Monday, 26 December 2016

Travelling around Bogota

I knew things were a little more complicated here than at home, but just didn't realise how much. I decided to rent a car for my first trip outside Bogota after looking at the crowded old buses running around. Booked a car online, turned up at the car rental office to be met by blank stares, showed my confirmation mail and was told that the car is still in Medellin (8 hours drive away). After much negotiation, including trying to shoe-horn myself into some little Korean econo-box they offered as substitute, they offered to drive me half-way to Medellin, one of their men would drive the car from Medellin to meet us. OK, sounded mad to me but at least I got someone else to drive the mountain road down from Bogota. It was as hair-raising as I'd expected, but at least I got to relax and look at the scenery 

Followed this cheeky (mad?) guy catching a ride up the mountain
 The meeting point was at the town of La Dorada, which I'd intended to visit purely because the first railway built in Colombia ran down to this town located on the Rio Magdalena, so I assumed it would be worth a visit. Just outside the town was the farm previously owned by Pablo Escobar the drug baron; incongruously, it has been turned into a safari park much visited by the locals.
Allegedly Pablo Escobar's first drug smuggling plane
Finally reached El Dorado late afternoon to find a really scruffy, sweltering hot town beside a wide river. Luckily there was a big hotel in the town square that had vacancies. Actually, there were only 2 other people staying there so they welcomed me with open arms. After I'd mooched around the hotel, taking in the swimming pools and the old Ford hot-rod in the car park and the vintage petrol pumps, juke box etc etc I started wondering how a hotel like this could keep going with so few guests. After a restful night in the Presidential suite ( really..and all for £50) I went down for breakfast - just me and about 10 staff, I really started wondering how they can keep going. Drug money maybe/

A nice relief from the heat

I went for a stroll around the town, it seemed pretty run-down but clean, the town centre was really bustling but man it was hot!
Motorcycle repair shop

Bus station

Train station, platform intact but no tracks
 Found the old railway station, complete but no tracks, no people.

Fits 16 passengers!

Yeah, he was hot too

 Walked around, found the old train down beside the river. Popped into town centre and got something to eat, but by midday the heat was overwhelming so I retired to the hotel pool to cool down and decide where to go next.
Rio Magdalena

Looked dangerous to me
 Next morning I set off to drive back up into the mountains, it was just too hot for me down on the plains. Stopped-off at a roadside restaurant and rested in a hammock under a thatched roof, got bitten by hundreds of mosquitos! A bit further along the highway I stopped again at a little beach beside the river and took a boat ride, but it was all just too hot & humid to enjoy.

 After a horrendous drive up those twisty mountain roads I overnighted in a small town that didn't seem to have a name and just one flea-pit of a hotel, spent the night listening to the cockroaches running across the ceiling. Got an early start and drove north to Laguna Guatavita, which is where all the legends of El Dorado, the city of gold, began. Evidently when the Spanish arrived they witnessed the ceremony where the chief floated out on the lake, covered in gold & emeralds, dived into the lake and left the gold as offering to the Gods. People have been dredging and diving in the lake ever since, trying to find the treasure, they even tried to drain the lake by cutting a drainage channel in the side!
Thats where they tried to drain the lake
 This was my best day; I had a lovely little girl as a guide who spoke perfectly clear Spanish & explained everything with such passion - I wanted to take her home with me.
Teeny tiny hummingbird
 After a nice day at the Laguna, I carried on North into the next state to visit the old colonial town of Villa de Leyva. Built 500 years ago and containing the largest plaza in the Americas, it was supposed to be totally unchanged and unspoilt owing to it being in the middle of nowhere. It was pretty, but sadly a real tourist trap. Every one of those lovely old colonial buildings housed either a bar, restaurant or hotel. I saw more foreign tourists there in a couple of hours than the rest of the trip combined.
Largest plaza in the Americas

Modern art

Stop press! Last Vauxhall Chevette left in the world - maybe

Who says I can't make friends?
I spent the night there in a decent hotel, then headed back to Bogota - the car had to be back by Christmas Eve lunchtime. I made it with minutes to spare, then got a taxi through the strangely deserted streets to my local vegan reataurant where I loaded up with vegan empanadas & tamales for Xmas lunch. Glad to be back in Ben's little apartment, I intend to relax for a few days and figure out what to do next - that trip was just to hectic!


  1. Heat, cockroaches, mosquitos... ok I am spoiled... this is not what I'd like to encounter during my vacation ;-)

  2. Sonja, unfortunately that's what South America is all about, along with constant noise & industrial levels of pollution. I should have remembered, given the amount of time I spent here in the 90's - but then you know I have a terrible memory!
    Fortunately, Bogota sits at 3000m so it's cool, max 19 deg / 8 at night, just like summer in London :) That's why I've stayed here longer than intended.

  3. Wow, just a whirlwind of activities. I am enjoying following along and I am glad we don't have that heat and humidity.

    I am jealous of your vegan empanadas too.

    Take care.

  4. Trobairitz, they are just the best! I'm putting on weight, so much good vegan food here!