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COLOMBIA    DIARY  5


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 From the eastern Colombia, I now get back the the central part.
15.
I can't decide on the route: By air, it is only 79 kilometres. The GPS have a "short" route: 300 kilometres through mountains, by rough gravel and rocky roads with possibilities for mud slides. The middle-road: 450 kilometres on probably sealed roads, but heavily congested by trucks. The long 600 kilometre by bigger roads, but not as interesting.

I re-decide several times, ping-poning a bit in the process. Then I postpone the decision, till I get to Bucaramanga. Here, I will take what look best, and stick to it! Unfortunately, the best road is straight back to San Gil. Only after some time, driving back to the narrow gorge and then the huge canyon, I recall the huge special-transport I meet earlier. I wondered; how will they get it through the toll-booth. Well, they still think about it, when I pass it at the booth. It will not be able to meet other trucks on 90% of the mountain road, and it have already caused a kilometre queue.

At noon, I'm back in San Gil: Five hours of intense driving, 175 kilometres and 23 kilometres from the hotel i started this morning. But at least, it is unfamiliar road from now on. Unfortunately, it look just the same. It is kind of a washing board, but the altitude changes from less than 1000 metes to at least 3250 metres.

Along with the altitude, the vegetation changes. It is from almost desert, lush grass land, cloud- and rain forest to moor. But the distance I have to cover considered, I'm in race-mode: No photo or botanising stops. And I skip lunch, as I will hate to see all the slow trucks I have struggled to get pass, pass me again.

I make a quick stop to stock some bananas and half a kilo Oreos, no tea. Despite I speed - only two cars passes me, I overtake several hundreds - my ETA is getting later and later. At four, I realises; I will not be able to make it to Cocuy today. I start looking for a hotel - and a gas station. But now, I'm really gotten into the country side!
At one point, the altitude exceed 3250 metres, and huge colonies of Frailejones; Espeletia sp. appears in a short stretch.

At six, I'm practically out of gas, hours from my hotel, and to add to the misery; Standing with my palms on the car roof, legs spread and a police officers hands all over my body. The trunk and even under the spare wheel are search, I have to open my purse (stuffed to pay hotel and gasoline), open my jacket and tell my story. I do not mention my back-pack, hidden under the flip-back passenger seat, but now I have confirmed; it is hidden well. Anyway, the officers are smiling and friendly enough; just doing their duty. They tell me; there is a gas station further down the road.

I get to a little town, and get to the central square. Ask the locals for gas and hotel, but apparently; they are out. Further down the road. I role in with a self-turned off engine on a small gas station in the middle of nowhere. Then, it is only 25 kilometres to the nearest town - or village: Soatá.

I get to it at seven, and no chance I'll try to drive the last 80 kilometres to Cocuy during the night! I find a nice hotel, and after having walked most of the town, some salad. I get an extra serving, and head home to work. It is late, but at least; I have not experienced much, nor taken many photos. Driving a lot towards Cocuy

16. I drive out towards Cocuy National Park, and intended to speed. But the road is fantastic: Again, it crosses one ridge after a valley. The road changes from two-lane paved to two trails in the gravel - and back again. Several old villages are found along the road, one more shaggy then the next. The scatted farms does not really look the prosperous either. 

The first part is dominated by cactus and Acacias, then it turn more fertile, and the grass is so green! Here are plenty of cows, and each farm have a milk churn or two standing - each maximum on five litres. Horses are for transport of anything, and they are everywhere. Sheep are only found on a few fields, while pigs are keeps close to the farm and I do not see any goats.

Outside the farmhouses, and within the villages, the locals are sitting in the sun, warming up. The higher parts, get up to 4.000 metres, are cold at night. Here are grass, pines, indigenous forest, barren rocks, swamps and a few farmed fields.

I reach the last village, which is the biggest; Cocuy. It is a nice old town, with white houses with turquoise base and red roofs. I can't find bread and bananas, but cake will do. Then I set out on a 55 kilometre roundtrip on a narrow gravel road. Here are still small farms, but the landscape is absolutely fantastic.

Here are so many different plants, and I give-up, trying to document. I see several orchids; one huge Bulbophyllum, a terrestrial one with a inflorescence on a meter, filed with bright yellow flowers. Another have slightly transparent yellow flowers.
In one of the higher areas, a swamp is home to a few Frailejones; Espeletia sp. Around the corner, there are a great view to the snow-covered peaks in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; 5700 metres.

