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Before We Leave

A Little Background

We are leaving for Bogota Colombia on January 29, 2018 and will be in the country for a little more than three weeks. We will be traveling with an Intrepid Tour “Best of Columbia” https://www.intrepidtravel.com/ca/colombia/best-colombia-108652 We will be adding on a regular basis to our blog and hope that you are able to follow our journey. A bit of history follows below.


Colombia is situated in the northwest of South America and shares a border to the northwest with Panama, to the east with Venezuela and Brazil and to the south with Ecuador and Peru. It shares its maritime limits with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is a unitary, constitutional republic. The territory of what is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, including the Muisca, Quimbaya and the Tairona. Colombia is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world, and thereby possesses a rich cultural heritage. The urban centres are mostly located in the highlands of the Andes mountains.


The Spanish set foot on Colombian soil for the first time in 1499 and in the first half of the 16th century initiated a period of conquest and colonization, ultimately creating the New Kingdom of Granada with as capital Santafé de Bogotá. Independence from Spain was acquired in 1819 but by 1830 the "Gran Colombia" Federation was dissolved. The Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886. Panama seceded in 1903.


Since the 1960s the country has suffered from an armed conflict between government forces, leftist guerrilla groups and right wing paramilitaries which escalated in the 1990s but then decreased from 2005 onward. Despite Colombia having the dubious distinction of being the world leading producer of coca for many years, slowly but surely, this has diminished to the extent that in 2010, the country reduced cocaine production by 60%, relative to the peak in 2000. In that same year Peru surpassed Colombia as the main producer of coca leaves in the world. The level of drug-related violence was halved in the last 10 years and dropped below that of countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago.


Colombian territory also encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines. Ecologically, it is one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries, and the most densely biodiverse of these per square kilometer. Colombia is a middle power and a regional actor with the fourth-largest economy in Latin America, is part of the six leading emerging markets and is a member of the UN, the WTO, the OAS, the Pacific Alliance, and other international organizations. Colombia has a diversified economy with macroeconomic stability and favorable growth prospects in the long run.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:08 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Our first day in Bogotá

Do I have a bad altitude?

semi-overcast 17 °C

Day 1 Monday January 30, 2018

Why is it that when you really want to maximize those few available hours of sleep before getting up at 3:30 a.m. there’s no way the zzz’s are going to come? The journey took us from Victoria to Toronto-in-the-snow (where we dropped a bag of winter clothes for our visit with Sasha/family on the way home) detoured through the de-icing station, on to Bogota airport with an extended visit to the cranky baggage carousel and to a very patient, waiting taxi and on to our hotel Vilar América http://hotelvilaramerica.com/en/ arriving sometime after 1 a.m It was a long day.


With a population of about 8.8 million people, Bogota sits approximately 2640m (8,660 feet) above sea level in the Colombian Andes region. Orientation is relatively easy, as the mountains to the east are generally visible from most parts of the city. To understand the sheer size of the city, consider that Mexico City and New York City are the only North American cities larger than Bogotá.


The city's airport, El Dorado International Airport, named after the mythical El Dorado (gold discovery), handles the largest cargo volume in Latin America. Bogotá is home to the largest number of universities and research centers in the country, and is an important cultural center, with many theaters, libraries and museums, of which the Museo del Oro is the most important.

Our hotel is in the heart business/commercial section of Bogotá and after breakfast we spent the morning walking around our barrio. One difference from other large urban areas we have visited in Latin America is that banks here don’t exchange money nor are their numerous casas de cambio or money exchange shops on the streets. We had to go to an exchange business located on the 3rd floor of a mall 8 blocks from our hotel. There are lots of ATMs but we wanted to exchange some of our US dollars. 1 CDN dollar equalls 2,311.23 Columbian Paseos which makes figuring out how much our lunch of 19,823 paseos cost is a tad complicated. So here is how we do it: round to an even number, divide by 2 and drop 3 zeros and recognize it’s a holiday so that’s good enough.


