So this blog is about my four day holiday to Santander that was organised by the school I learnt Spanish at and was a great opportunity to see another part of Colombia and have some time out. Plus not having to organise anything, apart from the clothes I was going to take (which was difficult in itself!), was bliss. I went with one of the professors/ tour organisers (Anderson), an older guy who has lessons at the school (Jose, from the U.S) and a lady (Carol, U.S) with her adopted son (Santos, 6yrs old, Guatemala).
We started off on the Thursday, as in Colombia for Easter or Semana Santa (as they call it), they have the Thursday and Friday off work, but not the Monday. We left at about 8am (I was a tiny bit late ooops) and began our journey heading to the north of Colombia towards a town called Chiquinquirá (pronounced chickenkira), which is 46kms from Bogotá. In this quaint town there was a procession for Semana Santa heading from the town square into the church. There were big floats with Mary and Jesus on, some with just Jesus on the cross and some with just Mary. This is a very Catholic thing, and the Catholic faith is big here, very glamorous to! The place was packed with people, both in the church and outside. We went into the church, which also was very glamorous with gold plating and amazing statues of Mary and Jesus. There were a lot of people lighting candles and praying, and also there was a huge line of people waiting to go to confession! I was very tempted to go and have a listen, but I didn't…although it would have been very easy to, as it wasn't exactly private!
Despite the church being very showy with all the gold and statues etc, I felt a real peace about it and really felt the Holy Spirit there. It was nice to have that reminder that flashy things don't always take away the real reason for a church building. For me it was a time to ponder on the events that would occur over the next few days and I felt moved whilst walking around the church, especially at the statue of Jesus on the cross, and was able to spend a small amount of time just thanking him for the sacrifice that he made for me.
After this we headed to a town called Velez to get some lunch. We were quite behind "schedule", as the traffic had been quite bad, but that's to be expected really. We arrived in another quaint town, with the most stunning church and wonderfully dressed mounted policemen! Part of me felt that I was in England back in the day, then I realised that it was boiling hot and quickly remembered that, that was just a silly thought! We found this lovely little restaurant and all of us thoroughly enjoyed devouring our food (I had salmon, the first time since I arrived, it was gooooooooood!). We then began back towards the main road to continue our journey. In this part of Colombia they produce a sweet snack called Bocadillo, which is Guava fruit and sugar. It comes in slices or blocks about 2" x 7"and the best way to have it I think, is with cheese to balance out the sweetness. Anyway, this was our pudding and I was chosen to order it for us at a little roadside place that was packed! My first attempt went a bit wrong, but I managed to explain to the lady what I actually wanted (having had it before) and success, bocadillo and cheese for 5 people! So then having satisfied our sweet tooth's we continued on.
After a lot more time in the car and passing through stunning countryside, we arrived at our destination for the few days, a town called San Gill. It's a small town, but lively with beautiful surroundings. We stayed in a hostel, I shared a room (not beds) with Carol and Santos and Anderson and Jose shared a room (almost beds, but after some words another bed was added). The hostel had a terrace with hammocks, and an amazing view of the town and the surrounding mountains. That night we just had a little explore of the new shopping centre (these are sometimes the main attractions), and the local park square, which had live music and dancing. We didn't stay up too late after the long journey and the busy day that followed, and I was quite pleased to curl up and have a snooze.
Day 2! Today we had breakfast away from the hostel in a cute little place. They options were kind of limited especially, as with all but one breakfast they have this soup called Changua, which I can't stand. It's a mix of water and milk, with coriander, onion, an egg and bread (which goes soggy). They also have some huge breakfasts with rice, beans, beef steak etc! I opted for the Americano, scrambled eggs, bread/ arepa and coffee. In Santander they have their own type of arepa, which had a very different taste to it. If I'm honest I prefer the ones from Bogotá.