I find a great spot to have lunch: In the sun with a great view. Surounding mountains, the river 2-300 meters right down under me. I actually move back a meter, when I realises; I sit on gravel at the edge of the drop. Here are several succulents, some are flowering. Realising my many photos might look alike in the end, I try to limit a bit, and it helps, when the sun disappears behind some light clouds and the higher mountains.

I end back in Cocuy town at two, and walk a bit around, seeing the town and looking for lunch. I find none, and decide; the altitude and especially the temperature combined with it, along with the lack of vegetarian food and the fact I lost half a day yesterday, make me head back to Soatá. I get another room at the same hotel, and head out to see the town in the last daylight. The town is a strange combination of rather primitive countryside things and more fancy ones like a pedestrian street. I even manages to find some nice supper: A corn bread stuffed with fresh letish, huge corns and mushrooms. Cocuy town and National Park

17. On my way to Mongui, I drive through highlands, and here are surprisingly large areas with Frailejones; Espeletia sp. Again, I lack the sun, when I want to photo them. Most of the way is through beautiful and hilly farmland, with plenty f nature left. Only one city; Sagamosa, and it is not a nice one. Kind of modern, but dirty and the renovation is done by horse.

I get to Mongui at nine, and despite it is an old town, it kind of lack the appeal. It might have something to do with the altitude; 3000 metres and the lack of sun, but despite I walk the central part of town, I don't find it. Here are several shops selling footballs; must be what they do here?
I stock some bananas and head on towards Lago del Toda.

Again, I have to drive through the city of Sagamosa and then out in the farmland again. Lago del Toda is a huge lake, found a bit above 3000 metres. I had expected some real interesting nature around it, but it is onion fields - a lot of them! In an effort to find some unspoiled nature, I drive around the entire lake.

A single town is found at its shore; Aquitania. They have their annual religious festival, and the town is filled with tent-shops, tivoli, shooting galleries, huge grills and people from near and fare away. Some are clearly from remote areas; dressed differently or only 120 centimetres high. Here are small horses as well, and even some small lamas. The religious items take up a part part of the area around the church, and the fathers have their own shops.
Her are home knitted ponchos, weaved ones, cowboy hats, machetes, homemade candy, stuffed rosters necks with heads, green and orange chicks and rabbits and much, much more.

As a large part of the crowd start walking up on a nearby hill, probably to attend to some religious ceremony, I sense rain in the air. I just make it to the car, before the sky opens. On the other side of town, the lake shore fields are being harvested. Some are plough by oxen, and it seem like everything from prickling to harvest is done by hand, despite the huge area. 

It is only noon, and I might find something more interesting. I head for the old town of Villa de Leyva, which I have a good feeling of. It is found in 2200 metres height, but here are several attractions, and probably more tourism. Normally, I do not see that as a plus, but I need some nice food by now. Dinner is Oreos and the bananas I bought in Mongui.

As the road descents from the highland, it passes an area with cacti and succulents. Strangely enough, here are evergreen orchids as well, and they are flowering now. Then I pass through a huge valley with a lot of diary cows. The road gain height again, and passes some huge, almost barren slate hills. I do some walking, and find a new Opuntia (of the type the no more is named Opuntia).

At four, I reach Villa de Leyva, and WOW, that is something. I drive to the huge, central square, and it is amassing. Sealed with natural stones, lined with grand old buildings and filled with people. I try a couple of the hotels on the square - then some in the back allies! A third of the price, all the facilities. Despite the lack of sun, and the altitude of around 2200 metres, this town truly does it for me.

I do some walking in a part of town. Here are lots, cleared of the buildings, and now the home for horses and cows. Here are brand new houses, build exactly like the ones hundreds of years old. The sidewalks are still made the old way, and the soul is maintained. I end the day with a great pasta with vegetables - and the usual work. It started to rain, when I head home, and it continues quite heavily during the evening.  Mongui, Aquitania, Lago del Toda and Villa de Leyva

18. Despite the sun is delayed, I head out to the sights and the surounding countryside of Villa de Leyva in general. The first stop is the site where many huge fossilised oceanic dinosaurs have been found. Especially one is quite impressive. A girl is showing me around, and the others claim; she is the one speaking English. I would never have guessed.

Further out the gravel road, Estacion Astronomica Muisca is found. A collection of ancient art; tall stones, reminding me of something... One area is especially dense, and it have probably been a solar calendar.
I head further out the gravel road, trying to find some nature. Here is pretty green, but mainly nurseries and real big and nice villas. Many of the plants I find are for sure invasive: Eucalyptus, Kalanchoe and Ricinus communis.