The altitude, lack of sleep, and 3 hour walk have slowed us down so we are taking it easy after a late lunch of very good Tortilla Soup and having a siesta. The weather was partly sunny/cloudy at around 17c. Lovely.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 13:12 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Notices not going out to subscribers

Damn this little tick boxes

Day 1, extra

It seems that the notifications to our subscribers are not going out and it may be because I didn't click on the correct tick box so I'm going to try this again.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 06:05 Comments (0)

Not the Day We Expected

Quick, taken the photo......

sunny 18 °C

Day 2 Wednesday, January 31/18

Today we went for the cultural experiences. Started off in a taxi. Tiny little thing, agile, good for darting about through the traffic which the driver did with great enthusiasm. Traffic is abundant. Probably 2 lanes, hard to tell, with motorcycles down the middle. Decided it would be good to be in the brake or body shop business. We reached our destination Plaza Bolivar safe and sound and found our way to the Tourist Office for info (this is important later). One side of the Plaza houses the National Capitol Buildings. After all the violence in this area, they are understandably well guarded with check points to wander down the side of the complex. On the other side of the Plaza is the Palace of Justice where the siege was held in 1985. Then we were off through a beautiful old church (1 of 3 today) and on to lunch.


We found a little restaurant and sat upstairs for a bowl of green soup that turned out to be potato, corn, a bit of chicken, and cilantro. Bland but local. A lady sat down beside us and dropped her jacket. Ever the polite Canadian, Fred leaned over to pick it up for her. Unbeknownst to us, her accomplices, sitting behind us, leaned over to steal Fred’s camera, which we didn’t see because we were engaged in helping the lady pick up her coat off the floor. She then appeared to get a phone call (probably didn’t but looked real as she lifted her phone and put it to her ear) and then quickly left the restaurant. When we got up to leave, following lunch, we realized the camera was gone. It was a slick and impressive theft. Annoyed but resigned to the loss of the camera, we walked back to the Tourist Office to ask about a safe place to get a new camera. When the staff person heard the story she leaned out the door to hail a police officer (they’re abundant in the area) who called the Tourist Police who came and took us away in their van along with a Tourist Info Officer who spoke English. Nice fellow, he offered to take a picture of us in the police van.


At the Police Station there was an officer who spoke pretty good English so he took a report. Think part of his motivation was to practice his English because he wanted to go to Canada as did his partner. Our motivation was to get the police report in the off chance we could claim the camera. Once done, we headed back to the square and hoofed it up the street to look at the recommended camera shop. The prices in the store were very high but we took down the info for comparison later. We hiked back to our new friends at the Tourist Centre who helped us do an online search for Canon Zx60hs which is the camera Fred wants to buy and use on the trip. He has a small digital but the zoom is very limited. The folks at the TC hailed an Uber to run the gauntlet of traffic to home. Rush hour this time.

Back at the hotel, with the help of one of the staff Fred tried to purchase the camera he wanted online (Bogota distribution) and have it shipped to the hotel. The supplier Mercadolibre, baulked because the credit card holder’s address is in Canada and it was to be shipped to a local Bogota address. Via one of the hotel’s staff, who was doing the intrepretation (not all pages on line can be automatically translated), Fred learned that the supplier would be checking with his Visa Card company to see if they would honour the purchase. So, he still doesn’t know if he will get a replacement. Todays pics are all from the small camera Fred takes kayaking with him.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 17:11 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Jardin Botanico de Bogotá

It was a long walk

semi-overcast 16 °C

Day 3 Thursday, February 1, 2018

Today’s destination…the Jardin Botanico de Bogotá , the largest botanical garden in Colombia. It was a 4k walk to the garden that took us along a very busy street lined with small low end businesses. The sidewalks were terrible. No looking at your phone while you’re walking because you could go down a coverless manhole or fall off one of the foot high curbs let alone trip over some broken concrete. Another potential occupation – physio therapist.


Close to the garden is the Parque Simon Bolivar which is actually an interconnected series of greenspaces that is bigger than Central Park in NYC. There were lots of bike paths and cyclists.


We crossed the park that was surprisingly not busy other than cyclists and went in search of the garden. With the help of several street venders we found our destination, the Jardin, and were delighted to find that being over the ripe old age of 60 we got in for free. Our first stop was the restaurant for a bowl of a traditional Colombian soup – potatoes, pork, beans, and cilantro and empanadas. Bolstered we headed out to tour of the 20 ha garden which is a display and research garden. Unfortunately their huge tropical greenhouse was closed for repair but we had a nice stroll around the garden anyway.


