There’s nothing like visiting a continent I’ve never been before, even at my age. This month we are visiting Colombia, names after Christopher Columbus – even though he never went there. We flew direct to Bogota, capital of Colombia, with Avianca from Heathrow. It’s a ten hour flight but before we knew it we were touching down. Bogota is the fourth highest capital city in the world at an altitude of 8612 ft. above sea level. It is the third-largest city in South America after São Paulo in Brazil and Lima in Peru. One of the unique features of Bogota is that it is located in a valley between the Guadalupe and Montserrat mountains. We stayed in the La Candelaria historic neighbourhood with its many museums. Yes of course it rained sometimes – it’s May. On one day a cable car was taken up to the top of Mount Monserrate. Here’s some videos from people who actually went there: Jumping Places and Divert Living.
It’s becoming a common theme of this challenge that as far as railways are concerned the story seems to be ‘we used to have a railway and hope to have one in the future once the investment is approved but we haven’t got any just at the moment’. There even seems to be a suggestion of a railway being built from one Colombian coast to the other to compete with the Panama Canal. I can’t quite envisage how that is going to work as loading and unloading a freight train would seem pretty labour intensive but I guess it all depends on the charges levied for using the canal.
I searched around and found a lovely heritage railway operating between Bogota and Zipaquirá, some 25km north of the capital. Turistren has amongst their fleet five resorted stream trains, originally built in Philadelphia, and decked out in marvellous colours. I’m not sure it is running just at present but with the help of some YouTube videos we enjoyed our ‘virtual trip’ along the route.
One thing I like to do when ‘virtually’ visiting a country is to solve a geocache puzzle. The choice in Colombia was rather limited – there is only one such puzzle cache GS#62 – Ciudad Perdida. To solve the puzzle and get the coordinates for the geocache requires answering a series of questions on Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) that was discovered in 1972 by a group of treasure looters. To find the cache itself involves going on a four day guided walk. I successfully solved the cache and in the process learnt about the geography and indigenous people. Now to find the cache.
I’ve had it relatively easy up till now. There’s been no need for the ice axe and crampons. Colombia was different. The highest peak is Pico Cristobal Colon and it is seldom climbed. It is a twin peak with nearby Pico Simón Bolívar. Here is Petter Bjørstad’s account of the only documented climb of Colombia’s highest peak, Pico Cristobal Colon at 5,730 metres (18,800 ft) in recent times led by John Biggar in 2015. It is an enthralling account in terms of mountaineering, organisational logistics, the local Kogi people. The pictures are well worth opening though it’s a bit frustrating trying to re-find your spot in the blog. The account somewhat glosses over the energy-sapping nature of the ascent so best to read it after you’ve exhausted yourself climbing your local hillock.
I purchased a set of three 1990 stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Francisco de Paula Santander. He was President of the Republic several times throughout his lifetime and his heritage a mix of Spanish and native blood. I quite liked the following description of him: He was known to be a quiet and taciturn man that enjoyed spending time by himself more than in the company of others.
Casting my eye around the internet my eye was caught by the work being done by Friends of Colombia for Social Aid. They are busy donating medical, educational and other vital equipment to hospitals and medical institutions that treat children and improve their quality of life and of their families in Colombia. They seem to be pretty active as a charity here in the UK.
A nation keen on football and producing more than its fair share of top cyclists. I chose to keep an eye on Colombian winger Luis Diaz who since January has been with Liverpool as they challenge Man City for the Premiership title. His first game for Liverpool was against Cardiff. He has since gone on to score four times to date and show some impressive moves including the move that left fans drooling when he controlled a high pass with his leg bent behind him. Let’s see how he does in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea.
I knew as soon as Colombia got picked out by the random number generator which author I was going to read. Nobel prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez had come recommended to me by a number of people and I’d never read any of his work. I chose to read his 1985 novel Love in the Time of Cholera. It is set in a fictitious Colombian port city in the late 1800s/early 1900s. It’s one of those books that’s joy to read for the quality of writing maybe more than the actual story.
Cocaine seems to be a major these in Colombian media. We watched the film Maria Full of Grace in Spanish with subtitles about a young girl from rural Colombia who finds herself drawn into the international drug trafficking scene. There is nothing complicated about the film. It’s a simple straightforward story but compelling at the same time.
We also watched half a dozen episodes of the series Narcos, the American drama set and filmed in Colombia about the drug Pablo Escobar. It was interesting but just seemed to be more of the same after a while.
Another interesting shape to make a clock of. It took a while this one. I’d been given a piece of hardwood from a local joinery business. As it was hardwood and quite a bit thicker than the wood I normally use for making clocks it took a while to cut and finish. I also had to source some new clock movements which took a while but it all came right in the end. It was a pleasure to be able to gift the clock to Gloria and her son at the Wings of Glory Restaurant.
Food and Drink
We went for a meal at the Wings of Glory restaurant in Riverside, Cardiff. The owner Gloria is from Cali, Colombia. We had a selection of Colombian food made by Gloria and served up by her son. The dishes were quite meat orientated but with fried plantain and arepas (cornmeal cakes).
We had a failed attempt to find some Colombian food in an international supermarket here in Cardiff. I picked them up on the internet as advertising Colombian food but it had been discontinued I’m afraid. Never mind, it was an interesting exploration.
Finding a Colombian drink wasn’t difficult – the country is a major coffee producer. We found a local seller of Colombian coffee and enjoyed drinking it over our ‘virtual’ month there.
Meeting someone from Colombia
See Food & Drink above!
My first chance to take in some jazz on this virtual world tour. There was nothing specific but quite a few Colombian jazz playlists were listened to on Spotify, though I’m hesitant to recommend any in case they are not authentic Colombian! To get a bit more Latin music I listed Narcos playlists. A good month for music!
It seems like I won’t be returning from Colombia this weekend as originally planned. It all started to go wrong in the taxi to the airport. Even after spending a month here my Spanish is very poor. That together with my poor hearing has seemingly led to some communication problems. The taxi driver kept going on about money and mules and got very agitated. In the end I had to pretend I already had a mule and didn’t want another one. This didn’t satisfy him and he drove me out of town, threw me out of the taxi and said if I wanted my bag back which had my passport in it I was to meet him back at the airport today.
The only thing I could think of doing to persuade him that I already had a mule was to buy one. Luckily enough there was a farm close to where I had been thrown out and after a bit of haggling I was the proud owner of Pedro, a Colombian mule. It took a long time for me and Pedro the mule to get back into town, stopping lots of time on the way to give him a rest.
The taxi driver was at the airport as arranged to meet us but again didn’t seem at all happy. He got so agitated that in no time we were surrounded by armed police and he was led away. I don’t know why he looked so unhappy as they were promising him a one way ticket to USA. Meanwhile, the police didn’t seem to believe my story. They got me my bag and promised to take good care of Pedro but insist I stay here another three or four days. They won’t lever me alone. They even accompany me to the toilet. It’s all very strange.