Anyway, happy Esther and other's later with our full tummies we headed off to the Caves of the Indies (Las Cuevas del Indio). These caves house little insect eating bats and are 1000's of years old, they go through the mountains and stalagtites/ malagties are still forming within them. I've never been caving and have always had a bit of a fear of it, but I overcame my fear, put on my lifejacket and my hard hat and off we went. The caves were stunning (I don't have photos, this will become clear why later) and the bats were totally adorable (yes even bats can be adorable!). We had to crouch at times due to the low ceiling, and at other times we could stand up. We waded through water, cold water and slipped on mud and Guana (bat poo, mmm). At one point we had to jump off a rock into a water pool (now you see why I didn't take my camera), this was fun, but cold! We then continued along the caves seeing the beautiful interior with our head torches, as there is no natural light. The wander through the caves took a good hour and a half I reckon, and as we neared the end we were told that there was another jump that was optional. It was 5m high. If you didn't want to do it you could use the ladder to the side to avoid it. Now to get to the platform for the jump we all had to go down another ladder attached to the rocks. The only way to go down this ladder was feet first but also on your bum, because it was so steep. This in itself was a bit nerve racking. Me being the gobby so and so that I can be firmly said that I would do the jump, I mean come on 5m, I've jumped out of a plane! I got to the platform, looked down and saw murky water. Oh I'll also say I was near the back, so I'd been waiting for a good long time hearing people scream as they jumped and hearing good hearty crashes into the water. Anyway I'd made up my mind, I was jumping. So standing on the edge of the platform I look down and see the water and expectant faces looking up at me. I suddenly wondered why I was so stubborn and why on earth I was putting myself in this position. After a quick prayer for safety, hearing the countdown from 3, I jumped! Now when I say I jumped I mean I jumped up higher into the air…why…no idea! This meant that I had further to fall!! I went down, down, down into the water a hit my bum on the floor…joys! I then splashed my way to the surface, alive, well, but with a slightly sore bum cheek. Anyway I was alive and that was all that mattered. The final hurdle was to survive the cold water to the end of the cave. I've never been so pleased to see sunlight and feel warmth on my skin. Would I do it again….ABSOLUTELY!
After washing and drying ourselves we drove a good hour to a town called Barichara, which once again is a beautiful, quaint little town with stunning arquitecture. Here we had lunch (always very important) and had a mosy around the town. I was blown away at the beauty of the town with it's cobbled streets, wooden shutters on the windows and small houses. We then went into the church, but there was a service going on, as today was Good Friday. The church was packed out and we got some funny looks just passing on through but it was good to see. We then continued to explore the town and once again saw some stunning scenery as we climbed higher. I once again almost forgot that I was in Colombia, as it was like a scene from a Sense and Sensibility, and I expected a horse and cart to trundle on past. Instead I saw an old school mini cooper with the GB on the back and the GB flag (very small) on the side. Cue one very excited Esther who proceeded to take photos and then explained to a very bemused looking man that I was English hence the photos. Anyway as it began to get to dusk we said goodbye to this little town and headed back to San Gill.
This evening I chilled out with Carol with a bottle of wine, and we played the game Uno with Santos. A lovely end to a lovely day. I'd also like to point out that I managed to top up my tan a little bit more today to!
Day 3! So today we headed the Canyon of Chicamocha, which is one of the largest canyons in the world and took about an hour and a half to get there, most of which was travelling along windy, narrow roads. Anderson told me that barriers had been put up maybe 15 years previously (can't really remember), as there had been so many deaths on this road. It was one of the most dangerous roads in Colombia, wooo! This road also was used by big ten tonne trucks and idiotic drivers who overtook on corners! Cue heart palpitations, eyes closed at times and many prayers that those drivers would not cause any accidents. None occurred. Anyway we stopped part of the way to look at the canyon and take photos and once again my breath was taken away at the beauty of what stood before me. In this part of the region, mini earth quakes happen daily, but they are only tremors. We didn't experience anything but I think this is why the canyon keeps widening (makes sense really doesn't it!). We continued our drive and then arrived at the National Park of Chicamocha, which has a cable cart across a different part of the canyon. We did this and as you go to the other side you climb up a few 100ft, so some people's ears popped. It was whilst on the cable cart that I took my favourite scenery photo to date. It is of the river Suarez, with the mountains as the back drop and a bit of green scenery to the side. Having my new camera meant I got to play with the settings to, so this was on vivid…it's perfect!
