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Saturday, January 5, 2013

FELIZ NAVIDAD


Christmas is coming. Decorations are up everywhere and shopping malls are packed. We are planning to stay in Cartagena for Christmas so that we can celebrate, and more importantly Skype the kids and our grandson Sam. We have emailed a few hotels and they all have availability, and as we don’t have Wifi we think we will wing it. Then we discover that the most important day is not the 25th, but the 24th, so we decide to get there a day earlier than planned.

We leave our lovely camp spot and continue along the Caribbean coastline heading through the city of Santa Marta to visit the little gringo resort of Tabanca – a rather cute fishing village. We then follow the coast past some very poor villages to the huge port city of Barraquilla. Next we head inland through some lush farmland to Cartagena.

It is the 23rd and the main road is chaotic with stalls overflowing onto the main road, and buses everywhere. We heave a sigh of relief as we reach the city walls. All we have to do is find the secure parking, and we have GPS reference points. But we get entangled in the maze of one way streets and end up driving right through the main shopping street of the old town. We squeezed through, thanks to some skilful driving. Then with a few police instructions we find the carpark, pack a bag & taxi to our chosen hotel. Woops, the room has gone, but they ring another place & we head there. It is cheaper & looks nice. We book in for 3 nights, unpack & head out for dinner. The next day we explore the gorgeous old city. And of course we use the Wifi to Skype the kids for Christmas, update our blog & pay bills. When Christmas Day itself arrives it feels a bit flat. Nothing is happening in town, & it is all over back at home, so we decide to leave early & head to the beach.

We head south, and turn off the main road to go to the seaside resort of Tolu. The road is appalling (maybe we should have stuck to the main road – but it’s too late). Lots of potholes. Eventually we arrive & I ask at a hotel if we can stay in their large carpark right on the beachfront. Yes that’s Ok. The beachfront is busy with partying holidaymakers; fortunately it quietens down at night.

The next morning we head off on a boat trip to Islas de San Bernando, a favorite trip here for Colombians. There are 45 people and 2 huge 225 HP motors on our boat, and there are plenty of boats. It looks as if we are all doing the same package. Drive past a few islands, stopping at 2. The first: to look at mangroves & a bit of a zoo/aquarium, and the second: to swim/snorkel & have lunch. While the reef is not exactly the Great Barrier Reef, the water is a lovely aqua blue & the beach pretty gorgeous. It is late when we get back, so we stay in our hotel carpark another night. Not a bad Boxing Day.

Again it is time to head south, first hugging the coast, and then driving through great farmland, back to the main road. The next few days are spent driving over beautiful mountains. We wander through the maze of roads in the city of Medellin before finally finding the autopista to take us up into the mountains towards Bogota. The mountains continually amaze us. They go on endlessly. So too does the traffic (it is probably not the best time of year to be driving here – between Christmas & New Year!)

We detour out to see a massive granite rock, called El Penol. It overlooks a huge lake and when we climb the 700 steps (phew, phew, phew!! Remember we are at altitude too) the view is amazing. We can see fingers of lake spreading out for miles. We had found a camp spot in a carpark, but then found a better one right beside the huge rock, so after getting permission we parked up there. At dusk we were told “No you can’t stay”. Bummer!!! So we head back to our original spot only to find it locked up for the night. Now we have to hunt for a spot in the dark. We find one, and when we wake in the morning discover we are right beside the little tourist town of Guatape, with its quaint streets full of murals.

Our next stop is the lovely Rio Claro Nacional Parque. We can’t camp beside the river with the tents, which proves to be just as well as we have a huge storm in the night which may have made it interesting to get out.

We head on to Bogota. It doesn’t look far on the map, but we have to ascend to 2574m. The road, traffic and views are amazing. Finally we reach Bogota & YAY find the secure 24hr parking lot we have been told about. That is magic in a huge city of over 8 million. Looks like we will be spending New Years Eve in a carpark! How’s that for excitement. The next day, instead of exploring the city, we set out looking for tyres. GR2’s tyres are still the original ones & they are looking very worn after doing 110,000km of hard driving. They have been regrooved twice (all 6 of them) and we haven’t been able to find the correct size anywhere else in Sth America. We have been told that we may find them in Colombia. At our very first stop, just a few kms past our carpark, we strike gold. A good part of the day is spent fitting them. John is incredibly relieved because he thought he would have to nurse the old ones all through the rest of the trip.

Now we can explore Bogota & celebrate the New Year with dinner out, although we do return at a reasonably early hour. From our carpark we can see fireworks going off most of the night.

Happy New Year Everybody (Feliz Nuevo Ano)

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