We arrived in San Gil nearly 13 hours after we left Santa Marta. The bus ride was freezing and awful as they all seem to be, but we probably managed at least a couple hours of sleep so we weren't in as bad of shape as we have been in bus rides past.
After purchasing our departure tickets 4 days later, we grabbed a cab and headed straight for our hostel for the next three night Morcado.
The hostel was swarming with people when we arrived. Many sitting in the common area watching Olympics coverage, some awaiting their transport for their respective daily excursions, and others reading, checking email, etc.
After watching the introductory video on all the adventurous activity tours they offer, we pulled up an open spot on the couch and watched Men's 200 meter freestyle as our glassy, tired eyes fell in and out of focus, waiting for our room to be cleaned. Fortunately it didn't take long and soon we dropped our bags in the room and sunk into the foamy mattress.
We only had a few days in town a certainly wanted to take advantage of every possible moment in town, but for the life of me I wasn't able to muster the energy to play tourist today. We walked through the old steep, hilly streets of San Gil and familiarized ourselves with the area. We grabbed our market bags and hit the fresh fruit and veg market for a few items, gorgeous pineapple, avocados, and various other produce.
We had a fleeting hope to get on a local bus and check out Barichara, the charming old colonial town nearby or take a stroll through the local Botanical Garden, but instead went back to the hostel made a late lunch and relaxed for the afternoon. We did make some progress by signing up for two activities for the following two days, which made me feel better for being lazy.
We passed the day reading, blogging, and taking walks through the town. By 8:30 I was well ready to get nestled into bed and after an hour or so we were fast asleep.
We had a nice, long sleep in, had breakfast, and prepared for our first day's activities, paragliding! Adrian and I had attempted to go hang gliding back in Australia, however, wind conditions had prevented us going, but had not prevented the company from taking ownership of our $400. This time the cost was a fraction of that, around $35 for a 15 minute ride. Perfect. Let's roll.
The journey up to the paragliding spot was a beautiful, winding ride through lush tobacco, banana, and coffee plantations. Certain areas of the road were steep and muddy as the higher elevations get considerably more precipitation, and it had rained abit earlier in the day. At one stage the van taking us up the hill was in no way going to make it. After 3 solid attempts, we all jumped out and took positions to the rear of the vehicle to try to push. Another three solid attempts and we were certain it wasn't going to happen. What did happen, however, was the group of us getting our feet covered in thick, red-brown mud.
We finished the journey up to the top of the hill on foot. On top of the hill was a small, run-down shack selling drinks and snacks. There was also a large and very active tobacco farm. Inside the barn, there were 5 different levels of tobacco leaves at various stages of drying, and a farmer sitting below tirelessly rummaging through fresh, green leaves. The entire cycle between harvest and being ready to smoke is about 1 month. Anyway, pretty cool sight as we have never seen it before.
After the very obligatory and unexplained hour of waiting around. The crew grabbed the bags and headed for the top of the hill's ridge. The sight was incredible! A beautiful and drastic landscape in every shade of green. In the distance you could see a steep, plunging canyon which lead to the uniqueness of the terrain.
The temperature was much cooler at this height, and after all that waiting around we were more than ready to get strapped up. Finally, the guides approached us and asked our weight. The girls were all about the same, so he chose our new English friend Hattie and began strapping her to a seated backpack. Before long, Hattie and her guide began running, more like hobbling, toward to ridge of the mountain, and like magic she glides through the air, rising above a tree and only barely clearing it.
We looked on as she sailed off into the distance. Next, it was Sien's turn, our other new friend from Belgium. She got strapped up, but again without explanation, sat around without movement for another 10 minutes. After she finally took off it was my turn. The guide abruptly came up to me and began pulling me and pushing straps and buckles around my body. And just like that, without warning... It was 'Go Time'. We ran out to the edge and I felt the ground leave my feet and pull away from the Earth in a very smooth, fluid motion.
We lifted up, cleared the trees, and finally received the jaw-dropping, 360 degree view of the beautiful country-side I was waiting for. Before long, I turned around and in broken Spanish asked the guide if it was possible to go high and do a lot of turns, to which he replied, "It's possible". Ok, I was happy with that.
We continued our flight circling over a far ridge on the sprawling mountain range. On the way back I noticed we began rising to a pretty incredible height, as we began circling back around, the parachute dipped to one side and we began plunging quickly towards the ground. At the seeming last moment, he pulled up the parachute and we dipped to the other side. One more turn and we were once again coasting off towards the horizon.
The whole trip was 15 minutes, but was a perfect combination of thrill and excitement, and a meditative peace. I was pumped when we landed, and was excited to watch the others get their chance.
I hadn't noticed while I was up, but Sien had landed after only five minutes up there, and no one else had taken flight since. Apparently the wind was slowly dying and we had to wait to see if it would pick up. Not only did it not, but another paraglider up there didn't have enough wind to get back up the hill and ended up having to land on the bottom of the mountainside.
After having waited hours for their chance to go, the guys in our group, Adrian included, were faced with the news that they weren't going to get a chance. Unfortunately, because they were heavier than the girls, it wouldn't be possible under these conditions.
We packed it up and headed back down the mountain. I was excited, but felt bad Adrian didn't get a chance. He chalked it up as a free drive through the country-side, and enjoying watching on and getting footage of my flight.
Back at the hostel, we thanked our guide and said goodbye to our new acquaintances. Hattie was off to Santa Marta and the Belgians (Sien and Steven) were taking the mountain bike tour the following day, while we were signed up for whitewater rafting. We told our friends we would try and make a switch to the bike tour, and would hopefully see them in the morning.
