I finalized my arrangements and bought my flights 2 days prior. I really left South America after more than a year. I flew Bogotá to Miami (forgetting that hour lost to daylight savings) where I just barely left by bus for Jacksonville at 22:30. I arrived at 05:45 the next morning and was shortly greeted by long time friend and Jacksonville resident, Jeremy Hall. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were spent enjoying Jacksonville and St. Augustine (oldest surviving settlement in the US). Jeremy and his charming wife Hope showed me a Florida of seafood and hookas. As an aside, we also watched the new Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and I have to warn you all against doing the same. It was a sin against the book.
Today I finalized my arrangements and bought my flights. I really am leaving South America after more than a year. Thursday the 5th I fly Bogotá to Miami from where I leave by bus for Jacksonville. I should arrive early the next morning and be greeted by long time friend and Jacksonville resident, Jeremey Hall. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be spent enjoying Jacksonville and St. Augustine (oldest surviving settlement in the US). All that for about $100 LESS than flying from here into Cleveland directly! Then Monday morning the final flight of my journey takes me from Jacksonville to Cleveland, OH to visit friends and family.
9 May update: Jeremy and his charming wife, Hope, showed me a Florida of seafood and hookas! Excellent.
I've been in Bogotá since yesterday. I'm staying at Residencias Aragón since the Platypus was full. The room is an improvement over the Platy but I can't meet anyone here so I'm still over there a lot and that is where Mike is.
I did some shopping for myself today and watched some Labor Day demonstrations. Labor Day here equals "show your support for communism/socialism/anti-capitalism". Idiots. There was also a group of anarchists marching too. Mostly their membership was drawn from the punk crowd and they had some trouble with the police. I was close enough to smell the tear gas and have to beat it out of there with everybody else. Too bad I didn't have my camera. Later someone told me the police gave them some beatings - not sure if they were deserved or not though.
Spent some more time on the 'net trying to arrange my passage to Ohio. Are you shocked?
There are two great little sites of interest just outside of Villa de Leyva. This morning Mike and I walked through the countryside to both of them with cameras in hand. The first is El Fósil, or The Fossil. It is a museum where a rare chronosaur is displayed along with a number of other fossils. The second is El Infiernito, or the Little Hell. This is an ancient Muisca astronomical observatory and ritual fertility site. There is also an underground chamber that is presented without explanation. The astronomical portion of the site consists of a row of short stone obelisks sunk into the ground. The fertility site consists of a large number of big, upright stones shaped like penises scattered around a field. I've never seen anything quite like it. Afterward we hiked back a different way along a dirt road among a number of farms and nice vacation homes. I could live here.
Yet another two colonial towns founded in 1705 and 1572 respectively. Barichara was just as good as Girón. It was only 45 minutes away by bus and a well recommended excursion by two guys that have seen plenty of churches and colonial archetecture in South America and Europe. It is very beautiful and quaint, and like Girón you probably will be the only gringos there. After our walking tour and lots of photos we headed back to San Gil and picked up a bus to Tunja where we transferred to well known Villa de Leyva.
Arriving after dark there wasn't a tremendous amount to do. The two of us are in Dino's alone in a big dorm room with bath next to the church right on the main plaza. I was taking night shots of the plaza on the balcony. It is an amazing colonial building full of character and art especially religious. The price is about double what we have been paying but it is worth it. I am happy to spend some days here. Five US dollars isn't too much to spend for this, I don't think.
These towns are included in my Colonial Colombia Photos.
Back in Colombia after 30 days! Colombia Act I took place before my detour to Venezuela. Now begins Colombia Act II on the Caracas - Bogotá road.
Bucaramanga is a city of 600,000 people and the capital of Santander. Although we took a walk and saw a little of the city it's main use was as a convenient bank, food, and hotel stop. It is completely modern and there is not too much for a visitor to see. A 30 minute bus ride from our accomodations took us to a wonderful little colonial town however.
Girón is only 9 km away but the bus took half an hour to arrive. Truthfully I was not expecting too much especially after a boy on the bus told me we could see everything in 30 minutes and there are no hormigas culonas to eat. Fortunately he was wrong and we spent 1.5 hours enjoying the white-washed buildings, Our Lady of Mongui Cemetary, the little plazas of Peralta and Las Nieves, and small stone bridges said to have been built by slaves. The town was founded in 1631 and very nicely preserved. The main plaza had the Basilica Menor and more importantly there was a small loncheria where we bought a plate of hormigas, ants, to eat.
After returning to Bucaramanga to pick up our backpacks we jumped into a van for 300 year old San Gil. This is another small colonial town two hours closer to Bogotá. It is best known as a place to go rafting, but it isn't the season for that now. After settling into the Hotel San Carlos ($2.50 each) we attacked an excellent ajiaco soup and plate of food at Restaurante La Brasa. Feeling full in a way that a pile of ants can't make a person, we took a quick stroll around town and ended up at Internet terminals.
Girón and San Gil are included in my Colonial Colombia Photos.
I finally left Venezuela today. Looking at my passport I see that I spent 30 days in the country. That is more than 2 weeks longer than I originally planned, but not that I did anything extra. Admittedly that was more than enough time to see the mountains and the savannah.
Mike (AU) and I planned to leave on the 05.30 bus but did not wake up in time so we didn't leave town until the much later 08.30 bus. At least we gained an hour crossing into Colombia. It was a little bit complicated trip. First thing was a bus to San Cristobal (5 hrs) where we changed to a small bus for the trip to San Antonio (1.5+ hrs). In San Antonio we walked to the DIEX immigration office (bought the stamp across the street) and sorted out our passports. Then it was a shared taxi ride to the bridge where on the Colombian side we changed bolivares for pesos and were restamped for entry at DAS (1 hr?). Then we took a taxi to the bus terminal and hopped a bus leaving right away for Bucaramanga (7 hrs). The whole trip took 2 hours longer than we were expecting due partially to police checkpoints and downed bridges (still not fixed after 2-3 months). We were dropped off in downtown Bucaramanga and took a taxi to Residencias Amparo. Lights out just before midnight.
Before this I was in Venezuela