Colombian Beginnings!

Colombian Beginnings!

So here we are, in the beginnings of our South American journey. After a good show in Mexico and Central America, followed by an amazingly beautiful journey by boat from Panama, we’ve arrived in big beautiful Colombia. The port city of Cartagena is a cultural hot spot and our first stop in the country we have heard so many good things about. Koru’s destination was Cartagena and we knew it might be a bureaucratic mess for his retrieval. When we arrived, we checked into a hostel with our Swiss friends Tim and Andrea, and wasted no time in exploring the historic city.Our first outing was the towering Castillo San Felipe de Barajas that dominates most of the skyline around the city center and coast. We merrily toured the entire fort, taking in the strategic architecture, tunneling and vantage points designed for maritime warfare, all the while imagining what the soldiers must have seen in it’s heyday. This location is where the famous Battle of Cartagena de Indias was fought between the Spanish and English, where eventually the Spaniards prevailed with the help of this castle stronghold. The English out numbered the Spanish 10:1 but the Spaniards were able to hold their ground and claim victory. It is said that this battle helped solidify Spanish as the official language for all of South America. Today, the largest fort in the Americas is still well preserved and provides beautiful views of the city.Leaving the fort of San Felipe, we headed into the colonial walled city. In the 16th century, Cartagena was a major port for exporting Peruvian silver and importing African slaves requiring it to have major fortification. Today, the charm of old Cartagena is very alive and a pleasure to experience.
Later that night we stumbled upon a city park where some energetic African dancing was taking place. We immediately had the feeling of being plunged into an entirely new country with a very passionate and strong culture. We were all smiles and giddy with the prospects of exploring such a rich and beautiful new country. The next day we ventured towards the port to begin the agonizing process of retrieving the van. Because we arrived a bit later than planned, the process of paperwork, walking to the bank, more paperwork and more payments took longer than expected and we were only able to complete part of the process and had to return the next day. The last person that needed to sign the paperwork for the vehicle release ends their day at 11:30am and we missed her by mere minutes. As bummed as we were to not have Koru safely back in one day, it gave us another full afternoon to explore the city. It reminded us of Havana, Cuba from it’s beautiful facades and architecture to it’s proximity to the sea. The following day was van retrieval day number two, and we were going to make sure we got our Koru no matter what. The process went quickly having finished most of the work the day prior, and what a relief it was to see our chariot safe and sound and ready to tackle South America.Now that we were back with the van, we opted to stay in the city a little longer and found an affordable airBnB with a local family. This was our first real taste of the famous Colombian friendliness and hospitality. The family welcomed us with open arms and as many mangoes as we could eat. They even served us a famous Colombian fish lunch of pescado bocachico with coconut rice on our last day before leaving on our journey.Back in the van, we headed east along the coast to see the city of Santa Marta and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We had intentions of visiting Tayrona National Park, but after realizing how hot it would be, we passed. The mountains were calling and having spent more than 5 months at the beaches, we were ready to elevate ourselves and Koru. Nonetheless, the drive to Santa Marta was enjoyable and the beachy city worth the visit. Oh, we mustn’t forget that Shakira is from Barranquila on the way to Santa Marta where her memorial statue resides. It is said that driving 3 confused laps around the tricky circular road to find the statue is over-lander’s good luck, so whether willingly or not, we obliged. Once in Santa Marta, we enjoyed the refreshing sea breeze and modern skyline, which was a surprise from Central America’s more desolate feeling beaches.Deciding to head towards the mountains, the next day, we spent the better part of a day lounging one last time on a Caribbean beach named Taganga. Our new favorite cold drink was discovered here, the limonada de coco, or coconut lemonade made with fresh coconut and limes, blended and sieved ever so nicely. Many of these drinks have been ordered throughout Colombia, but the freshness with ingredients available from the coast topped all other impersonators. After our last taste of the Caribbean Sea, we were off, on to our first of many long South American drive days. We’d gotten used to the ease of navigating around the smaller Central American countries, so it took us a few days to get back into the groove of longer drive times.  To enjoy the journey further, we had to have snacks. Lucky for us, Colombia has an abundance of delicious fruits. Paying out the window, we tried all sorts of flavors on the drive.Driving around Colombia proves difficult with many two-lane highways with a lot of truck traffic. The locals have figured out all kinds of tricks to get around their geographically complex country. On the way to our destination, we encountered a friendly family who ran a restaurant with an incredible view of Bucaramanga, a city at about mile high built on a ridge line. They let us park for the night as long as we shared a beer together. Sarah even woke up early the next morning to help milk their cow for the daily milk and cream.The next day, after many miles of gaining elevation, we reached the second largest canyon in the world, Chicamocha Canyon. It was incredible! The Colombians have built a gondola that goes from one side to the other for all to enjoy. With plans to rock climb just a few miles from the tourist stop, we eagerly skipped the gondola and drove down the road.Arriving at the rocks, we were thrilled to be climbing once again. The views and quality of rock were incredible to experience for a few days. It felt really good to be in the dry high mountain air climbing in a rural setting. The small mountain villages below us were special to see as well, especially considering the majority of the homesteads require long hikes to reach. The villagers continue to farm as they have for centuries and live in a stunning setting. After climbing, we opted to explore more of the area and quickly found out that the topography proved difficult to drive through. We slowly wound down the highway, descending to the canyon floor in order to drive back up the other side, with a goal of eventually visiting the throwback village of Barichara. Our one year wedding anniversary was the following day, so stopped short and stayed at a nice little place with a very friendly family and great views of the other side of the canyon. After discovering we were in the best place to paraglide in Colombia, we decided spur of the moment that we’d try it for our anniversary celebration. Sarah went first and took one of the longest flights for 53 minutes when normally the flights are 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the weather had changed when it was Matt’s turn and they had to cancel the rest of the flights. Let’s just say it was Sarah’s anniversary present. 🙂 Despite the small disappointment of the weather stopping both of us from paragliding, we stayed in high spirits and enjoyed the peaceful day at the canyon rim. The family even surprised us and made us lunch as a gift for our anniversary!The next day we made our way to Barichara. It is a protected heritage site, therefore no new modern or big buildings have been built, thus preserving the colonial architecture and charm. Here we discovered one of the best parking/camping spots on the trip so far. With a vast overlooking vista of the canyon and the small town to our backs, we thoroughly enjoyed the location for 2 nights. The neighborhood locals even welcomed us and expressed interest in our trip.We explored the local gardens, hiked to a neighboring village on a handmade stone path, and marveled at the incredible stonework from local artist in their cemetery. Later that evening we enjoyed a nice anniversary dinner (one day later) at an authentic Italian restaurant. They say that the first year of marriage is tough, and we say even tougher in a van! None-the-less, married life has been great to us, we have experienced so much of the world already and learned so much about ourselves and each other. We’re thrilled to see what the next year has to offer. Choosing adventure in this life together has been the best decision we have ever made.

9 thoughts on “Colombian Beginnings!

  1. Congratulations and best wishes for many happy years to come for both of you. Fall is on the way here with the first snow in the high country predicted tonight. Missy and Wes visited, returning to Centennial yesterday then to Detroit next week. Miss you and love you

  2. That gondola reminded me of the one we took up the mountain for your wedding. Congratulations you guys and wishing you many many more.
    As always the pictures and narrative are wonderful.

  3. We were out of the USA for this post so just now reading. Pictures fabulous! What an experience for your little van and he get her back! Can see why you loved Barichara–so picturesque. So fun that you got to paraglide and climb again. Happy 1st Anniversary and many more to come! Gail and Don

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