I loop back the the big fossil museum, and this time, I do understand some of what the guide say. Here are a lot of original fossils of oceanic creatures from this area, and a few others, along with a few iconic replicas. One of the originals are the remains of the oldest turtle known, dating back 150 millions years.

I set out to find some interesting plants, but despite I even find one of the dry areas, I fail. I think I find most of the gravel roads in the valley, but it have been under culture for so long, and here are so many invasive species. When it starts to drizzle, I head back to town.
I find lunch; some kind of fried-rice with a twist. Then I start walking around, enjoying the authentic old town.

In one place, a street-work is taking place. It is like it was 500 years ago. I find several new houses, but they are build just like those were, 500 years ago. The blocks are big, and some have huge yards with everything for car repair over donkeys to restaurants. I meet an Ecuadorian photographer with a strange lens. He make four pictures, and with a computer program, he have it all! Ground and sky, 360 degree around. I could have used that several times!

When it start to rain a bit harder, I seek refuge at a patisserie, and I find; I have to buy chai and cake. When it stops raining, I head out in the town again. I find a small river, crossing through town. In one place, it is crossed by a canal. The bridges are ancient, and overgrown, and if here were light enough, it would make some great motives. The town have a chocolate museum, but it seems more like a shop.

I see some of the souvenir shops, and they do have some nice things. One have some clay-work, where I find the technique real nice: Kind of 3D paintings. Several have piggy banks is many sizes and paintings. The lemon-sized cost 2.000 pesos. I find Casa de Don Juan de Castellanos house from 1585, which must be one of the older ones.

Then the light disappears, and I find a pizza, with a good taste and a rock-hard button. The town does look nice at night as well. Many of the houses are lighted-up, either by lights on the building, or build into the natural stones in the sidewalks. Either way, it does look great. Villa de Leyva and around

19. I feel a little sad, leaving the fantastic Villa de Leyva, but at least, the sun is not shinning. I head towards Bogotá, through the usual hilly farmland.

I only touches Bogotá's outskirts before I find the countryside again. But the highway stretch, driving straight, was a treat!
As the road gain altitude, the fog starts. When I reach the entrance for Parque Natural Chicaque, it is dense.

I follow an old Inca trail, leading down the steep mountainside, through the cloud forest from 2700 to 2000 metres. It is quite more open and drier than I had anticipated, but on the other hand,; it is greener. Here are so many different plants, and especially the tree ferns make a great silhouette against the clouds.

Here are many birds, but the few I see, I do not recognise at all. Insects, on the other hand, are a bit scars, and I don't see a single frog or lizard. Some of the plants are flowering, and they have bright colours. Some of them seems to be invasive like the Digitalis. Here are fare from the amount of bromeliads and orchids I had expected. In a matter of fact; I don't find a single orchid!

The ancient trail is made from roughly formed natural rocks, and in many places, it is steps. The surface is smooth, but not even. Some stretches are destroyed by time, but other are impressing well preserved. I can't imagine which work must have gone into levelling the pats, and finding and caring these big rocks to the trail!

When the wall of a forest opens from time to time, a great view to a vvertical rock wall or a blanket of fog reveals. Here must be a fantastic view to the lover valley, on a clear day!
Beside from the ancient trail, several others are connecting. One leads to a waterfall, one to a lookout and some are just trails.

The trail I follow, leads to a "retreat". The forest opens, and I'm on a huge green meadow with a real big house. It is so surrealistic, in the middle of the forest, but it somehow look great. It is red bricks and timber, and quite old. Within it, I find a real nice restaurant, serving a vegetarian dish. Rice, salad and "meatballs" in a fruity gravy.
Here are also some rooms, and it would be a great place to stay with friends.

As I finish my meal, the rain starts, and I find a hammock on the porch. Unfortunately, they rain stops soon after, and I head back. This time, I choose a more smooth track, better suited for flip-flops. It is wider, and offers a better view to the forest.
As I assent, the fog get denser, and the atmosphere changes to "mystical". I meet a guide at the entrance, and we have a long chat. He show me the hummingbird feeders, and I'm lucky enough to see the Black Inca; Coeligena prunellei, only found here. 28 other hummingbirds are reported within the park, but I only see three or four others.
The guide is waiting for some botanists from Edinburgh, and they will be in for a could walk. At least, I start to freeze in the wind and fog, and set off.

