Colombia tourism

Quibdó, Colombia – something else, reggaeton city

The flight from Medellin to Quibdó was the best one ever. We (Paula and I) landed at the time we were due to take off! Talk about a ‘short hop’, this one was a time warp. Only 25 or so minute hike.

What a city! It’s sign name is like ‘panning for gold at the river’.  It’s not on the tourist route and I’m not sure I would want to encourage it because it’s good as it is ‘unspoilt’. How, then, did I come to be here? As stated in previous entries, I had a strong wish to see the city at which Paula does her research on bats, her blog can be found here.

Here is a picture of the river that runs across Quibdó, called the Atrato river, courtesy of Paula:

I stayed at the University residences, fairly basic with cold water for a shower. Nice, since it’s so hot and humid there. Water for the shower comes from rain water that’s been collected in tanks; it rains so much many people have not ‘piped’ their houses (it’s also cheaper!). Over the bed, mosquito net is a must – although I was often left saying to P ‘how did that mosquito get in’!  I visited the university once, very well maintained and very cool with air conditioning. I used the p.c. once in a lab populated by dead (stuffed) animals, but that’s all part of the research they do at the Uni.

But there were two striking things about Quibdó: the motorbikes and the people. At University of Bristol typically the car parks and streets are full of cars, but around here the motorbikes reigns supreme. Motorbike taxi’s are popular and common: I took a ride on one to go downtown for 1,000 pesos (about 30p), and the university ‘car park’ hardly had any cars (I didn’t see any), but masses of motorbikes. P had been telling me this for weeks, but only seeing it could I understand it.

The people is the other aspect, but again it has to be seen. The majority of the people are Afr0-Colombian, so at times I didn’t quite feel I was in what I thought was Colombia, since there were less Afro people in other places I visited. Sound systems blare out music from the streets downtown, something we only experience at carnivals and festivals in the UK.

One highlight was the moored boat we relaxed on, with Aguila beer, taking a breather from the heat. To get on it we had to climb over a couple of horizontally fixed poles and walk a dodgy wooden plank. Because the river had subsided, the boat was listing, so the drinks were liable to slide off the tables. Lo and behold near the end of our drink session lots of bottles rolled off a table nearby. Here, loud music played and the people were happy. A man from Panama came up to chat and was dancing on the boat. The toilet was wanted, but had no door and all could see inside – we passed taking it, needless to say!

Now, I’m informed, by many sources, that Quibdó is the rainiest place on earth, situated as it is surrounded by rainforest. It thundered and crackled at night (and rained) but during the days I was there I never saw any rain…except once, when I decided to go for a run early one morning at an old sports track opposite the airport. Because it was so disused, running around it was muddy and I got soaked (but have no problems with that!). A dog also followed me on my run, which was so cute! I did my 21 laps, got wet and muddy, got back to the residences and showered.

I met some people from the University, very friendly, and the work environment seemed quite peaceful. Though I don’t know what it’s like when students are packing the lecture rooms.

It was sad leaving Quibdó because it was the last time I will see Paula until she returns to Bristol. I would liked to have stayed longer to have seen other parts of the city, such as a waterfall that’s nearby, some of the nightlife, and to have had more opportunity to socialise. In the city the nightlife is know for its reggaeton, a very popular and sensual dance. I would loved to have seen people in action doing the dance and, with a little Aguardiente in me, maybe have tried it myself.

The security fears are overblown. At night the city centre comes alive with throngs of people in the squares, the nightclubs, and on motorbikes. Police (dressed in green, thus appearing like the military to me) also roam the streets – but they do so in every UK city too (ok, minus the guns, but UK cops have vans, cars, pepper spray, batons, and sometimes dogs). We had a look inside one nightclub and it was actually so air conditioned it was cold. Places to eat seemed few, but where we did eat, downtown, the food was good, so we ate well.

Which reminds me…I was never ill once, nor did I threaten to even become slightly unwell during my hols. Amongst my favourite foods, snacks and drinks were: proper hot chocolate (with cheese dropped in is common); Arepa (usually plain or with egg or cheese); lots of yummy fruit, uchuva being my top fave; for snacks we often ate sliced up mango topped with salt and lime juice; and, of course, the unbeatable Colombian coffee. Top, top of the whole lot though was the fruit salad. A mixture of fruit with lots of thick cream and a form of grated cheese! The cheese is not like cheddar, but either queso campesino or queso cuajada.

A final picture, of sun setting on Quibdó, taken from where I was staying.

And some more pictures from the holiday:

Me in the shade!

At Roderdo, near Santa Marta

A present for great hosts 🙂

I very much intend to return to Colombia!

Colombia holiday – part 2, vignettes from an English Deaf guy abroad

Purely holiday entry here! Photos below. Time passing, memory in danger of forgetting, so I try vignettes.

Well, first of all it’s spelt ColOmbia, not ColUmbia, as they have put in the Olympics 2012 programme grrr…! (p.s. I’m supporting Colombia Women’s Football team, yay, got tickets to see them during the 2012 Olympics!)