To get back to our hotel we decided to take a cab. Cabs are prolific and inexpensive in Bogotá with streets sometimes being a ribbon of yellow, its estimated that 70,000+ taxis circulate. However, one has to be very careful about taking a cab unless you want to take "the millionaire's ride" and that's no exaggeration. It works like this: With passengers in tow, unscrupulous taxi drivers suddenly stop to pick up accomplices who then force their victims, at gun or knife point, to pull out their debit and credit cards and withdraw millions of Colombian pesos from ATMs. They usually max out their victims daily ATM withdrawal amount and may hold them till midnight so they can get the next day’s amount also. Best way to avoid this is to only take a cab that has been called for you from a hotel or restaurant which means there is a record of who picked you up. There was no way to call a cab from the garden so we flagged one down on the busy street and we very glad to see it was a senior driving so we felt safe.


Besides the traffic, getting around Bogotá has another challenge. At some point it was decided to set up a grid system for naming streets. Makes sense…calles go east/west and carreras go north south. The catch is that the streets were here before the grid so the grid bends a bit…think time warp. And there are very few street signs. To figure out where you are you look at the addresses. Our hotel address is Calle 66 8-23, which means building address 23 on Calle 66 between Carrera 8&9. Some blocks were subdivided so there’s 66 a and b. We’re getting better at it with the help of Googlemaps.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 17:41 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Historic District Second Try

Museo & barrio antiguo

rain 15 °C

Day 4 Friday February 2, 2018

First attempt in Bogotá’s Historic District, La Candalaria, didn’t go so well, albeit interesting. Decided to try again armed with more understanding of the area and less stuff in our pockets.

La Candalaria is the Old Town of Bogotá. In the middle is the Plaza Bolivar with the government buildings and cathedral. It is home to an impressive number of museums and galleries, many which are free to even those under 60 years of age. The east side of La Candalaria climbs up a steep hill with narrow cobblestone streets and view over the city. But to our favorite coffee shop first.


We started in the plaza and this time Fred needed to feed the birds.


Our next stop was the Museo de Botero. Botero was an artist from Medellin, known for his depiction of rotund figures, albeit human or vegetable, often with a sense of humour and sometimes a political comment. He donated 208 items from his private collection of both his own and other artists including Monet, Picasso, and Matisse, to Colombia in 2000. The government created a museum just for this work. It gets about 500,000 visitors annually and is free of charge. It is connected to some other small galleries and museums so we wandered about learning about Colombian history and coin minting (not a lot though as most text was in Spanish).


Needing substance we headed up the hill looking for a bowl of soup. Enticed through a door and up some stairs (this is sounding too familiar) we arrived at a restaurant in what must have been somebody’s home at the turn of the last century or earlier: Victorian, wood paneling and plate rails, glass mullioned doors, antique wooden cabinets. A very elegant but somehow relaxed atmosphere that stimulated the imagination to think of what Bogotá might have once been

After a bowl of delicious soup, we headed off up the hill to explore. The tourist district ended quickly and we wandered the narrow streets for a bit before heading back down towards the square.


Fortunately we’d stuck our heads in a museum outlining the plans for Bogotá when the rains started. Torrential rains. We waited them out and then continued downhill. Into a little shop for a look about and then a clap of thunder and the rain started again. No question about going outside, we hunkered down with about 20 other tourists waiting for the rain to subside. Once it did we started out again only for it to start again. Ferocious might be an appropriate word to describe it. This time we found refuge at a coffee shop and watched as the water ran down the streets to a depth of 3 or 4 inches. Activity pretty much ceased, traffic became sparse and people waited but umbrella vendors popped up to do their business. After 45 minutes the rains stopped, the street vendors re-emerged, and life got back to normal.


Off we went, down a street of shops selling hats and then one selling men’s clothing, and then into a market hidden behind all the other shops. “Welcome to the jungle” one of the vendors said as we discovered a maze of small shops selling everything from tourist crafts to wooden stools. Needless to say, we stand out here. There are very few gringa tourists about.

Having had a full day we wandered back to the tourist office who called us an Uber to get us back to the hotel.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 17:31 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Meet & Greet Day

nuevos amigos

semi-overcast 15 °C

Day 5 Saturday, February 3, 2018

Today was the day we met our Intrepid group. We began sussing people up yesterday, wondering who might be in our group.