I drive back to Madrid, where I have booked a hotel. It is brand new: I'm their first guest. Four girls have pretty good grasp about it, and the 23 years old director and another one speak great English. I thought it was cheap, and the price Booking.com gave, was mended for truck drivers. As she say; "Men with a C in their driving license". I show her mine, and that end that discussion. They have no cook yet, but call for a veggie pizza. Parque Natural Chicaque

20. In an effort to avoid Bogotá, I make a rather large detour. Never the less, I fail, and get trapped in the capitals traffic for over a hour. The only interesting thing I see, is their busses with two trailers.
When I finally get out in the countryside, it is real nice. Huge, green mountains meet in the button at Rio Negro, which is clear!

When I drive over the edge, and into the lowlands, I get the feeling; I drive into a sea of clouds (like the famous painting of P. S. Krøyer). I stop a few times, to check the flora and try to capture the enormous landscape. Once, I pass a toucan real close, and I think it was a Channel-billed  Toucan; Ramphastos vitellinus. At least, it had the brown band on the lover part of the chest. Then the tunnels starts, and there are quite a lot of them. The longest have no fresh air, and it is real "cloudy".

Finally, I reach the so-called "Serengeti of the Americas; Los Llanos. I stop in Villavicencio to book a hotel, and then I head on, towards Puerto López. On the way out of town, I look for a supermarket to get some muesli, water and lunch. I find one which turns out to the the en gross. Not only do I have to buy a kilo Oreos, I also need a customer's number. But the girl in the cashier is bright, and just ask the woman behind me for her.

Then I get out in the country side by the recommended road, and I've been looking forward for the tour. However, it is disappointing. It is just a huge plain at around 200 meters height, covered in grass and Indian oxen. Further out, palms and trees brake up the horizon.

Some areas have quite some termite hills, but I look for anteaters with no luck. A small stretch have swamp and lakes, and again, I look for capybara with no luck. White herons, on the other hand are numerous. They follow the cows and sit along the water.

I reach Puerto López, and to gain something from this drive, I find a barber shop, and get a shave and hair-trim. It is the fancy one at the main street, and it could have worked fine in Denmark. But I'm only charged 10.000 pesos, around 1/20 of the Danish price.

As I head on, I pass the huge Rio Metica, which is used for transport. I have passed some signs, showing to El Monolite, and by now, I'm curious. When I get to it, it is locked in a building site, but I can see the concrete needle from the outside of the tin-fence. If it wasn't for the ten souvenir shops and cafes, I would not have guessed this was it.

I find a lookout to the even lower bush-land, but is does not look appealing. I had really hoped for some nature experiences here, but unless you like Indian oxen and termites, little more is found here.
I turn around, and head for Villavicencio river front, hoping for some port, fancy cafes, market or alike. It is not. This is where the poor people live in tin sheets along a shitty gravel road. Plenty of people hanging around, steering at me.

I head back to the nice area I have a hotel in, and drop the car. I find some dinner: A clay pot filled with corn, mushrooms, melon and cheese. Topped with match-thin fritters from a bag. Bit strange, but it fill the hole.
The task for the evening, besides from the usual work, is to find out; what to do tomorrow. I do have a few sights in Bogotá, but I rather not. Nothing else is around, and I might just head back into the waste Los Llanos, given I can find another road - and an anteater!
Los Llanos

21. I set out on a minor road, leading north of the big one I did yesterday. While the centre of Villavicencio seems rich, with its low houses, and green areas, the outskirts are another story. When I clear the city, a line of small restaurants have grills out front, with half animals on - but no guests.

 Then I reach the grass land of Los Llanos, with the Indian oxen and a few, real overgrown road trees. Here are orchids, bromeliads, cacti, ferns and parasitic plants along with figs. I fight the urge to climb - either because I finally got grown up - or old. But the plants sit quite low anyway.

One of the trees are the amassing Cannonball Tree; Couroupita guianensis. Here, it both have flowers and fruits. Some trees are dormant, others in full growth. I spend quite some time, studding the epiphytes, but the main target is an anteater, preferable the giant! The grass land is here, and some fields are almost covered in termite nests.

The road changes into unsealed, and it is a real bumpy ride. I turn around, and try to find the bridge, crossing the big river. I find the road, and it is gravel with bigger and bigger puddles, ponds and lakes! I get through, but when I reach the river, there are no bridge. I walk across, and get scared for the 30 centimetre big rocks, hidden in the water. I can't make it through without a lot of luck! I rather take the detour back, and perhaps an anteater have woken up? It is a beautiful drive anyway.