Some pics for starters: outside the airport at Cali, waiting for D to pick us up:

At Parque Tayrona with Paula (P):

Lovely picture of woman looking as I take photo of the food stall:

First Stop (after Bogota): Barranquilla

Barranquilla (hot city of the Caribbean): I stayed with P’s family here – they own a hardware store, with living quarters at the back of the shop: living room, two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and back yard housing the eating area. Quite a contrast to where I stayed at Cali, and here I slept…on the hammock** for four nights we were there.

We made two local trips to beaches, the first some place I don’t know the name of, but it was very windy and lots of wind-surfing sports therefore popular:

We also took a trip to the local beach resort, called Rodadero, which was packed and touristy, people forever asking  us if we wanted massages, hair braids, food, etc; but it was also noticeable for having this weird 60’s style hotel perched on one of the cliffs:

Barranquilla crazy hour dance: It was a real honour to have been able to take part in an event where all were dressed in white and in the midst of this sober occasion came the…crazy hour! Never have the words: ‘the joint was really jumping, the cats were going wild’ been more apt. Some wonderful indigenous dance by P and her father was followed by a rock solid hour of ‘crazy’ sweaty dancing at which I got drenched cos it was hot (and hopefully I did the English proud with my non-wallflower approach…well, ok, I needed a bit of encouragement, but…). My moves were not the greatest, I needed some help and got mocked for doing the dance the women are meant to only do, but I liked the bit where they hold you up by the collar and take you centre stage, as you then become the puppet of the show. Perhaps I ought to add that not every man will be ‘hung’ like a puppet, only those who dance a lot 🙂

Next stop: Tayrona Park

Parque Tayrona, Santa Marta (at the base, cloudy): Ok, we didn’t quite get to the Sierra Nevada :

you need 3 or so days just to get there – but did experience the hike through jungle to its wondrous base. To get there we took a coach journey from Santa Marta to the entry: lots of form filling, and then a one hour walk (lots of climbing through boulders and walking on tracks and sand) to get to the ‘paradise’ area. That’s the base, Parque Tayrona, eco-friendly, where we slept on a hammock covered by mosquito net in the open (just roof for protection).  We went swimming both days but it was cloudy, so we didn’t get a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains normally visible from the rough seas. On the second day we went to the most unspoilt beach I have ever been to – there were no toilets so number 2 had to be done in the woods (the dung beetles sent their thanks!), no trendy huts to stay in, and food was basic (fruit and fruit-based drinks mostly). Around the mountains live several indigenous peoples, and we saw some, the Kogi I think, around the tourist areas:

Here’s me carrying watermelon to our beach spot:

And the view halfway through the jungle:

Coach Santa Marta to Barranquilla (washing machine anybody?):

One of the best short trips ever! Short sentence summary. Ended Parque Tayrona trip, got bus* to outskirts of Santa Marta. Got on coach to Barranquilla. Seemed like half a coach once inside. Like Dr Who’s Police Box the other way round! Whatever. Sat watching end of a Denzel Washington film. Other one, Siege (?) started up. Felt sleepy. Wanted to see the bit where the coach was blown up. Waited and waited (no subtitles of course). When the scene came, man started moving stuff to the front seat (drinks), obscuring view. Of all the times! This loading went on for some time. Finally, the film coach blew up, but the real coach stopped at some house. Offloading stuff began. Loads of drinks. And then came the washing machines. Apparently now I saw, all stacked at the back. One by one, off they came. Forever it seemed. Hastily carried on shoulder of a man older than me from back to front. 10 of them in all. Had to laugh. Coach trip carried on. Denzel Washington film carried on to end…then another one came on (our man Denzel again). Soon coach arrived at outskirts of Barranquilla. Some people got on. Coach drives off and five minutes later stops…at the coach drivers house! Some commotion with the people who had just got on. A shifting of the washing machines begins all over again! Ahem, time for me and P to also offload. Danger area apparently. Quickly we got a cab to the family home.

Apparently coach had began its journey in Venezuela, where goods are a hell of a lot cheaper. Well the washing machines certainly must be! Venezuela petrol prices are amongst the cheapest in the world (something like the third or fourth cheapest), for example (the UK’s are second highest, only Uruguay’s are higher!).

Onwards to Cali

Cali Salsa night (in Cali itself): prelude to the night at TinTinDeo – yep they have website – we (P and I) met with one of P’s good friends A; it was A’s boyfriend’s birthday celebration. Subject of conversation: relationships, needed drink. Lots of shots (Aguardiente, Ron Caldas), and Colombian beer called Aguila – so-so’ish; but it seemed to have done the trick! Great night out, managed some salsa dance (impossible without P’s skillful teaching), P drove home, asked me to talk to her, can’t remember half of what I said. (And, therefore, it was the perfect night!).

Cali mountains (in flew the bat!): Out in the mountains at Cali it is so much cooler, but still very warm for an Englishman! With P and family, visited the home they have there, had a bbq (how very British), drank, chat, and while I was in the loo in flew a bat! How lovely of this little visitor to come to see us; we couldn’t get nice bat out of the house, poor thing, flapping about its wings. So, we caught it, and P’s skills revealed it was a fruit bat. Took some pics of the little beauty and then let him (yes, it was male) free. There are a huge variety of species of bats in Colombia, where P is doing her research. They have vampire bats too, in places, but if we went there we’d be protected by net.

