Back to the Future
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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Even the countryside south of Girón would appear to belong to another era - if only one could block out the noise and pollution of the heavy trucks grinding their way up the steep slopes. Eagles soared through the magnificent Cañón de Chicamocha with layer upon layer of hillside fading away into the distance.
We had yet to find an official campsite in Colombia, so were encouraged to hear that one did indeed exist just a few km from Barichara - reputed to be one of the most beautiful colonial towns in Colombia. After using several litres of gas going back and forth in search of this elusive campsite, we were hailed by the local gas station attendant who heartily invited us to camp in a field next to his parents house. What more could we ask for - a plug-in for the fridge, the use of a shower and toilet, and a gorgeous view of the surrounding valleys and hillsides. However, being so close to the road, everybody who passed by slowed down to peer at this strange apparition with its top popped. It was not surprising then that we received a visit the next morning from two local army personnel. In Peru, Bolivia or even Ecuador, our immediate reaction would have been to utter "oh no, here comes trouble!" Colombia is markedly different though, and true to expectation these friendly officers simply came to welcome us and offer whatever services might be required, and stayed to chat for quite a while about our trip.
Stone masons abound in and around Barichara, just as they must have some three hundred years ago when they created the town's four impressive churches, including a monumental sandstone cathedral. Even the streets are constructed in stone - not just the small cobblestones evident in many other historic cities, but massive square slabs that definitely add to the striking beauty of the locale, now deemed a national monument. But whereas Girón's colonial buildings are trimmed in dark brown, the whitewashed architecture in Barichara is adorned with either green or blue - a town that Hollywood could only dream of!
Descending only about 800 ft to San Gil, we could almost immediately feel the warmer temperatures surrounding us. Although also boasting a quaint historic centre, San Gil is better known as the tourist capital of Santander Department, and offers much more than just "a walk through the past". Although, as if in keeping with the historic surroundings, almost all of the 1,867 trees in San Gil's Parque El Gallineral are covered in the long, silvery wisps of old man's beard. The exquisite location of this triangular shaped park (between the Rio Fonce and one of its tributaries), also gives the feeling of insulation from the surrounding tobacco, dairy and mixed cropping economies.
Unlike Michael J. Fox who needed a time machine to rid himself of the past, we simply decided to change gears and do something a bit more energetic.....although interesting, all this emphasis on history was making us feel our age!! San Gil abounds in eco-adventure tour agencies, and Patricia at 'Aventura Total' effortlessly sold us on the idea of a 11 km white-water rafting expedition down the Class 3 rapids of the Río Fonce. Together with a family of five from Bogotá, we donned life jackets and helmets, and listened attentively as our guide Mario explained the finer points of white-water rafting survival etiquette. Accompanied by two single "dagger" kayaks, we made the plunge......so to speak.