Week 22 - Cali to Bogota
Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
67Trip End Dec 19, 2008
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Today it was time for some Cali street parade and carnival action so after a hearty breakfast of coffee, a biscuit and a smoke me and the hostel gang headed off to the place where the action was to take place.
Arrived there at 11.30 just as things were warming up. After a lot of pushing and shoving managed to get a pretty decent spot along the parade route. Saw some amazing costumes, music and dancing. Took so many pics that my memory card ran dry.
One of the re-occurring themes was bog black fellas dressed up as women and being chased by ugly big nosed devils. On checking with some local Calians it seems the origin of this theme is as follows:
During and after the Spanish conquest of these parts (and most other parts) the men used to regularly rape all the local girls and at night they would rampage through villages, towns pretty much helping themselves to all of them which produced loads of mixed race kids. To try and stop these sneaky Spaniards sowing their oats the boyfriends and husbands would dress themselves up as women and trick the Spaniards into thinking they were birds. What followed I don't even want to think about but needless to say it worked sometimes. And so the locals take the piss out of the Spaniards even today .
As is always the case at a street parade there was a big punch-up when a big lashed up Colombian pushed another fella (tiny bloke) too far against the parade railings. The small fella went ballistic and like a wild cat swimming in a box full of catnip he clobbered the big fella. Eventually the Colombia old bill came by and the big bloke was whisked away.
After numerous beers, clapping and nearly going blind at the naked girls walking with the parade it was time to head back home to the good hostel. Again after mixing and having a great time with some good people it was time to bid farewell to the two Korean girls Suni and Uni, English fella Adam and Irish fella David..as well as the two Japanese blokes who, although they had only spoken about 5 sentences to me and everyone else in the last 3 days still felt like mates. Half of them were off to Ecuador and the other half to Medellin.
The rest of the day I just walked around town looking for some new T-shirts to replace my skanky old ones which I have worn continuously for the last 6 months. After this failed mission I went back to the hostel and had a chat with David the hostel owner about all the dodgy stuff going on in Cali and what brought him here.
Tomorrow I head to Bogota via a small town in between.
Dec 29th - Cali to Pereira
After bidding farewell to the great hostel Calidad (although a shout out to Dave's permanently people hating and grumpy misses Christina has to be made. She even barred English Justin from the internet for not signing in his time quick enough...Sweet Jesus she's a tough cookie) I caught the late morning bus to Pereira. I chose this town because it's a middle point between Cali and Bogota and rather than do a full 15 hours I would do it in 2 stages (and no, I didn't choose this town because it is fabled to have the 'friendliest' girls in the whole of Colombia).
Being a tad hung-over from the street festival the bus journey was pretty dire. I drank loads of water and wrapped a towel round my head to stop the burning sun from giving me brain damage.
Arrived in Pereira at 4.30pm and checked out loads of hotels. The cheapest I could find was a dodgy place called Los Alamos but at $10 for the night it was good.
In the evening I had a walk around the town centre...the usual big plaza with a church and government buildings at either end. It had a nice atmosphere though so chilled out and had an ice cream on a bench and did some people watching (the usual array of couples snogging, old fellas in a group shouting about something, smart fellas getting their shoes polished by the side of the road and gaggles of girls giggling.
Dinner ended up being in a Chinese restaurant (in a very loose sense...it was more of a Colombian-Chinese fusion). My Chicken Chow Mein was spaghetti with some local vegetables and two cold potatoes. Tasted pretty good though.
After a bit of a spending frenzy over the last few days I decided to have a quiet night in. Quiet is the wrong word to use because while I was reading in bed every hour I'd hear the clackety-clack of high heeled shoes and laughing as locals brought back their companions for an hour of 'watching TV'.
Dec 30th - Pereira to Bogota
At 10.30 and after a restless night of noisy neighbouring hotel rooms and dreams of chickens running around outside in the corridor wearing nothing but high-heeled shoes I caught the bus to Bogota.
The scenery was very pretty and some of the roads were well dodgy but after about 8 hours the bus reached the outskirts of Bogota. Just as it was getting dark and in the middle of a dodgy industrial area with loads of shady characters is where the bus decided to break down. Not only was the bus blocking a major road with angry bus drivers, taxi's and civilians hooting at us but it attracted the shady's like fly's to shit. In desperation the driver called his mate on another bus and 20 minutes later we were all whisked onto another bus and to safety. When I sat down a friendly old Colombian lady gave me a small laminated card. I thanked her and checked it. It seemed to be some kind of Christian blessed card to protect whoever carries it (shit...is Bogotá that bad!).
The Bogota bus terminal is huuuge (with a capital Hu). It took me almost half an hour to find where the taxis were. The good thing is you can't just hop into a taxi here (way too dodgy) so like in Mexico city you give your details and destination to a counter girl where she logs them and you then get a known taxi. Its pricier than a normal cab but at least you have some form of peace of mind.
$4 later I arrived at the famous Platypus hostel in the La Candelaria area of town. They were full (not a bad thing because the owners seemed to have attitude) so I went next door to the hostel Sue (pronounced Sew and apparently its the word for backpacker in a Colombian indigenous language). Nice crowd here and the owners and staff were well friendly.
On a side note. There was a bit of a sad story about an event that happened at the sister hostel round the corner (Sue 2). A young English fella who'd been staying there for a month and had been Coked and Mushroomed up for most of that time decided to smash a bottle of beer and cut his own throat with it. Sadly he died within minutes in front of some of his travel buddies. Apparently he was pretty ropey emotionally anyway but the gear just pushed him over the edge.