Beware: Dentist Entry Alert!!

Cali dentist (oh eh!): bothersome tooth, so saw dentist. Hmmm, ended with recommendation for full check, x-rays, and eventually…15 fillings. Gulp. Not offer anaesthetic as default, but as choice. Ok, I’ll forego it and see what it feels like. Double-gulp.  Wasn’t trying to be macho or anything but, was curious it wasn’t offered. First quarter drill I’m thinking: ‘what’s the trouble about, haha, this is easy!’. Second quarter drill, ok-ok, a wee bit of pain but what’s the fuss; it’s over when it’s over. Whey. Third quarter drill, real pain…ok sure, but, it does pass and it’s done with…fourth quarter drill onwards, serious eye-watering and chair gripping pain. (And that was only the first quarter; the second was easier, third and fourth, worse.) But, it was worth it not to have to feel the numbness, the big injection, the painful aftermath when numbness wears off. And all my mercury-fillings are gone, I’m all white teeth-wise! (Very much cheaper than if done in England was a factor, though as a holiday story, well….)

And the best thing of all about the dentist I saw? She gives you hugs.

Cali (in general): We ate at a vegetarian restaurant in the centre (as must do), but it was actually vegan food. No complaining, plus it was a real belly-filler. Gazed at the arts on display and took a trip to a church at a very good vantage point in the centre. We also went to buy a football shirts of the local team – America – all red with the motto: ‘Pasión de un Pueblo’ on the back.  All in the Cali experience was a relaxing one.

After Cali, stop off on the way to Quibdo

Medellin (the statutes and the overground): I’m told, reliably, that Medellin people are ‘so’ proud of their overground metro, and I can understand why. P and I took a trip on it to the interactive Life Science museum and had a bit of fun with some of the equipment, including ‘how fast do you run’ and ‘how hard do you hit a football’. In the later, P and I recorded exactly the same result. On the pitch I’d probably not be as good…

Anyway, it was a hot day, so it was good to cool off, and a chance for me to pose in front of some quirky ‘fat’ statutes (their words not mine) in the Plaza Botero, created by the famous artist, Fernando Botero – here’s one (uncensored) example:

Running summary: to keep up fitness I took my running stuff and managed to run. The two ‘straw breathers’ I did in Bogotá already covered in the previous entry. I also ran twice in Cali, early in the morning both times, and have these beautiful memories of frost hanging over the sugar cane fields, and the smell of sugar cane, much like vinegar.  These were flat roads, so it was a good run. I ran once in Barranquilla, around this football arena, which had a running track for athletes:

Yes, I know, I know, same clothes as in Tayrona (!). P and I got there early, and I started my 21 laps around 6.45am…there were few people running (but there was a footy practice 5-a-side going on). Around 7ish most runners vanished, and I could understand why…the heat! I was gasping. Bath Half was pretty much on the ‘low mild’ side compared to Barranquilla 7am in the morning, but I completed the laps and then headed straight for a ‘shower’ under the sprinklers on the pitch!

The one other run I did was another 21 laps, this time around a track in Quibdó, which I will come to in a separate entry on Quibdó proper.

Overall: I had an utterly fantastic time, this was a holiday with a very real difference from any I have undertaken previously. The most important thing for me was the company 🙂 Novia P :-)) I’m so grateful to the families that I was able to stay with in Bogotá, Cali and Barranquilla, who made me feel at home. I did not quite feel like a ‘tourist’ but in fact I was one. Ok, in the past I have been abroad to give a paper at a conference, and then travelled around the place, but this was the other way round: I managed to fit in the workshops while specifically on holiday, and am glad to have done so, it was a great experience meeting Bogotá Deaf people. There was the typical holiday beach and site visiting stuff, but I stayed with Colombian family for much of the time. The places I visited: Bogotá, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Medellin, Cali, and the awesome Quibdó, were all so unique and different in themselves. How I fit in so many dentist trips, I don’t know! Colombia seems to be a place that is hardly on the tourist route, but the security issues have subsided and it appears that as long as tourists do the usual sensible things, there is no more risk than any city in the UK. So, the motto: ‘the only risk is wanting to stay’ is a very true one indeed!

*’Bus’, an important note. These are basically the size of what we call ‘mini-bus’ in the UK, only there are two seats either side of an aisle-way middle. They do get packed! Such as the one time we took the bus in Bogotá. Then there are the ‘bendy buses’, which have their own lane, are (usually) air-conditioned, and go on set journey’s that you work out much like you would if you were going by underground in North America, Europe, UK and other places. It was weird experience for me. The ‘stops’ are like mini stations (this is all overground). At the station, the bus arrives, internal doors open, and then bendy bus doors also open, and you walk onto or leave bendy bus. Very nice a/c, with seats marked blue for pregnant mothers.

One final note: at one of the bus stations was this poster, a lost cochlear implant; please hand-in if found:

**Hammock, a sleepy pic example…and I brought one back from the trip! (Note: book is ‘One River’ by Wade Davis)