can't figure what they use all that grass for?

I reach the old colonial Pamplona, and drive straight to the central market. My plan was to grab lunch and head back, but it is a charming town, and I have to see a bit of it. It might have deserved a whole day, but I head back after the short look, and a bite at a small shop in the big market.

Getting out is difficult: The main road is straight through the narrow hairpin-bends, and the big trucks can't meet. And backing up is not easy around a corner in a 18-wheeler.
The drive back over the double mountain chain is not as fun: The fog have come in strong.

I reach Bucaramanga close to five, and it is so tempting to go back to the same, nice hotel. But it is only 125 kilometres to the cosy Barichara. It is by the Via Bogotá, and both my GPS and I guess we can be there at dusk. I had not expected this road to be interesting, but after spending a hour clearing Bucaramanga, it turns out to be fantastic. Despite it is dusk, I can see the almost vertical, several hundred metres high, almost barren rock-wall on both sides. And some areas are a wall of large Cereus cacti. This road deserve a closer look.

Then it turns dark, but the traffic remain rather intense. I reach the little Barichara around eight, and luckily, they have a room for me at the hotel. The streets within the town are paved with big flat rocks, and it might be nice? The morning will reveal.
I get a real nice and rustic room - unfortunately without hot water, and it is only around 25C.
Then the girls upgrade me to the honeymoon suite, which is even nicer, and have hot water. The entire hostel is like a little village, and I decide to spend a bit of time here. (Mainly because I'm to tired to finish work, and have to spend the morning on it. And I just have to go back to see that gorge I passed last night).
The mountain road to Pamplona

13. I head 100 kilometres back towards Bucaramanga to see the narrow and deep gorge I drown through last evening. The first part of the road is through grass land with stone walls and red clay. The houses are big and beautiful - like the landscape. I pass through San Gil once more, but will skip it until tomorrow.
At the toll gate, 16 persons are selling exactly the same nuts in the same small bags - nothing else is offered.

After San Gil, the landscape is pretty much the same, until the road turns over an edge. This is the giant Grand Canyon of Colombia; Chicamocha. It is real dry, as the two mountains chains it it found in-between have taken all the moist. I try desperately to capture it, but the mist and share size make it impossible.

As the road descents into the canyon, large Cereus and huge Agavas start to dominate. I do several long walks, but the cacti spines are harsh!  I find four species of Cereus and two Agavas. The Opuntias might be more than one species. Here are a lot of other plants, of which I recognises quite some.

When the road meet the river in the button of the canyon, it narrows considerable in. Her are only room for the road with the river under, in some stretches. And the huge trucks seem to be too big to fit the gab. Then I get out on the 1000 meter plateau, and turn around. I discover another, almost as big canyon on the other side of the range. This one is green, and this is where de clouds deliver their load.

Back in Barichara, I start to explore the town. It is a rather large, old town. The houses are white with high green base and red roofs. All the streets are sealed with huge sandstone bricks, nicely cut into squares. All shops are hidden inside the traditional houses, even the big discount supermarket.
I do some loops, and pass the central square, just as the bride enter the church. At another church, the married couple leave in a tuc-tuc with balloons on.

Here are not that many flowers within the town, but the nature starts at the last house, and the views are fantastic. Here should be several trails leading into the mountains: Tempting!
When the sun decent, I find some dinner. Pretty much the usual, but this time, it is a sweet potato and I get a few slices of tomatoes. Evening spend the usual way.

Canyon Chicamocha and lovely Barichara

14. Realising it might be Sunday, and waterfalls usually are popular by the locals, I get an early start. Back through San Gil for the forth time. And it is always a zigzag road, which everyone else seems to follow as well. I have to pay to park the car, and to enter the Cascada de Juan Curi-area. But then I get a guide to lead me and five other up the only trail, saying nothing, not even in Spanish.

We almost run up the bad and steep road, and I don't get to see anything we passes. Then we end up at a nice fall, and the others change to swim suits - but can't talk them self into the water. I wait for a bit, make some photos, and then I head back slowly, exploring the rainforest. Here are several species of orchids and many different bromeliads and other interesting plants like the flowering lianas. Here are also several species of butterflies.

When I look back at the Cascada de Juan Curi, I realises: It was not the top we ended at, just the part that ended in a pool you can swim in. I find a narrow trail behind the sheet, selling snacks halfway. The girl in the shop tell me in clear Spanish; I can not go up there without a guide - and then she turn around.

It is a rough trail, but the flora is interesting. One of the liana is flowering, and the inflorescence is up to five metres! It have fruits with huge seeds in at the same time. Both flowers and fruits are quite similar to Fabaceae. Here many other flowering plants, among them two interesting Peperomias. One with perfect circular leaves, the other with extreme long and narrow leaves for the genera. 

The upper section of the fall is truly amassing. I try to capture it, even on video, but its beauty eludes me on camera. It consist of several falls in a horse-shoo-shaped gorge. There are a great view over the lover part of the rainforest to the other side. The low part of this section, is the top of the lower part, and I can look down in the pool, where someone finally are in the icy water.

When I give-up getting the perfect photo of the fall, I walk slowly back, and find several interesting plants along the trail. A minute flowering orchid among them.
When I reach San Gil for the fifth time, I make a stop. The Parque El Gallineral should have some overgrown trees, worth a stop. It is a rather big and surprisingly nice park, only a few nametags from being a botanical garden. I see some wild Green Iguanas along the big river, and a emerald-green lizard on the trail. When I have seen it all - but the impressive overgrown trees, I make a short walk in the town, and end up with a great spaghetti-meal. It have a strawberry on top, and fries next to, but it taste great.

I head home to park the car in Barichara, and start on, what I thought was the local camino. It does turn suspicious narrow quit fast, but it leads the right way, and the surroundings and views are great. The local "Öland rocks" have the same fossils, you find in Sweden.

The trail I follow heads over the edge and down towards the 1000 meter lower valley - as it should. But when I reach the valley, it kind of fades out on the barbwire fenced grass fields. Here are huge epiphytic cacti in the small trees, and great view up the mountain. An impressive stone wall run the entire length of the valley, it seems.
I end out on a farmers gravel road. While I follow it, I find a bright orange snake with a black head; Western Black-headed Snake; Tantilla planiceps. Then I end up at the village people elegantly catch the bus back from. Well, I find the trail, and five kilometres with 1000 metres height don't scare me. The camino is sealed with large natural rocks, and NOT smooth.

The surroundings are real green, but here are cacti. I find at least thee different Mammillarias and some other cacti. A wasp nest have a lot of small wasps outside, but they are real calm.
When I make it to town, I end up in a place which sell strawberry shakes and brownies. I don't have the energy to start looking for dinner, and buy a "Bomba" cake to go.

Back home, I start working in the kitchen/all room, until the dusk's winds make it a bit chill. A half hour at my rooms office, and it is nice again. It is just the dusk-wind that make it chill. I pay my bill, and plan tomorrow.
Juan Curi WF, Parque El Gallinera and a camino

It is time to start on the Central Colombia and Diary 5

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