At the other side, we, yes you've guessed it, had lunch…for me a huge chicken breast and chips mmmmmmmmmm. After enjoying a spot of live music we took the cable cart back to the other side. Whilst we had been waiting there had been a lovely spot of rain, this meant puddles! This meant a small water fight between Santos and myself…guess who won J! After getting slightly wet we began the drive back to San Gill. This part is famous for eating ants (big ones), so we bought a packet to try. Don't worry they're not alive! They are big though, cooked on the hob until crispy. I actually quite liked them and the taste was like smokey bacon and they are a good source of protein! mmmmm!
This day was a bit shorter, but Carol had felt quick ill on the drive so when we got back to the hostel she went to sleep and didn't wake up until the morning! This meant that the rest of us, well Anderson and I were on Santos duty. At 9pm Carol did briefly wake and Santos was ordered to bed. This then meant that Anderson, Jose and I went to a local bar to enjoy listening to the music and chatting. This bar was like an old school pub with one small room, art on the walls and people just being sociable. It was perfect and a nice relaxed evening to a relaxed day. Once back at the hostel, I ended up chatting with Anderson until 1am, both of us lounging in hammocks also located on the first floor of the hostel. Oh and yes, we spoke in Spanish!
Day 4 (final day L). So this day started super super super. I got the chance to skype with my Auntie, dad, brothers and 3 neices who were all together for Easter day at my Auntie's house. Normally I would be with them, so this was really special to be able to see their lovely faces on the day that my Saviour also rose,.
So this day we went to the natural park in San Gill called "The Gallineral Park" and had a little tour. It was stunning with an array of plants and flowers. We also learnt a bit about the traditional punishments for infidelity amongst the indigenous people back in the day. One punishment for women was to cover them in honey, tie them to a tree full on ants, bang on the tree so the ants came out and well leave her and them to it for a while! I wasn't completely sure of the punishment for men but I think it had something to do with their testicles being squished…! In the park I saw some red squirrels, beautiful birds and some gorgeous butterflies to.
After this we began our journey back to Bogotá, stopping at a couple of points along the way. We stopped for lunch in a town called Barbosa (emphasis on the 'r' or it's the word for drool), which is where the main factories for making Bocadillo (refer to day 1) are. Barbosa was packed full of people waiting for buses to take them back to Bogotá after enjoying their holiday. We found a nice restaurant and as we waited for our food Anderson and I wandered off to buy some Bocadillo to bring back. Buying it from these places means it's dirt cheap, so we were in a win, win situation.
After lunch the trek continued, and what a trek it was. We encountered a horrendous amount of traffic which meant that we arrived back 2 hours later than thought. No complaints though, as the time away had been amazing. I was greeted by my family once I got home, who all came out of their rooms to ask how it went. I was once again reminded how I've been blessed.
So what else did I do when away and how did it being the weekend of the crucifixion and Jesus rising make a difference? Well I took the most of being in a place with lovely surroundings and sat on the terrace two of the mornings before breakfast to read my Bible and have some God time. Good Friday I read the different accounts of the Gospels about the crucifixion and it was interesting to see what was included in each one and what not included. It was good to have some time to remember what Jesus went through and how the people who had only days earlier been praising him, were condemning him to death. Personally I can find it quite easy to forget the severity of what Jesus went through for me, for us, so this time of reading the crucifixion 4 times really made an impact. Also seeing so many stunning sceneries (for me this was great), I was reminded that God made this for US to enjoy. How I praised Him for that. It's amazing how I/ we can take for granted our surroundings. Next time you enjoy your surroundings, remember God made that because He knew that one day you would see it and enjoy it.
Sorry for the essay, hoped you enjoyed it, hugs as always xxx