I nick Villavicencio and find a minor road, south of the big one. The first interesting I see is a neon-orange Red Ibis; Eudocimus ruber. It is too fare away for my camera - but that don't stop me from trying.
The fields are covered in termite nests, while the ants have their nests in the trees or even on the fence poles.

I eat my lunch under a tree at a river. Bananas and chocolate Oreos might not have the right nutrition, but they pack the calories! Then I reach the huge river Meta and its chocolate milk-brown water. The grassland changes into oil palms, and then rice! Not the anteaters home.
I study some of the epiphytes on the older palm trees; one is the familiar giant orchid - I can't remember the name of.

I get to the village of San Carlos de Guaroa. Several boulevards, no sealing and scrappy sheets. I find the big river, and see a big bridge, unknown to my GPS, despite it is old. On the other side, the road turn real bad, and here are plantations, pineapples for one. Not anteater land either. I head back, and find another road out to the main road.

The first I passes are some huge water buffalo bulls. I would like a good picture of these mighty animals, but their attitude prevents me from entering the field - along with the barbwire.
Just before I reach the main highway, a Giant Anteater; Myrmecophaga tridactyla crosses the road, and rush under the barbwire.

I have not climbed these greedy beasts before, but now I must. The anteater seem a bit camera shy - or shy in general, and I rush around in a big arch - hoping it think it is one of the water buffalos, "sneaking around". I get some decent photos, but I don't want to scare is too much, and let it be.

I pass some fields with a lot of Indian oxen, some with very few and one with a lake too. Then I reach the highway, and head homewards.
Where I gas the car, they have a carwash. I was asked to return the car washed, and I have the time now. They say 8.000 pesos, and I recon 10 minutes will be enough. They work on it for more than a hour, and then I feel I have to tip - well!

Back in Villavicencio, I find six closed restaurants. It is Saturday, six in the evening! Finally, I find one serving ice and crepes. For two carwashes, I get one pancake, slightly filled with cheese, broccoli and mushrooms, and it is no fancy place. I hope the guys, who washed my car, know better places! Home to answer quite some emails, and continue the hunt for a hotel in Guiana, as the one I had booked, have gone in some disaster?  Los Llanos and the hunt for an anteater

22. I am heading up to Bogotá nice and slowly. I wished there were more parking along the mountain road, but it is narrow and busy. I do get to stop a few times, and discover some flowering orchids. One hillside is a strange moor with a thick layer of black humus.

 The road is being straighten out, but it will take some time before they open: One half of a suspension bridge have collapsed, just as they were about to join. Work on the other half seems to have come to a stop... Some locals ells me: It was made by a female engineer.
I do a loop around the village of Chinaque, 10 kilometres from Bogotá. It might have been located 2000 kilometres from the capital. Dogs sleeping on the middle of the street, old farts in Wellingtons, cowboy hats and  ponchos. The general store have all the goods on the back wall, behind the counter.

The traffic move slowly due to road works and big trucks. Then one of the biggest trucks start overtaking 20 cars and three other trucks, where none else dared - and pull through.
I drive straight to my hotel in Bogotá, and reach it at noon. They are not ready for me, but I drop the bag and head out to return the car. I would have liked to return it when I left, but they are closed from 21-06, and my flight is at five. At least, they accept the car and return my blank visa-slip.

I walk back to the hotel - did book it near the airport deliberately, and get some nice lunch. Then I start preparing the GPS for the next adventures and finish up the Colombian data. It have been a bit expensive, but a great adventure for sure! Colombia have so much to offer, among others, the largest biodiversity in the world, and the old towns have really gotten into me; they are so cosy and pretty! Back to Bogota through Chinaque

I have driven 6721 kilometres and taken 5732 photos. The total cost is 24.272 DKK - €3.254 for 24 days. It is the transport that have been expensive, but if I had gone by bus, I had only see the outskirts of Bogotá. THE HIGHLIGHTS OF COLOMBIA.
 

EXPENSES DKK
Flight 7.232 969
Insurance 375 50
Vaccinations 1.665 223
Car 4.787 642
Petrol 2.633 353
Toll roads 2.703 362
Stuff 375 50
Food 958 128
Entrée 234 31
Hotels 3.310 444
  24.272 3.254

I have booked a taxi at 02;30, and my flight is at 05;01 to Panama and then Guyana and the day after; Suriname.
 

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