Since we had the morning on our own we decided to wander around our neighbourhood a bit. We walked by a Sushi Burrito restaurant that had to be ultimate in fusion food. More street art was also seen.


The guidebooks suggestion didn’t turn out so well so we headed off to Juan Valdez, Colombia’s Starbucks, to consider our options. Fred ordered a coffee inadvertently, that is popular with Colombians. It’s made with sugar cane so is very sweet and has a bit of a cinnamon flavour.

We have been noticing that many of vehicles especially the larger of the SUVs have all of their windows, including the front, with a very dark tint. I guess that is so you can't tell who is inside. The streets and sidewalks are not in good repair and one needs to be very careful, at all times, where one steps.


We headed off towards a few blocks of antique stores that we’d seen from the taxi. Along the way we found a plant nursery to explore. The antique stores had a wonderful array of chandeliers, collectables, and statues that were probably left over from the grand homes of days gone by.


After some very good tortilla soup we met our group. Twelve in number from Canada, Britain, and the U.S. Fred was amazed to find he wasn’t the oldest male in the group. The ages range from one couple who are in their late 30’s to the rest in their 50+s. Our guide is a 25 year old anthropologist and seems very professional which is nice to see. She took us for awalkabout our neighbourhood to point out good restaurants, ATM’s etc. Soon we’re heading out for dinner with our new group.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 14:43 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Graffiti, an airplane ride and heavy rain

Day of Contrasts

semi-overcast 16 °C

Day 6 Sunday February 4, 2018

Our flight out of Bogotá wasn’t until 6 p.m. so we had most of the day in town. Bogota is know for it’s graffiti so we decided to go on a Graffiti tour. On Sundays 500 km of roadways are closed to traffic and opened to bicycles and pedestrians. This made getting to the Historic District by cab a bit challenging. Our driver took us up the hill through some of Bogota’s more affluent neighbourhoods that were built around the turn of the last century in a very British style. We wondered for a bit if we were on a Tijuana taxi ride but eventually he dropped down to the park area where the tour was to start. It’s nice to be able to look at Googlemaps and see that we’re heading in the right direction.


Our guide was a Colombian who grew up in the US and decided to move back to Bogota 12 years ago. He explained to us a bit about the international culture of street art and the difference between street art and tagging and took us off on a 2.5 hour tour of the Old Town of Bogota up the windy, cobblestone streets and past a variety of different artists. The wall art is quite political not only in content but in it’s existence. The current mayor does not like street art and has increased the fines for those caught doing it without a permit. 7 years ago a 16 year old was shot by police who then covered up the murder. The officer has been recharged after the time limit for a court appearance ran out. The judge was convicted of corruption and is serving 8 years of house arrest. The city wants to get heritage designation for the area that we were walking in which means the art has to go. As a result of the corruption there seems to be a strong resistance to the laws about the work. The city is now trying to commission art in some areas to passive the artists but there seems to be some skepticism as to whether that will work on the taggers.


Bogota, a city of 8.5 million has a garbage strike. We’d been wondering about the piles of garbage. It’s only been 5 days and there is a lot of garbage on the streets.

After the tour we decided to head to a large flea market. The streets were very crowded with pedestrians and bicycles and street vendors. The market itself had all manner of goods, lots of old goods, but alas not Fred’s camera.


Time to find a taxi and head home. Turned out not to be an easy task as most streets were closed and there was a heavy police presence. Our guide thinks it may have been because there was a bull fight and likely to be a protest. It was an hours walk back to our hotel so off we went but eventually found a cab. s

Now we’re waiting at a very noisy airport waiting to fly out our next destination on the other side of the mountains.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 20:15 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

High Five!

"Sucking Air"

rain 16 °C

Day 7 Monday February 5, 2018

Our 35 minute flight in an Airbus ( that made strange noises when taking off and putting our seat backs up didn't seem to be an option), took us to Armenia. We were met by a mini-bus for the drive to Salento, pop. 7000 and gateway to the Cocora Valley. Shortly after we got in the bus it started to rain, no pour; torrentially. After an hour drive on a highway we turned off onto a windy road for the last 20 minutes. The driver seemed to have an aversion to both wipers and defrosters but fortunately was able to follow the lights of the vehicles in front to get to our hotel. The rain continued to pour down and we were quite convinced that there would be no hiking today which made Fred’s decision about whether or not his knee could handle the venture easier.