Did I mention that Bogota (and particularly the hostel Sue) is freeeeeezing. In the TV room most people wear woolly hats and jackets whilst watching films and checking the internet.
After settling in and doing the usual hostel backpacker talk ("What’s your name...where you from...how long you been here...where you heading...where have you arrived from...have you tried the gear here yet?") I bumped into the German girl from Salento..yes, the one I stole all those delicious Austrian biccies from. Sheepishly I apologised and confessed my crime. She laughed and told me they cooked 3 bowls worth for Xmas anyway (damnit...should have eaten more...and stayed there for Xmas). As a small token of goodwill I made her a tea and had a chat. She was a bit depressed because her boyfriend had to fly back home and she was adjusting to solo travel again (can be tough).
For dinner I snagged a bowl of rice from a generous English bloke called Chris and watched Super Bad wearing my hat, most of the clothes I own and two pairs of socks (great film by the way).
Tomorrow on new year’s eve I plan to have a mosey around town and check out a few museums.
Dec 31st - (New Years Eve) Bogota
My planned sight-seeing was a disaster. All of the museum and places of interest were closed (duh!) so I just had a walk around. Bogota's a bloody big city (6th biggest in South America apparently) so I only managed to see some of it. It’s a very lively place...again loads of shops everywhere (as well as loads of crack heads about).
Back at the hostel in the late afternoon the beers were already being opened and liquor organised. Stupidly the majority chose to watch a film called Requiem for a Dream..probably the most depressing film ever made (about a decline of a family and friends after getting into drugs). Needless to say everyone was depressed after that but after downing some Vodka and cokes we all chirped up.
The hostel was putting on a late dinner for everyone so drinking continued until the 11pm super dinner. I was getting a tad homesick after catching clips of the celebrations in London (5 hours ahead). After scoffing the delicious seafood paella a bright spark decided we should head to the big plaza to catch some fireworks and burning of human dolls (local tradition is to burn a life sized cloth doll to bring in the new year). It was 11.40 so we all rushed out to get there before 12.
Now, Bogota isn't the safest of places on any given day but just before midnight the place was totally deserted. As our group of 15 gringos pranced down the street merrily the only people we met and who followed us were crazy Colombian crack heads. After 15 minutes of walking the dead streets we reached a dead plaza. The place was empty (noooooooooooooooooooooo).
So the New Years hugging and singing of Auld Lang Zine for me was done whilst walking back to the hostel, in the middle of 7th street (Calle 7) surrounded by crack heads shouting 'Feliz Anos' (and then whispering 'Peso's por favor'. Well, it was different anyway and in some ways so Colombian. Always expect the unexpected and surreal here (like in most of Gabriel C Marquez's books).
Back at the hostel and after downing more drinks everyone headed to a club called Cinema (a top club apparently). The place was small but heaving and had some good tunes playing all night. As can be imagined allot of dance and talk inducing stuff was done by all and after 7 hours of boogying, talking shit and making allot of 'new friends' we all walked out into a crisp sunny New Years day and headed back to the hostel for more merriment.
Jan 1st - (2008) Bogota
Crawled into bed at 9am and obviously didn't get any kip so at 2pm got up to find everyone still up and watching DVD's. Today, let’s just say there isn't anything to write about except all day long everyone was muttering 'Fuck I feel shit' and allot of people seemed to have colds and runny noses (strange...).
Jan 2nd - Bogota
Today the plan was to catch the famous Salt Cathedral (a warren of tunnels and a cathedral built in a salt mine) so caught the local bus to Zipaquira and did the 20 minute walk to the mines. It was all very touristy (well, it is the number 1 tourist attraction in Colombia) but quite impressive inside the mine. To be honest I expected more (maybe more spectacular) but it was still good (half price on Wednesdays too...only $3).
On the way back I took the wrong bus and somehow ended up in east Bogota (something possibly only I could do) and after many hours of direction asking I arrived safe and sound on a bus heading the right way.
Late afternoon I went to see the Botero museum which also had a collection from the famous Museo de Oro (gold museum). All very impressive and some strange pictures in the collection (and free!).
The rest of the day was a continuation of recovery day and chatting with the hostellers about our new years eve antics.
Jan 3rd - Bogota
Today me and Hannah (the German biscuit girl) decided to do some clothes shopping. Rumour has it that on new year’s eve my fellow revellers had trouble discerning me from the homeless crack heads so it was time to buy a few new T-shirts.
Went to a huuuuge shopping centre out of town and spent 5 painful hours shopping (1 hour is usually my limit). Got me 2 cool T's for $25 and nearly went mental and bought a hoodie sweatshirt for $75 (Sweet Jesus...what was I thinking?).
As I was leaving Bogota in the morning (as was Hannah and Chris but in opposite directions I cooked us a spaghetti carbonara (all home made of course...thanks Knorr) and had a few drinks.
As usual I've gone over my time in Colombia...but it just can't be helped. Colombia is just the dog's bollocks. Tomorrow I head to a half way point to Venezuela (San Gil...a small town of outdoor activities) and then after a few days there head to Venezuela. I've heard even more reports of how crap and dangerous Venezuela is and just crossing the border needs a guide book to itself. I haven't met anyone that has a good word to say about Venezuela..how weird is that? Should be ok though..I've now got some good instructions from the hostel in San Gil.
In Venezuela I'm going to spend a few days in Merida, then maybe (if I'm feeling mad enough) spend a few days in Caracas and lastly head towards the fabled Angel Falls for 3 days of tough hiking.
At the moment I'm in San Gil and tomorrow am doing a Paraglide over the waterfalls here (Can't wait but am shit scared).