Back at the hostel, we were disappointed to learn the bike tour was completely booked out. Oh well, river rafting is not a bad concession prize.
We headed off to get a quick bite down the road. We noticed that the restaurant we were eating at was owned by the same people that ran the bike tour. I saw a fit looking woman working on a computer. When she glanced over towards us I called her over and asked, "Do you organize the bike tours?" "Yes" she replied. "Is it reeeeally full? Or can you squeeze in two more?" I asked.
She told us, "Yes indeed it is full, however, you two are in." Apparently, Sean, our Aussie hostel owner pulled the favor card and got us in over two others that weren't very responsive anyway. Wooohoo! We're in!
We finished our meal and went back to the hostel to thank Sean. We changed clothes and gathered in the common area for the evening's activity; Tejo- Colombia's official sport, which we knew nothing about aside from the fact that you drink beer, it is similar to horseshoes or Bag-O but apparently involves explosives.
A quick cab ride and we were at the garage or warehouse looking place that hosted the Tejo game. We grabbed a slab of beers and took our places at the far side of the warehouse, being very careful not to bother the regulars who are SUPER into it and a touch scary looking.
Basically Tejo consists of two tilted boards (think Bag-O/Cornhole), covered in clay with a metal circle in the middle. From far on the other side of the warehouse, you chuck a heavy metal puck toward the clayboard. The goal is to get as close to the metal ring as possible. To top it off, if you really nail it and get it in the center ring, the gun powder that was placed in the ring reacts with the metal on metal and explodes, with a super loud bang and a small blast.
We played two games. Adrian won two and I won only one, but I was the ONLY player to explode the Tejo! Bam!
I could've played the game all night, BUT we had a long and very early day the next day. So a little after 10, we called it a night and made our way back to the hostel.
We were up at 6:30 the next morning, and by 7:15 we were at Gringo Mikes where we met for breakfast before the trip. We caught up with our Belgian friends Steven, Leen, Sien, and Rob from paragliding and our Dutch friends, Rutger and Pete (from Tejo) over breakfast burritos.
By 8am, the very fit and very attractive hosts Mike and Kat showed up. They went through the logistics and soon we were stuffed into their beast of a Land Rover Defender, and were heading out of town. With Led Zepplin as our soundtrack we took on the bumpy, dirt roads up the mountain to the start of our downhill mountain biking adventure.
45 minutes later we were piling out of the car and getting our gear together. The bikes were Badass! I had never been on a bike as nice or as expensive as this one. It was a bit intimidating that they were leaving me in charge of this thing. The bike was personalized for us, we were given gloves, knee and elbow pads, and of course helmets, and we were ready to roll.
One by one we charged down the 11kms of rocky, bumpy, terrifying downhill at up to about 45km/hour. Pretty Awesome! After just 5 minutes my hands were numb from the bumpy, jarring terrain, but was really enjoying it! We continued on to the pueblo called Barrichara, which has been officially named "The most beautiful village in Colombia".
It was in fact, beautiful, and Mike, our guide, was a wealth of information on all the history and trivia of the region. The very steep, cobble-stone streets proved difficult on our bikes, but certainly worth it for all the lovely sights.
After visiting the church, hanging out the in plaza, checking out the stone carving garden next to an amazing vista, we were ready to continue our downhill charge. This time we took to the streets and flew down the windy mountain streets to the gravelly turn-off down below.
The rocky path took us down through waterfalls and streams, and through covered forests. By 1:30 we were hot and hungry and ready for lunch. We packed up our stuff hopped in the truck and made our way to the top of another mountain range for an incredible view while we ate lunch.
We took our time enjoying the rest and loving the view, while we powered up on sandwiches, oranges and delicious home-made chocolate chip cookies. We chatted with Gringo Mike who is a very cool guy from Seattle, a former real-estate agent who lost his ass in the downturn, and decided to make a go of it as a business owner in Colombia.
After an hour we were ready to hop back on the bikes. This time after a short downhill we would be doing the final 22kms cross-country, which I have come to learn, is a euphemism, for hilly AND tiring, which was exactly what it was.
Desire the fatigue, Adrian and I took our position at the front of the pack. Our guide had to turn around and double back at one point to assist in lifting our Dutch friend into the Land Rover who was suffering from severe dehydration cramps in his legs.
The trip was physically taxing, but overwhelmingly gorgeous and really left us with a sense of achievement. It sort of goes without saying that the ice-cold beers that were waiting for us at kilometer no. 55 was one of the best of my life. We also enjoyed a local drink called, guarapo (fermented sugarcane water). It's strong tasting and it's natural effervesce reminds me of kombucha, so I enjoyed it.
As if on cue, the storm cloud began rumbling and lighting up the sky and we knew that was our sign to head back. We got everything packed up and were once again winding through the dark mountain roads in the Range Rover as the rain began pouring down.
By the time we got back, a strong wave of fatigue had overtaken me. I barely had the strength or motivation to shower and have dinner that night. The Dutch guy, Adrian and I, and Cole (also from Seattle) made our way out for cheap, local comida and a couple of beers. I fought hard to stay out til 10pm, but fatigue got the best of me and quickly called it a night.
The next day we packed it all up and said goodbye to an awesome place and some cool people in San Gil, Colombia. We were heading to the capital Bogota for a few days and some city life, for a change. Even cooler, our new Belgian friends would be there and a night on the town is definitely in order!