Beautiful Barichara!

Trip Start Jun 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 23, 2009

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Where I stayed
Aposentos Hostal

Flag of Colombia  , Santander,
Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hola amigos!

This time I am writing to you from the beautiful town of Barichara, located about 45 minutes from San Gil. Barichara is a quiet town in the mountains with steep, cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses. It has several beautiful churches, constant calm, and, as I discovered today, a mirador (lookout) of the most spectacular mountain scenery I have seen in a long time. I will get to that, but as I remember, I have a bit of catching up to do. I never finished telling about El dia de adrenalina. So, let's start there with paragliding.

Tuesday was my adrenaline day, beginning with torrentismo (rappelling) and continuing with paragliding. I had only 10-15 minutes to change clothes after returning to the hostel from rappelling before the next bus left for paragliding. I did not have time to grab anything for lunch. All the same, I hopped on the bus. We drove for probably close to an hour. The paragliding site was not that far out of town, but of course we had to climb a mountain and get high up to do the paragliding from. The roads were narrow and mostly unpaved. Luckily, the scenery was fantastic. Best of all, we passed numerous tobacco plantations along the way. Not only did we see leafy green tobacco growing, but there were also these open huts with wooden bars throughout. These bars were to hang the tobacco leaves to dry. We could see leaves in all stages of the drying process. It was cool to see.

We arrived at a small house/store/tobacco farm and from there we climbed steeply uphill to reach the take-off grounds. The main instructor was already there and I got to translate the rules and instructions to the others who came with me from the hostel. There is not much to it. We were going to be fastened into a very well cushioned seat (to prevent injury on the landing). Order of flights would be decided by weight. In light winds, lighter people would go. In heavier winds, heavier people would go. Alas, there were very light winds for over two hours. That meant a lot of waiting around. (They didn't want to take anyone over 130, 140 pounds.) The others from the hostel were totally annoying. They sat there and talked mostly about drinking and drugs, so I pretty much separated myself and enjoyed the nice scenery and weather. They also were drinking. Whatever.

When it finally came to my time to fly, I harnessed up for the second time in a day and took my seat. We quickly got the wind and lifted up into the air. We were thousands of feet off the ground, flying above a green valley, the Caņon Chicamocha in the distance, treetops shaking below in the breeze. I was not so scared to paraglide. It is really not about a big rush so much as it is a tranquil sort of experience- a bird's eye view of things. We floated above the earth for about 15 minutes. It was mostly a very calm ride with a few swoops and turns. I liked it most when he would change directions and we would swoop around to the side. We landed easily. Overall, very cool experience.

Parque El Gallineral
Yesterday (Wednesday) was meant to be a travel day for me. I did want to make my way (at last) to San Gil's famous riverside park, El Gallineral. I arrived not quite sure what I would find. The Aussies I had rappelled with found it underwhelming. Well, I did not. Situated alongside the Rio Fonce (the river that runs through San Gil, the one I rafted), Parque Gallineral is a large botanical garden. Paths wind through the large park, which has small little plazas with maps meant to make the park like the region San Gil is located in. There are signs with details and information about all the small towns around San Gil. That is quite cool. What is more impressive is the natural surroundings. Thousands of trees including loads of weeping willows as well as ceibas. Beautiful flowers including many birds of paradise. And the sound of the river always in the distance. Totally fantastic experience.

I spent my time there walking all the paths and trying to avoid large groups of Colombian families. As with all large groups, get a Colombian family together for an outing and they behave obnoxiously, acting as if no one else exists. (annoying) I also stopped for an ice cream in the flavor of arequipe, a kind of milk pudding very popular in this region. (I have my very first cup of arequipe waiting for me after dinner in my room.)

After the park, I had lunch at a very local place and then put on the pack and headed out for Barichara.

