After the hideous bus journey we finally arrived in Bogota in time for the weekend. We managed to get in touch with Catalina, who we met in Australia, and arrange to meet for a tour of her home city. Bogotarian local public transport was muy facil to work out and we met Catalina and her friend Carlos towards the north of the city. It was a fab day being shown around by them, especially getting to see very nice areas of the city that we wouldn´t have seen without them. They gave us a whirlwind driving tour through the city as well which was a good laugh.
On the Sunday a big group from our hostel decided to climb to the cathedral on Monserrate, which overlooks the city. We were lucky that the weather was really clear for views - despite being far too hot to walk up a mountain. Being a Sunday, it was massively busy with locals making their way up and down to the cathedral for mass but it gave the place a buzzing, happy and family atmosphere (lots of singing inside the cathedral).
As a reward for climbing up Monserrate we gathered up a group in the hostel and all went out to a steak house restaurant on the outskirts of the city for the evening - Andres (recommended by Catalina and Carlos, but also a "splurge" section in the Lonely Planet!). Great atmosphere and fantastic food - would definitely recommend it. Pug ate so much meat (a real mixed grill) I thought his heart might stop!
On another of our Bogota days we made sure we did one of our makeshift city tours covering some main sites, meeting up with Catalina in her lunch break for some authentic Colombian food.
Our final big tourist outing from Bogota was a visit to the Catedral de Sal. Again, we made the excursion with a big group from the hostel (kinda felt like an organised trip there were so many of us). It was impressive, but not much to tell about it - its a massive catherdral in the underground salt mines north of Bogota, so everything is carved out of salt.
Finally moving on we made our way to the gorgeous town of San Gil.
San Gil is a good centre for activities. Abseiling down a 60m waterfall, with gorgeous surroundings, was incredible but going down grade 3 rapids on body boards was definitely the most fun. We planned to do the big rafting (grade 5, and San Gil´s best activity) on our final few days in San Gil, but unfortunately it kept getting called off due to the river being too high, and so, too dangerous. Bit gutting. We also made a trip out to the gorgeous colonial town of Barichara about half an hour outside of San Gil (unfortunately we have lost all our photos of the town but take it from us it was super nice)! Our plan to walk the beautiful historic route from Barichara to the little town of Guane was scuppered when I managed to fall over my own feet and sprain my right foot, which swelled up pretty nicely and is still actually a little painful 3 weeks after! whoops! It went a lovely purple colour.
When we got to San Gil I was really fortunate to land myself with a fantastic volunteering opportunity. Speaking to Shaun (the owner of hostel Macondo) and Sonia (who was volunteering already but at the end of her time in San Gil) it seemed perfect, and so on our first day in San Gil I ventured up to the children´s home with Sonia to meet the children and give the place a trial run! I ended up staying for 2 weeks in San Gil, volunteering at the home every afternoon. Despite my terrible spanish skills, and therefore lack of understanding alot of what the children said!, I had a great time. The children were such fun to be around, and really enjoyed (at least I think they did!) having me there to play everyday. Plus I was pretty useful for helping out with the english homework! haha!
The home I was volunteering at was for girls (the youngest 3 and eldest 15 - although she looks 25!) and boys under the age of 12 - there is a different home for teenage boys in a different area of San Gil.
Children being children, they kept asking if my braclets and watch were a present for them (clever coz they knew I couldn´t understand much, but I soon cottoned on to the meaning of "regala para me, Lara?"!) so I decided to teach them how to make their own friendship braclets. Gotta send thanks to Tor for teaching me the most simple braclet when we were children! They seemed to really enjoy making them and they got really good at them - plus it was a fab activity for me to share with them coz the language barrier wasn´t an issue.
I got quite attached to the place (children and the adults helping out there) and definitely could have stayed and helped out there for a longer time - especially because San Gil felt like such a family town with a safe and incredibly friendly atmosphere. It was perfect for the amount of time I had left, and fitted in with exactly the type of volunteer work I had hoped for.
Pug had planned to visit other places during my time volunteering but got stuck in San Gil with me - quite a nice place to be stuck, though. Lucky for him, this coincided with the San Gil festival which was abit of a highlight! The plaza was packed full of drunk locals who were there to watch a procession of the cowboy-esque landowners (also drunk) ride through the town. The atmosphere was brilliant and it was cool to party with the guys from the hostel and hundreds of San Gil residents - who all want to chat despite our lack of Spanish. The free Aguadiente (a bit like Sambuca) that was on offer was much appreciated as was the party food - such as bbq meat on a stick and corn.
The festival went on all weekend and coincided with Halloween, which is a big deal here, so literally the whole town was out to celebrate. The kids costumes were really good. P´s favourite was the kid dressed as the Hulk!
It was a very depressing day leaving our Colombian home in San Gil, and I don´t think we could have managed to tear ourselves away without the knowledge that time was ticking and we had so many things to fit in before having to leave. We had a great two weeks - became almost exerts at playing the board game catan despite never hearing of it before! & met some great people - Shaun and Joe are legends are missed very much!
And so we forced ourselves to head north to the Caribbean coast, and the mighty disappointing place of Taganga (a little grotty).