Leaving Pamplona and the hospitality of Philip behind, we had aimed to cover some distance and head south as fast as possible. However traveling through the windy cliff-hugging road in Cañón de Chicomocha, between San Gill and Bucaramanga, was one of the most scenic drives of Santander, so we decided to pause and spend a day or two admiring the beautiful views.
Up next was the capital, Bogota that nowadays looks to a man called Enrique Penalosa. For those that the name doesn’t mean anything, he was the former mayor under whose guidelines the Bogota Miracle happened. During his time the city from crime-driven, polluted, congested and barely livable was turned around. Libraries were built in the poorest city neighborhoods, bollards were erected to keep cars from parking on the sidewalks, bus-fast transit system was introduced and 350km of bicycle paths were constructed. Finally “the Sunday Ciclovia” was announced. On Sundays, over 110 km of arterials were closed down and returned to the people of Bogota and their bicycles. Nowadays, over 1.5 million people join the Sunday event every week. Unfortunately we were there during weekdays so we missed the sight. Like every other capital in the world, Bogota during these days can still be chaotic, dirty and unappealing but (there is always a “but”) if you pick the right spot to set your base soon enough, you will pleasantly surprised. This base for us (as well as many other travelers) was the area of La Candelaria that is blissfully alive and full of things to see and do. With the usual free city tour ticked out and the necessary must see sights addressed, one sight from them all stood out for us, one single sight that comes under the name of Museo Del Oro. This is one of the most fascinating sights in all of South America.
The Museum of Gold contains more than 55.000 gold pieces. Surprisingly that amount is estimated to be only the 10% of the gold that the Spanish stole from the indigenous groups that called Colombia home before their arrival. If you have time to visit only one sight in the whole of Bogota, make sure that this is the one. Finally, prior to our departure, worth mentioning is our last night’s dinner that took place in an unusual restaurant based out of the chef’s living room, in a residential area. No name on the door and with a small capacity, it was one of these things that pop up without expecting them (we found it by accident) and made our last night worth remembering. Back on our route and on our way up, almost four months ago in the area that surrounds Salento (we stayed there for two weeks) we had left out a scenic route that starts in Salento and snakes its way through the valley all the way to the village of Toche. It’s a demanding track, part of the Zona Cafetera route, where the views are truly rewarding as we had been told. It sounded like our kind of adventure so we couldn’t help ourselves from delaying our decent even further. The highlight was the wax palms that in this valley doubled or tripled up in numbers the ones that we had seen in Valle de Cocora. And yes, it was worth the effort to get here and back even though the whole process caused us two punchers on our tires. We picked up nails that had fallen off from horses’ shoes. It is a horse track after all. Before making our last push onto Cali, where we were expecting our new awning to arrive, we stopped in Lago Calima, a kite-surfers paradise that is completely surrounded by high mountains creating magnificent scenery, especially when the clouds roll over them covering the entire lake. Did we try kiting? No, but every single kite surfer got to meet and greet Voukefalas II, as our car was the centre of attention of the whole kite-surf school. In Cali we met up with “rnrontheroad” (Richard and Rachel), English overlanders that we had met and hanged out with previously in Filandia. Together we had a taste of what Cali is famous for, its nightlife and its famous salas clubs. It took us some time to recover after that by the way. We were both waiting for our cars to get ready and there was no better way to kill some time than Cali’s night scene. Happy roads and great times guys if you happen to read this.
After saying goodbye to our friends, unfortunately for us our time in Cali was not finished just yet. It took us another ten days waiting for our awning from Venezuela. During that time and thanks to our mechanic, we were offered to stay in his finca (farm house), 45minutes outside the city. But even after that much delay, we still left Cali with no awning as the border formalities kept it even longer. We couldn’t wait any longer, so we decided to forget about it and the next day we headed out. With our compass pointing south and before saying goodbye to Colombia, we took the road towards the border. We were heading to the Amazon basin of Ecuador this time and in order to get there, we had to cross the “Trampolín de la Muerte”, one of the most dangerous and spectacular roads in the country. This is an unpaved single-lane road equipped with a sheer 700m drops into the rocky valleys below, the entire way. The few times we came across on-coming traffic is where the fun started (mostly from Rochelle’s reactions). This time and for one more time in this trip, there was another mudslide between us and the end of the Trampoline of Death road’s end in the village of Mocoa. Thankfully this time our adventure ended soon. With only a small delay, we were from the first ones to go over the mudslide, after they flattened it and we were off and on our way. It was at this point that the last piece of the puzzle called Colombia was put in place. It took us five wonderful months but it was finally completed. What great five months were they though!!! So the next couple of days we took the long road to the border and said “So long, beautiful Colombia. It has been a pleasure the whole way!!!”
Back in Ecuador now, our task was the jungle, in other words the area that covers the east part of the country and in reality belongs in the extended Amazon basin. We thought that, as it is an area that is difficult to explore, it would have been minimal and out of the massive tourist radar. So we thought… Massive tourism was not present yet but the oil and the “benefits” that come with it had already gotten there before us and the village in the jungle that we expected to find was nothing more than an unappealing city. Below we add the article from the “Guardian” that explains better what is going on in the area:
“Ecuador has started drilling for oil on the edge of a controversial block of pristine rainforest inhabited by two of the last tribes in the world living in voluntary isolation. The well platform known as Tiputini C, which is now operational a few kilometers from the Peruvian border in the Yasuni national park, is expected to be the first of nearly 200 wells needed to extract the 920m barrels of crude, thought to lie below the Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) block. The Tiputini field is just outside the ITT zone which the government has ordered oil companies to leave untouched. But indigenous people, rainforest campaigners and many Ecuadoreans said that they expect oil exploitation in Yasuni national park to lead to pollution, forest destruction and the decimation of the nomadic Tagaeri and the Taromenane tribes who have chosen to have no contact with the outside world. The government’s ministry of strategic sectors said that the state oil company, PetroAmazonas, would be using directional and horizontal drilling which would meet high international standards… Ecuador’s decision to allow oil companies to drill the ITT block, which contains around 30% of the country’s remaining reserves, has been hotly disputed since 2007, when the new Rafael Correa government pledged to permanently keep the oil underground in exchange for around $3.6bn from the international community. The “Yasuni initiative” was administered by the UN and hailed as one of the world’s most innovative conservation proposals. But in August 2013, President Correa withdrew the proposal saying the pledges received from countries were minimal and that Ecuador had been failed by the international community. He argued that Ecuador, which has been devastated by oil pollution in the 1970s by US oil firms, had no option but to exploit the ITT oil to pay for poverty relief. Correa’s change of mind led to demonstrations, the emergence of a political movement known as Yasunidos and a hotly-debated petition, which failed to reach the threshold to trigger a national referendum. Ecuador is the first country in the world to include the rights of nature in its constitution and until the Yasuni controversy it was considered one of the most environmentally-progressive countries… But many indigenous leaders and conservationists remain angry… Ecuador’s government earlier this year sold oil exploration rights on 500,000 acres of forest adjoining the Yasuni Park to a consortium of Chinese state-owned oil companies. Andes Petroleum Ecuador paid about $80m, according to the research firm Energy Intelligence.”
Learning all the above, we were left speechless and truly disappointed as both of us thought of the ex-president as a true strong environmentalist. Back to our trip now and as heading east was not any more in our plans, after one more overnight in an ugly hotel car park (the only option we could find) we pushed into where the roads end and the tropical rainforest starts. Following the river Napo’s opposite direction on its way to the west, we found what we had in mind to see in the first place, small communities of Amazon indigenes and pristine rainforest. Finally it felt like the Amazon…