We got up this morning to cloudy skies and no rain and Fred decided to go as our very accommodating trip leader, Carolina, offered to return with him if his knee bailed. We were picked up in old original Willys jeeps (Fred had a 1962 Willy Jeep pick up truck back in the day, for the ½ hour ride to the trail head. The trail is about 13k with the highest point at 2860 m (9383 feet), a 1000 m elevation change from Salento. After all the rain last night we fully expected to be in calf deep mud. Out trail guide showed up in gumboots and told us we could rent them if we wanted. We all declined and headed out on a bit of an uphill to get the heart working. After a short walk the trail opened up into a grassy valley with steep sides. The Cocora Valley is the home of Colombia’s wax palms, the palm on the Colombian flag, a threatened species due to over harvesting, habitat loss and disease. It is also home to the endangered yellow-eared parrot. The palm can grow up to 60 m. high, does not begin to reproduce until it is 80 years old and is very impressive.


The steep sides of the valley were crisscrossed by lines that turned out to be cow paths. Fred pondered over why a cow would climb that high up a hill to get grass when there appeared to be plenty on the lower slopes. He also made a new friend.


After meandering along the valley floor for a bit the trail began to climb and then the flora changed dramatically as we entered into a jungle. We still hadn’t come across any serious mud. We crisscrossed a river half a dozen times on bridges that would never meet Parks Canada standards. Carolina said to take small steps so the bridge wouldn’t swing as much. This worked well until there was a missing board, which was frequent.


As the trek became steeper then lack of oxygen became apparent. We had to stop frequently to catch our breath. After about 5 k we came to our lunch stop, a hummingbird sanctuary. We ate our lunches watching the little hummers dance around the feeders and feast on the surrounding flowers.


On we went, or that should be up we went. The trail got quite steep and breathing became more challenging. The trail wound up the hillside and eventually reached a small farm with an English garden where we rested for a bit. The rest of the hike was downhill and punctuated by spectacular views up and down the valley. We eventually returned to our starting point to wait for our jeep pick-up, only slightly muddy and smelling of manure. Our trail guide gave us High Fives for completing the trek but we returned the salute for taking us on such a wonderful journey. Fred’s knee survived, begrudgingly but stiff and painful by the end.


Back in Salento our bus picked us up and off we went to our next stay at a coffee farm about a 2 hour drive away. Most of the drive was on highways but when we got close to the farm the road narrowed, to slightly wider than the bus, as we went through a small town. It continued to narrow on the other side of the town. “May be rustic accommodations’ Fred said. We pulled into the farm to find we had comfortable rooms, a pool and a dog and good food. Life is good.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 05:34 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Life on the Farm

Coffee, coffee, coffee.....

sunny 20 °C

Day 8 Tuesday February 6, 2018

A night of heavy rain that fortunately, towards sunrise lessened to a mist. Listened to the birdsong until getting up and pulling back the curtains to discover fabulous views across and down the valleys where the coffee was growing. By the time we’d finished our fruit salad and orange juice from the farm with fresh baking, granola, and turned down the eggs and tortillas, the sun had broke thru. We were then off on a tour of the coffee farm.

The farm is 64 acres mostly planted in coffee. It has a small building with about 8 suites and some cute as can be cottages. Our guide took us through the whole process from seed to cup of coffee. We’ve been on coffee tours in the past but none as rustic as this. In the busy fall coffee season, 140 workers are employed to pick beans getting paid about 25 cents a kilo. Good pickers can harvest around 500 kilos a day which translates to $43 for an 11 hour day. It is hard work as the slopes are so steep that it’s difficult to walk across let alone with a 50 k bag of coffee beans. No mechanical picking here. When the beans are sorted some have a small insect in them, making them sub-standard are sold for instant coffee. We learned a lot about the coffee trade through our very informed guide.


After the tour we were served a Colombian lunch. Colombians eat a lot of meat. Neither of us made it through the serving and Gail had ordered the vegetarian option.

After lunch Gail and Andrea from Switzerland, took a stroll up the seriously steep road to a lookout across the valley. Looking down the hill, it is hard to believe that anyone could work these slopes.


Back at the lodge, it was time to pull out books, laze by the pools and try to build up an appetite for tonight’s offerings.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 15:49 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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