Thursday, 13 December 2007

For An Angel

The measure of any place is its "wow" factor. The degree of jaw dropping that occurs at first sight. Angel Falls has a high wow factor. On a small boat heading upsteam through the jungle, turning a corner to see a waterfall streaming of a cliff almost a kilometre high was quite something. Another trip highlight. I even got to have a swim in the plunge pool at the falls base.

Venezuelan Wonders

I did not particularly like Venezuela. The people were not friendly as in Colombia, there seemed to be something "wrong" and there was a real edginess as darkness fell. There is a lot to see in Venezuela but I had done my tropical coast thing in Colombia, and perhaps I was "Andes" out. So from the border I headed via two overnight buses, one daytime collectivo and one day time bus, to Ciudad Bolivar.

Changng bus stations in the capital Caracus meant taking to the metro, where I got chatting to a local businessman. His advice was t be very careful in his country, "anybody who can is leaving!". Great! Ciudad Bolivar, on the banks of the Orinoco river, was a dirty shabby town, and once dark, totally dead and creepy. No latin spirit here, no dancing in the steets til dawn! This is the entreport for trips to Cainaima national park and Angel Falls.

To get there you must fly in small light aircraft, there are no roads punturing this remote area. So sitting up front I was amazed to view from the area the flat topped tepuy, classic to this region, and the waterfalls near the village and airstrip.

Quite stunning.

Tropical Paradise

Heading along the coast from Cartagena I arrived in Santa Marta (Drake also sacked this place) and heading over the headland to the little fishing village of Taganga. This is a classic gringo hangout and that exactly what I did, hung out in a hammock.

Think I needed the rest after travelling hard and it was refreshing to just relax in th shade and recharge the batteries.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Singeing the king of Spain´s beard

When in my second year of secondary school I remember a history lesson about Elizabeth I teasing the Spanish king about possible marriage whilst ordering her bucaneers to raid Spanish possessions in the new world.

Cartagena is one of the places Sir Francis Drake sacked back in 1586.

Surrounded by thick walls this historic city is a warren of narrow streets and old buildings and churches. It is beautiful.

Moored at the quayside is Colombia´s tall ship, the Gloria. Great to sea just to add to the really nautical and naval flavour of the place.

Former murder capital of the world

Back in the 80´s and early 90´s Colombia´s second city, Medellin, was of the top city for murders. Here drug cartels and paramilitaries warred on the city streets. Fortunately Medellin has transformed itself into a modern, and so I´m told, relatively safe city. As with many Andean cities, Medellin sits within a long river valley, so green nountains can be viewed from all parts of the urban area.

From Medellin I took a day trip out to Guatape. A area studded with lakes and rock ridges. To me it resembled Scandinavia. The highlight of the area is the El Peñol rock, a granite volcanic plug looming over the landscape.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

High Palms

From San Augustin I travelled all day, up the Magdelena river valley, using three buses to arrive in Colombia's coffee producing area and the small city of Armenia (accessed via a steep twisting mountain road over the Central Cordillera). The following morning I headed to the village of Salento.

Surrounded by coffee farms and sat underneath the green cloud wrapped mountains, Salento is gorgeous. So laid back, so traditional. Where else can you see horsemen in panama hats sat outside the many town bars.

Salento's big draw is the nearby Valle De Corcora, where the world's tallest palms life. These palms started life, according to the fossil record, as coastal palms, yet survived the Andean uplifting to reach the 2600m altitude they stand at now.

These palms soar over the landscape and pierce through the cloud forest canopy. They are magnificent.

Salento kept me for 3 days. It was so relaxing there, and the hostel was chill out personified.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Valley Of The Statues

Yesterday I left Popayan and for 7 very bumpy hours headed over the Central Cordillera to San Augustin. Colombia seems very different from Ecuador, probably because the Andes here split into three, leaving lower valleys bathed in the tropical warmth. It is certainly very very green.

The journey was scenic, passing over 3000m with endless cloud forest, then down to my current valley.

Here a lost civilisation from 1000-1900BC left behind the most amazing statues. Here are a few.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Before the storm

This is Popayan. A really lovely old colonial town stuffed full of white buildings. It was severly smacked by an earthquake in 1983, and clearly lovingly restored.

Just after taking this picture boy did the skies open and the thunder roll.


Well Colombia is definately Colombia.

Today I headed north from Ipiales to Popayan. Most of the journey is through Nariño province, which the British foreign office advises to avoid staying in!!.

At Pasto (capital of the province, and mildly OK by the foreign office) the bus was boarded by 20 odd pistol waving police. Clearly something was up. Everyone was searched quite roughly. I even had to open my trousers to prove no Smith & Western was hiding down there (they missed my grenade launcher!). One police chap took interest in my bank cards and held on to them, whilst I and others where taken to a police room. On the way the polica started putting on rubber gloves. I thought, "Clive best relax, if tense this could be painful"!

Fortunately I was not rubber gloved, but could I find the police chap with my plastic? No. After complaining to the chief officer, who looked very embarrased, I was finally reunited with my cards, whilst an endless search of the bus continued, including removing the headlights to see what lay behind.

Was a little late arriving in Popayan!

Hola Colombia

At lunchtime I crossed over the bridge that links Equador and entered Colombia (famous for its major produce; coffee!!!)

At the border town of Ipiales I found a room and then jumped into a collectivo to visit the Las Lajas Santuary. This is South America's Lourdes. A cathedral like church located deep in a river canyon. Beautiful!

Back In The Northern Hemisphere

After returning from the Galapagos I rested up a little in Quito, which despite being slightly "dodgy" I enjoyed very much. The old town is a delight of colonaded plazas and churches. A very colourful place. Once rested I headed north of the equator to the market town of Otavalo. This town has markets twice a week, but for me was too full of tourist tat!!

From Otavala I headed uphill early one morning to the caldera crater lake, Coicachi, which has two volcanic cones poking out of its surface. Later that day I changed country!