Super Hospitality - Colombian Style
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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At 4:00 am we were rudely awakened by a security guard, informing us that camping was not allowed at this site. As we weren't disturbing anyone, we asked for a few hours reprieve, promising to leave before 7:00 in the morning. "Absolutely no chance" replied the guard, threatening to call in the army. We headed out on to the dark, winding road, looking for anywhere suitable to stop and catch another hour or two of sleep. Thirty minutes later, we came upon a camping and picnic area. Again, no one was in sight and the gates were locked, but we found a level spot for the van just outside the park. After half an hour of sleep, yet another security guard knocked on the van window and informed us that parking outside the gates was illegal. Fortunately, this time he relented somewhat and permitted us to stay where we were for another hour, so by 6:30 we were back on the road.
Zipaquirá is rather an unimaginative town, but not so its claim to fame - the massive underground Salt Cathedral. After experiencing the horrendous conditions in the silver mines of Potosí in Bolivia, we were somewhat sceptical about actually finding a beautiful edifice deep in the salt mines of Zipaquirá, but decided to give it a try. Absolutely awesome!! Guide Rafael Guerrero spent two hours with us, masterfully illustrating how the miners had initially carved out tunnels with the idea of constructing a new cathedral much deeper than a previous one that was closed in 1992 for safety reasons. Seventy five metres long and eighteen metres high, the cathedral with its exquisite carvings can accommodate 8,400 people. How phenomenal it would have been to experience a concert here!
Back to reality - our water pump was getting progressively noisier, so we were rather anxious to reach Bogotá. We contacted Santiago and Camila - a young Colombian couple who had previously travelled through South America and Africa in a Landrover and Unimog respectively. Although we had never met them, they invited us to camp in their garden, even suggesting that we take our van to their mechanic. Little did either of us know that an overnight stay would turn into a complete week - especially as our arrival coincided with yet another long weekend!
Although we generally try to avoid large cities, we found Bogotá to be very European-like and spent several pleasant days exploring its attractions. Taking the teleferico up Cerro de Monserrate at 3,160 metres we had a superb view of this clean, well organized city of eight million. After identifying the older colonial barrio of La Candelaria from above, we walked back down the mountain to reconnoitre the area around the Plaza de Bolívar on foot. The Museo de Oro is apparently the most important gold museum in the world, exhibiting pieces from all the major pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia. Yes, the display was impressive, but we were even more excited when we arrived at the Italian-style Teatro Colón just in time for a noon hour concert by the University Symphony Ensemble. We also enjoyed exploring the 'Casa de la Moneda' and the 'Botero Gallery' housed in beautifully restored colonial buildings, and a superb display of African photography by Héctor Acebes in the central library.
Oh yes, about the water pump. We had already contacted Frank Condelli in Almonte and discovered that the $50 pump would cost almost $300 in shipping charges - ouch!! Thus, after the long weekend Santiago took us to his mechanic Marco, to see what miracles he might be able to perform. Within just a couple of hours, the water pump had been removed and a replacement bearing had been located and installed, all for the grand total of no charge except for the bearing. Now isn't this taking hospitality a bit too far?? Oh, but the story didn't end there.
Finally everything seemed to be fine - except for the puddle of transmission oil on the floor under DC3. Back to Marco's garage, as this is where they had changed the transmission pan gasket the day before to cure a slight leak. Upon closer examination, they discovered that the leak wasn't coming from the gasket at all, but rather from the seal between the transmission and the gearbox. At this point we all decided that it was probably better to search out a VW specialist who could not only replace the seal but also give DC3 a good tune-up. We're still awaiting the final results!