Giron, Barichara, Villa de Leyva, Bogota

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Friday, September 8, 2006

From the Coast to the Mountains and Colombia's Colonial Heart

We leave behind the special vibe and heat of Colombia's Caribbean coast and take a 9 hour bus journey up to this country's colonial heart. Our first stop being Giron, a small pleasant colonial town, a stone's throw away from the much bigger city of Bucaramanga. We arrive late on a Sunday afternoon, and the whole town is buzzing with visitors and the streets are full of seemingly endless food vendors, many of whom are barbecuing tasty kebabs and huge sticks of corn on the cob over hot coals. We eat dinner by literally popping between a few of the stalls, sampling the delights, but avoiding the deep-fried ants, which is the local speciality around here. As far as colonial towns go, Giron is probably average in terms of beauty. However, it was an important stop for us to break up the long journey from the coast and also to avoid travelling at night, when bus holdups in Colombia are alarmingly common.

Our next colonial town, well actually it was more like a village, was Barichara. This village is perfectly preserved and stunning, with typical colonial red-roofed houses, intermixed with elegant sandstone buildings. The streets are covered with not the usual cobblestones, but massive stone slabs. As a bonus, the village is surrounded by lovely countryside and we practically had the place to ourselves as we only saw two other tourists our whole time here.

The third colonial town in line on our journey to the capital Bogota, was Villa de Leyva. Now, you're probably thinking that we must be a bit fed up of colonial towns by now, but because each one has something unique, it would be a shame to miss one out. The interesting thing about Villa de Leyva is it's huge and attractive main square with a towering mountain backdrop.

Capital Fever!

So it's time for the big bad capital Bogota. Whilst arriving on the coach into Bogota, we thought it looked a lot better than we were expecting. The outskirts are covered with fairly modern apartment blocks and are intermixed with modern shopping centres, parks and so many cycle lanes that it could put any European city to shame. We check in to our hotel and head down to the old town to explore. The old town has been fairly well preserved and we especially liked the main square with the cathedral and the mountains in the background. The next day, we go and visit some of the Colombian wealth with a visit to the gold museum, which has more than 34,000 pieces of gold from the pre-Hispanic era.

Bogota, is around 2,600 metres above sea level, and as we were expecting, it gets fairly cold at night, something which was reinforced to us when we headed out for the night in Bogota's Zona Rosa. We were really surprised with Bogota's Zona Rosa, not only was it spotlessly clean and safe to walk around at night, it was teaming with every type of trendy bar and club imaginable. Probably the best nightlife we've experienced in a while. During our night out here, where the bar prices are a fair bit higher than drinking in a normal Colombian bar, we realise that we are looking at the other side of Colombia, where only the well-off Colombians can come. Just like in most of Central America, it seems that the people who have the money here are the people of purely or mainly pure European descent. This divide of haves and have-nots is one of the reasons behind Colombia's guerilla insurgency. In fact, after our night out in the Zona Rosa, we found out that there was a grenade attack in two bars there a couple of years back and they think there maybe another attack sometime soon. Frightening!

What's more, the latest scandal to hit the Colombian Capital whilst we were there is that a group of soldiers have been caught planting bombs in the city and then "discovering them" so that they can claim the reward money from the government's informants scheme. Only problem is that some of them have accidentally gone off. What a terrible shambles!

Mmmmm, we think it's maybe time to move on from the capital:-)
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