Monday, April 22, 2013
From Villa de Leyva we drove back via Bogota, this time in the direction of Medellin. We did not go there however, but stopped about 125km before at Rio Claro, a beautiful mini-reserve (well, about 400ha’s of it) encompassing the Rio Claro canyon. Nature galore here, basic but very nice accommodations and a world of fun for young and old(er). Pictures show much more than words, but let me suffice by saying we walked a lot, swam a lot, enjoyed a lot. Waking up in a room that’s half open, overlooking the canyon, the river, the trees, to the sound of thousands of birds and other wildlife, fresh air, sunshine and savoring the prospect of spending yet another day walking, swimming, canopying, rapelling, rock climbing, or just sitting in the sun with a cold beverage, watching your children having the time of their lives. Simply enjoying all of that… Yeah it was work. HAHA.
When going here with smaller children, do take into account that the river is not to be messed with. Current can at times be strong and you need to watch over them at all times. It helps to be a good swimmer, too. Safety is to a large account your own responsibility. Ah yes, to the dads out there, there is this great way to impress your young ones… I suffer from a sometimes-impressive fear of heights, which I largely ignore, but every now and then gets the better of me, making me want to puke in the sight of altitude-related challenges, such as the nice spot where you can jump off a rock-face into the river. ‘Only’ 8 meters till you hit the surface, but those among you who have what I have know what that means. Slippery rock, bunch of children pushing each other on the edge of the cliff, the dark water of the river hiding whatever rocks may be right beneath the surface… You know. Karin and the kids are rather fascinated by adventure and they have no fear, or at least no fear that I know of in that sense. Every day we walked past that cliff and every day they had to stop and watch the kids jump off, into the water below, and every day I died a thousand deaths and was basically miserable and I guess a bit annoying to them... Until on the fore last day I decided this was exactly what I decided long ago would not become an overly important part of my life, that I would not let my fears become my enemy, not let them rule my life. All nice and fancy thoughts, but reality does bite. Took me some pondering and our last evening there was spent in rather unusual silence, not unpleasant, but a bit surprising for Karin I guess. Next day we walked back from our last venture into the canyon and upon passing by the cliff I gave our daypack to Karin, told the kids to go and stand below and took a leap of faith…
It was a good jump, too fast for pictures, so I have nothing to prove it. But I was my daughters’ hero for a couple of days, which made the 2-day headache and the pain in my ears from the smack and sudden pressure of the water more than worth it. J
From Rio Claro we drove back to Bogota, where we stayed a few more days, interviewed two more people, one of which eventually would become our new manager, and then took a flight out to Cartagena. We needed to renew a few relationships here and change the way we organize transportation, which went remarkably easily, so we shortened our planned 4-day stay to 2, rented a 4x4 (yes we learned) and took off, destination Santa Marta.
A very nice, 4 hour drive, if you make sure to take the I-90A out of Cartagena, via the airport and then all the way along the coast. Much easier coming back as well… Founded in 1525, Santa Marta is the second oldest city of South America. It’s location on the Caribbean coast and close to de Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains (where the Andes drop from an astounding 3,000masl into the Caribbean sea), as well as the amazing Tayrona national park (where the jungle covered Andean foothills touch the sea shore) make it the tourist center of the north of Colombia. A nice enough town, Santa Marta is a harbor city as well, which in a way adds to and in another way takes away some of its charm. It is definitely being taken care of though and since we last visited here about 3 years ago, we saw many improvements to roads and buildings. The sea front of the center is very nice, especially at day time, but at night you still want to be careful where you go as not every street is as friendly as the other. There is a series of very worthwhile boutique hotels in that part of town, as well as a good choice of nice restaurants, breakfast places (try Canoa) and juice bars to spend a nice 1 or 2 days here, before heading out into the surrounding area. We stayed one night and moved on to Taganga, a little, quit busy hamlet about 20 minutes northeast of the city. If it weren’t for the mountain between them, Taganga would be another neighborhood of Santa Marta. We had also been here before and apart from looking at a few new accommodations, we basically hung out and did nothing but enjoy a few relaxing days on the beach and eating out at the great view - great food Babaganoush restaurant (managed by fellow Dutchman Patrick). Not sure how long he will stay there, he told us he had plans to move to Medellin in a few years, so if you are in the neighborhood make sure to stop by and say hello for me! J
After a few days we felt we were in for something new. We had already visited the awe-inspiring Tayrona national park on our last visit and we were running out of time, so we decided to follow up on a lead from Patrick and make our way to Palomino, a good hour and a half further to the north, just in the La Guajira province. Knowing we have to come back one day to really explore this mystical province, we for now settled with a beautiful hostel, run by an Italian group of friends, which at this point in time is the only really decent place to stay, as far as I could tell. Very funny experience, We were back in backpacker-land, with the same kind of people we used to hang out with in our twenties, except for the fact that most of them now were in their thirties and beyond, around 7pm everyone gathered around the bar, but instead of hammering away on beer and smoking illegal substances, tablets, laptops and smartphones were the poison of choice. Quiet conversations accompanied really good homemade pizzas and by 1.00am everybody was in their rooms, lights out, no sound to be heard. Odd, but kind of comforting as well… We were not alone.