Thursday, January 5, 2012

Colombian Road Trip to Los Nevados - Day 4 & 5

Mariquita – Parque Nacional Natural de Los Nevados – Mariquita
Day 4 was our adventure to Parque Nacional Natural de Los Nevados.  The drive was pretty long for us – maybe 4 hours – but the views were incredible, we just kept going higher and higher.  Juan Carlos has an app on his phone that allowed us to see our altitude – I was slightly obsessed with it and may be the reason his phone is currently out of commission.  Oops.  
The turn into the park is at La Esperanza, there we gathered information about the park and the applications for passes into the park.  We also got information about places to stay in the park.  The options were limited.   Again, no plan because we weren’t originally going to come this way.  So glad we did, even if it was only for a few hours.
The weather was cloudy, which was unfortunate but it was still very cool to travel to the peak of this very tall mountain (more than 14,000 feet), see the landscape of a volcano, and see snow in Colombia!  There were a TON of rules for getting accustomed to the altitude.  We had to drive with the windows down and not put too many layers of clothing on all at once (not a problem because I brought a LOT of layers).  We had to drink lots of water – which meant peeing every 15 minutes – there were stops a long the way, thank goodness.  We were supposed to eat salty snacks and only natural sugars (That included bocadillo! My favorite Colombian sweet).  Even with the clouds and the rain, the landscape was awesome. Strange plants  I had never seen and then no plants at all –  only black sand dunes that looked like another planet.  Eventually, as we reached the top there was snow as well.  We were able to drink agua de panela and eat arepas con queso y carne (delicious!) to help us warm up.  Then we took some photos, relaxed a bit and headed back down.
We were unable to stay in the park because it turns out if you want to stay at the hotel you need to reserve a room the Aviatur (a Colombian travel agency)…lame.  So we began our descent in hopes of finding something nearby.  After about 2 hours of reaching a few deadends, we decided to just drive the four hours back to Mariquita and hit up the same hotel from the night before.  We stayed occupied with my books of questions that I had on my Kindle and stopped along the way for more agua de panela, cheese and bread.   We got in around 8:30pm to Mariquita, paid for a new room, and relaxed.
The next morning we got up, had a great breakfast and then headed back to Bogotá.  This was a wonderful trip and I’m looking forward to the next one already – maybe beach the next time.  Scuba diving anyone? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Colombian Road Trip to Los Nevados - Day 3

Juntas – Ibagué – Armero – Onda – Mariquita

View from my car window on Day 3
Juan Carlos and I in Lérida
With our plans out the window, we had to regroup.  We decided to give the other mountain a try and so another early morning, into Ibagué for lunch with Juan Carlos’ family, and then we headed towards Nevado Ruiz.  Along the way we stopped in Lérida, the hometown of Juan Carlos’ dad and Armero.  Armero is a town that was wiped off the map in the 80’s.  Nevado Ruiz (also a volcano) erupted.  The snow melted and caused a major flooding.  A rush of mud swept over the town and took away everything that was there including many, many lives.  What is now there is a few remains of buildings and grass and trees that have grown in since the catastrophy.  The place felt of death and was very difficult for me.  Juan Carlos lived there for a very short time when he was younger and he grandmother left the town only a week before the eruption.  There were gravestones marking the homes of the various families that were killed, including the family of a girl that lived across the street from Juan Carlos with who he used to play as a child.  Oof.  Terrible.  
Floor of the church.
What remains of the church.

We drove in silence until we reached Mariquita.  We agreed on staying there because there were more options of places to stay.  We arrived a hotel that seemed nice and the price they quoted was about $55 dollars for the night.  Juan Carlos talked them down to $45.  It seems you can negotiate just about anything here in Colombia.  Lucky for me I had a Colombian with me because I am sure that I would not have had the guts to try it or the same luck being the gringa that I am. 
Once we settled into our room we left for lunch in Onda.  Onda is a small town along two rivers with colonial architecture.  I was exhausted and so failed to take the pictures that I should have.  Juan Carlos tried to tell me that I would regret it.  I told him the pictures would be captured in my mind forever.  What an idiot I am.  Anyhow, we had a delicious lunch of fish (cannot remember the name, but native to the river that passes through the town) and lemonade.  We purchased snacks for the following day and then headed back to the hotel to relax a bit.  In the evening, after a nap, we headed back to Onda to enjoy the perfect weather and had great conversation over a few beers.  Beer seems to be a theme of this vacation – I promise it really was not – it just seems to be a detail I keep choosing to include. 
In Honda for the evening

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Colombian Road Trip to Los Nevados - Day 2

Ibagué – Silencio – El Rancho – Silencio – Juntas
On day 2, we woke early to head to “El Rancho”.  Juan Carlos traveled there maybe 15 years ago.  As he remembered it, there were hot springs and a quaint little building with rooms to stay in.  The other option was to camp.  We reserved a “cabaña” for a bit more comfort.  To get to El Rancho we took a taxi into Ibagué, rented a Jeep to take us to Silencio, where the road ends.  From there we would need to hike in.  On the way to Silencio, the sky was clear and we were able to catch a glimpse of the snowcapped peak of Nevado Tolima.  Gorgeous!  This made me even more excited for our trip – of course. 
When we reached Silencio, Juan Carlos asked me if I wanted to ride a horse to El Rancho, instead of hiking.  I don’t really love horses but Juan Carlos used to play polo, so I agreed.  Small kink in the communication.  Juan Carlos only rented a horse for me!  Being the slightly neurotic, über-independent female that I am I had a minor fit…or maybe not so minor.  I did not discovered this detail until I was already on the horse and the horse was trotting away with me.  Juan Carlos was trying to be kind and I was mad that he thought I was too weak to hike in… poor guy, really.  I realize I can be a bit much to handle and he rolled with it pretty well.  I lasted about 10 minutes on the horse.  I was scared to death that I was going to fall off the horse or that the horse was going to fall off a cliff, and so we switched.  Juan Carlos road the horse, in expert fashion, as I hiked in.  A much better arrangement, if you ask me.  I think Juan Carlos was slightly embarrassed that people were going to think he wasn’t a gentleman because his girlfriend was walking while he had the easy ride into El Rancho.  This is just one of the many “lost in translation” moments we’ve had.  It makes things rocky at times, but they are learning moments and we’re surviving in spite of the craziness.