I arrived in Barichara in the early afternoon. My immediate goal was to find a place to sleep. My first stop was Hostal Aposentos right in the main square where the bus dropped me off. I went in and was immediately in love. The hostal is set around a beautiful patio with a fountain, loads of chairs to sit in, and a fountain. I asked the owner how much a room cost. $30!! Lonely Planet, in all its outdated deception, said $10. I loved the place, but that is much more than I usually spend. He asked if I wanted to see a room anyway. Okay. Nice, nice room. Private bathroom and a TV!!! He lowered the price for me to $25/night so I threw down my pack and told him it was a deal. (There are no hostels here in Barichara. Twenty-five is actually pretty cheap here. Not the cheapest...but I didn't care.)

I lay down on my cozy bed in my cozy room and listened to the breeze through the trees and the windchimes. I told myself I would rest for 20 minutes. As the rainstorm blew in and the coolest of breezes wafted into my room, I drifted off to sleep.

I awoke an hour later. Ready to set out and explore. I first wanted some coffee and went to the panaderia on the corner of the square. Oh, the tasty treats to be had. I chose one and enjoyed it with my cafe con leche as a massive rainstorm began to pound down on the town. As Barichara is built on a hill, water quickly began to pour through the streets in broad milk chocolate streams. Everyone was running for cover...except two little boys that got in the middle of the street and played happily in the rainwater. (It was a joyous thing to see. If I had more than a few articles of clothing, I think I would have joined them.)

When the rain passed, it was the most perfect cool temperature outside..conducive to exploring. I spent most of the evening wandering around town, stumbling upon small plazas and lovely 300 year old churches. It was a really nice evening. That was all capped off by getting to return to my room and watch tv! (Seriously, it was a treat, as sad as that may seem.)

This morning I woke up. My goal was to walk 10km from Barichara to the nearby town of Guane. There was an old Spanish road (Camino Real) between the two towns which has been reconstructed in the last 15 years. The views of the valley and the mountains were breathtaking as I clomped along the rocky path. I took me only about an hour and a half to arrive at my destination. The walk was really pleasant and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, lost in the nature around me and my own thoughts.

Guane is...small. Most of what is worth seeing is around the main square and consists of artesania shops. The church, though without a thrilling facade, is charming and has a beautiful straw roof held up with wooden beams. I visited most of the artesania shops buying a few little things and tried the local aperitif- sabajon, which I believe is made from corn and eggs. Very creamy and pretty tasty. I also paid a visit to the paleontology and archaeological museum. The museum contains artefacts from the Guane indians (including a mummy!), as well as many shells from prehistoric times when Colombia was underwater, some religious and colonial relics. There is a woman who gives a guided tour, which was amusing because she obviously had her routine memorized and delivered it with absolutely no emotion and very little enthusiasm. There was also a man, clearly not all in his right mind, wandering around the main square. He was hitting everyone up for coins. I think he was saying that he had been struck by lightening, but it was difficult to understand him. Odd...poor guy!

I had thought to walk back to Barichara, making it a nice and active day. Once I started though, I saw thunder clouds looming in the distance and heard consistent rumbling, so I decided to return to Guane and take the bus back. (Good thing because it rained.) Once back in Barichara, I had a quick snack and coffee and then set off exploring again. I returned to a capilla I had walked to last night. I happened upon the most fantastic park that overlooked the entire valley. The mountains, capped by storm clouds, hulked in the distance. Through the clouds, beams of light filtered down beautifully. Hawks soared in the sky. It was AMAZING! Totally unexpected and amazing! I did take a photo, but a photo will not do what I beheld justice...

Well, I am off now. Maybe I will have another run in with the town crazy, Reinaldo, who thinks he and I are good buddies. He has a black cat that he named Obama. (ha!) The owner of the hostal told me he was crazy, but on further investigation, I think Reinaldo is just a pot head. (Maybe a bit of a drunk also. He slurs his speech horribly and then tells me I can't speak Spanish because I don't understand him.) I love interesting characters...

Well, tomorrow I return to San Gil and then head off for the coast. My plans on the coast begin in the fishing village (and backpacker hangout) Taganga.

Take care and more adventures soon! (I will stop promising photos because I seem to have real issues uploading them. I promise to try to do so again soon...hopefully with success.)

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