We had spent enough time on the coast melting in the heat and fighting off skin cancer, so we opt to race to get into the cool Colombian mountains. It still takes two long days of driving in the endless sweltering lowlands before we reach some mountain relief. Seeing how little progress we make on the map really drives home the size of which South America is. We are no longer in the tiny countries of Central America where a ten hour drive could put us in three different countries.
|Ah yes, mountains!|
|Clocking an amazing 20 something MPH up some mountain roads.|
Along the road south, it is always clear when we are close to a road that crosses into Venezuela because there are heaps upon heaps of people selling contraband gas for 2/3 the price of Colombian gas. These smart people were making a killing because we hear gas in Venezuela is 1 cent a gallon! Too bad the politics to get into that backwards country is more difficult then is worth filling up a tank for under twenty cents. Not even a free tank of gas is changing our course at this point!
|Don't mind my grimy cans.|
Sick of subpar photos, we dropped in the big city of Bucaramanga and bought a new and better camera...Chris excited about a new toy and Mallary already believing she is the next pro photographer. Freshly equipped with our said toy, we head up to the hills overlooking the city for the most magical of campsites. Not only does this site have a fantastic view, but it also has parasailing! Driving up to it, we see plenty of brightly colored sails floating and manuevering around in the thermals, some even so close to the road that they look like they could land on Lola. Having never witnessed this sport up close, it was really amazing to see what could be done with a sail, some cords, and a padded seat. Without hesitation we signed up for a ride above the city with one of the local professionals. Within minutes, we were being called out individually to the takeoff cliff, given a helmet, and strapped in....and with three steps forward, the thermals quickly swooped the sail up into the air, taking us into their control. Our pilots then took us sailing by cliffs, over the sprawling city, and by request swung the carriage in sweeping side to side pendulum-like motions. 10 minutes in that seat was awesome, and definitely worth the going price of $16! The day at the paragliding place was coming to a close and it cleared out, leaving us, the view of the city, and the sunset in the distance all alone. We cooked dinner, opened a bottle of wine, stuck our chairs right in the middle of the take off field, turned up some tunes, and soaked up the night. Simply perfect.
|Mallary in flight, her voice can be heard from even further now!|
Almost tempted to have a second sail in the thermals, we hit the road for a scenic drive through Chicamocha Canyon. The views are breathtaking, and we are enjoying it so much that we find a cute little ranch to camp for the night called Cabanas Campestres. Here we parked in the front of their lot, overlooking their garden and the immense canyon before us. The small family run place was more like a homestay than a campground. The grandmother loved to take us on mini tours of the property, showing us how they grow, roast, and make their own coffee and grind corn for the chickens. She would give us tiny cups of coffee and tastes of homemade empanadas thoughout the day. The two kids had the day off from school, and after we shared some candy with them, they became our shadows until bedtime. The little girl even took us on a hike and showed off her new friends to the neighborhood. We loved this place, but our main perogotive for chilling out here was to catch up on some blogs, and that definitely did not happen with the presence of our new favorite ankle biters!
|We've seen a million chickens so far, but yes we will go on your chicken tour.|
|Coffee time, supporting local farmers.|
|Try cooking with these four vultures sneezing all over your food.|
|The face says it all.|
By now we had made our way into the Colombian Highland region, a very beautiful landscape of mountains loaded with well maintained farms, pastures, and well preserved Spanish style colonial towns. The town of Barichara is arguably the most picturesque of the country, so it wasn't long before we found ourselves bouncing our way into this town on streets built way before the idea of cars and the destruction of their shocks ever came to mind. Of course, we had highlighted this town in our book long ago with an additional note saying "camp on side of cliff". We walked all through the cobblestone streets, seeking out some stellar local specialties, and even strolled into a building full of old folks making craftwork in antiquated fashion. The town presented so many perfect opportunities to practice our skills on the new camera... every picture resulting in a "man we are sooo happy we got a new camera for this!" We had to be aware though, getting caught up in gazing at the rolling town and green hillsides can lead to an almost pee your pants scare when a huge barking dog head comes at your face as you walk innocently down the sidewalk!
|The big one scared Mallary, then she scared the whole town with her out of this world scream|
|Torture device or weaving machine?|
|$4 per plate, tasted like 15!|
That night we pulled up to the cliffside overlooking the mountains and canyon in the back of town, and had yet another amazing and free place to make camp. Throughout the evening many friendly locals approached us for a quick chat as we cooked up some wonderful fresh Colombian veggies, and then later in the night (3am actually) the friendly police approached us for a quick questioning! :/ At the time we were fast asleep, until their high beams illuminated every inch of the car, quickly followed by bright red and blue lights... the international sign that you're in trouble! After circling the car suspiciously, they glanced in through one of our screens asking, "What are you doing here?" "Umm, we are sleeping" "Okay, well have a nice night!" We suspect they were investigating a random abandoned vehicle, not expecting us to be sleeping inside... But who knows?
Even though modern roads traverse the region, the villages are still connected by footpaths (camino reales) that go back hundreds of years. We woke up the next morning and set out one of the more popular caminos that would bring us to Guane, a town known for it's own version of eggnog, goats milk, and goat cheese. The trail was pleasant on the eyes, mostly lined by old rock walls and meandered along a multitude of farms. It was fitting that halfway into the hike, we caught up with a goat rancher herding his flock of thirty or so goats towards Guane. He was thrilled to have us around, and even snatched up the smallest of the babies and shoved it into Mallary's arms. Meanwhile, mama goat was going buck wild with hatred. We spent close to an hour walking with him, learning more info then necessary about goat ranching....about 60% of which we understood through his thick country accent. When we got to Guane, the goats ran home, and our new friend directed us to the best goat cheese in town, which we gobbled down on the hike back!
Chris had been eyeing a place called El Cocuy National Park for a couple years, so next we are off to even bigger mountains, where we would soon feel like we turned back the hands of time at a rustic hacienda...