            By the time we arrived at El Rancho, I was in heaven.  The views were incredible, the air was crisp, and I was working up a bit of a sweat which was lovely because I NEVER workout in Colombia.  It felt wonderful.  Juan Carlos and I were quite surprised when we arrived, however.  There was no longer a quaint little cabin with rooms, only a shack with bunk beds, three outhouses, and a kitchen.  We later found out that this was due to the guerilla that had taken over the area about a decade back (very unfortunate).  We agreed within about ten minutes that we would not be staying here.  This after trying to get down a breakfast with a cow hanging from a peg on one side of use and another cow being butchered 10 feet away from us on the other side.  Not to mention the drips of blood on the bench we were seated upon and the hairy chunk of meat in our caldo.  I’m tough, but I’m not that tough.  After fueling up on as much of the food as we could stomach, we began our trek away from El Rancho sans horse.  The trek back was a bit more work because there is no transportation from Silencio at 9 am…only 4pm…and there is nothing in Silencio but a small store that sells snacks and drinks, two bathrooms, and some horses – seriously, that is it.  The hike to Juntas, where we would find our hotel was expected to be about 3 hours.  It turned out to only be 2 hours because we caught a ride for a short stint with two fellows on dirt bikes.  (In hindsight, getting on two separate bikes with two strangers in the middle of the woods was probably not the brightest idea – but we survived and were thankful for the break).  We also were able to pick up a ride from another Jeep heading back to Ibagué that dropped us off at the hotel.  

             The hotel was gorgeous, had HOT water (a luxury in these parts), horses roaming the premises, a river running alongside it, and delicious food.  We showered, had a nice long lunch, and then relaxed the rest of the day.  My body ached – but the good kind of ache – like when you were a kid and played outside all day and then were ready to pass out at 6pm.  That was us and it was certainly not in our plans to wind up at this hotel but it was heavenly.  For those interested in prices, this place was top notch and cost us $50 for the night (including breakfast) and our food including beer was maybe $20.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Colombian Road Trip to Los Nevados - Day 1

As a true friend in adventure, Juan Carlos accompanied me (and provided the car and most of the driving) on a tour of a new part of the country that included Los Nevados – a mountain range in the central region of Colombia crossing three states: Caldas, Risaralda, and Tolima.  I’ve made a post for each day of the trip.  I tried to include the important details but writing all this AFTER the trip was a bit exhausting.

Day 1
Anapoima - Ibagué
And we're off!
We left Anapoima the afternoon of January 2nd to begin our road trip.  For those of you who do not, I LOVE driving/riding in a car – music, windows down, beautiful scenery – best case.  I was pumped.  For our first stint, we drove a couple of hours to Ibagué and were scheduled to spend the night with Juan Carlos’ cousin.  The views were excellent and we scoped out the road we were going to need to take the next day (and discovered that we should NOT take our car with us because the roads were too treacherous for our little Volkswagen Beetle).  That evening about a handful of Juan Carlos’ family and we had a few beers with them before settling in for the night at his cousin’s home.  The house is high up in the hills of a small pueblo outside of Ibagué.  It used to be a restaurant and disco club and it is old and beautiful, with an incredible view of the area.  We zonked out, prepared to wake early – 5 am for our adventure.
Juan Carlos (left) and his cousins

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year in Colombia

I flew back to Colombia for the New Year because I didn’t want to miss out on too much.   The holiday was spent at a club in Anapoima with my boyfriend and his family.  (Yes, I currently have a boyfriend but I will not be writing about this in my blog.  If you want to be nosey, I understand, just shoot me an e-mail) :-)

Anyhow, the club was beautiful with pools, bar, restaurant, golf course (I don’t play), and comfortable rooms.  The weather in Anapoima is absolutely perfect – minimal humidity, 80s during the day, high 60s at night, a continuous gentle breeze and beautiful scenery.  We arrived in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, ate some lunch, took a nap, and then festivities began.  It was nothing out of the ordinary but it was wonderful – great food, drinks, and dancing.  The one thing I have to say about Colombian events is that there is always good music and everyone dances – like really dances with real steps and turns, etc.  It is so much fun.  Was nervous to spend so much time with Juan Carlos’ family but they were a hoot – and I some how managed to hold my own with my Spanish.  I think this is a good sign – I’m actually learning Spanish!  Who would have thought?!
We spent another two days in Anapoima sleeping lots, eating well, and enjoying the sun.  It was an excellent way to kick off 2012.

Happy New Year to all.  Let’s make it the best year yet…seeing that according to the Mayans it’s our last. ;-)

Juan Carlos and I at the New Year's Eve celebration

With Juan Carlos' family