June 24 – July 12, 2017
After five weeks of intense heat on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast we were ready to head inland to higher grounds and cooler temperatures. We had about three weeks to explore the Boyaca and Santander departments before the arrival of the grand kids in Medellin on July 13. This part of Central Colombia is known mostly for picturesque colonial towns and dramatic canyons.
After 2 days of driving we were finally able to escape the 95 degree weather when we reached higher altitude. Located between Bucaramanga and San Gil, The National Park of Chicamocha, has one of the most scenic drives of the department. The views and weather were so nice that we ended up spending 4 nights.
While we were chilling, admiring the view, and getting dinner ready we started seeing these big kites gliding through the canyon! Then we realized they were launching just down the road from our camp. We asked Sergio our host and he said he could arrange a flight for the next morning! OMG!!!
While driving through the mountain roads around the Chicamocha Canyon our truck’s engine light went off and our Jake brake (engine brake) stopped working. Our host at Cabanas Campestres, Sergio, told us there was a Dodge dealer in the town of Bucaramanga, which we had just driven through a few days earlier. Sergio called Motoreste, to see if they would be able to diagnose our specific vehicle and they said yes, to come. The next day, we drove back to Bucaramanga, only 35 miles but it took us 2 hours on the same winding mountain road. Once in Buca, how the locals call it, we couldn’t find the place even though we could see it from the highway. We had to pay a taxi to take us there. They diagnosed the problem as being our batteries but they did not have our size and they suggested that we go to Bogota, they were very friendly but they seemed overwhelmed by our Ram3500. Silver still ran fine but we knew we had to address the batteries, the Jake brake and some electrical wiring issues before the grand children arrived in 2 weeks. We decided to go to Bogota with some stops on the way for some site seeing …
While driving, we were amazed at the number of vintage heavy duty American trucks on the road. Not only were they still being used as working trucks but most of them were painted beautiful colors and kept in meticulous conditions
“La Tierra de Aventura” (land of Adventure) San Gil is a small town where white-water rafting, paragliding, caving, waterfall repelling and trekking are the main attractions. We did not have much time and we had already had our share with paragliding, so we skipped the extreme sports and explored the 300 year old town square and walked around town before settling in a quiet campground outside of town for the weekend.
They were so cute and friendly, everybody wanted to see the inside of our camper! The couple getting married must have been no more than 19 or 20, it was a very humble reception, they served some juice and cupcakes to their guests, there was a little bit of dancing, pictures taken then everybody went home happy.
Barichara as been called Colombia’s most beautiful village and we have to agree. The cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings with red tiled roofs are kept immaculate and have served as the backdrop for films and the popular Colombian Telenovelas (soap operas). In 1978 the town was declared a national monument.
This lady has ben selling bread in the trunk of her vintage Renault 4 for more then 20 years!
We tried some of Barichara’s local cuisine at El Compa restaurant, Cabro (goat) served with a salad, yuca, arepa and pepitoria (a mash up of goat innards, blood and seasoned rice)
El Camino Real, Historic walk to Guane
From Barichara there is a popular hike to the tiny hamlet of Guane. An ancient stone paved road was built by the local indigenous and constantly rebuilt over the centuries. Declared a national monument in 1988 it is now a popular 2 hours, 9km walk through a beautiful valley where you cross path with grazing cows and maybe a few other hikers.
Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva is probably second on the list of Colombia’s most beautiful Colonial villages. It has been extremely well preserved and named national monument in 1954. Like Barichara, it is popular with foreigners and well to do Colombians. It’s near perfect dry and sunny climate, proximity to Bogota and beauty attract people year round, but the weekends can be pretty crowded! We would have loved to spend more time exploring this gem but unfortunately we had to make our way to Bogota for some maintenance on Silver so we stayed only one night.
Bogota is known, amongst other things, for it’s crazy traffic jams. Well, it did not disappoint!!! At any given time there’s about 10 motorcycles surrounding your vehicle just trying to get ahead besides taxis, buses …
The plan was to get to a Dodge mechanic, to get 2 new batteries, fix our engine brake and have our solar panels electrical wires looked at. When we finally found the official Dodge Mechanic, they said that they could not see us for a few more days. With the help of the application iOverlander we found a another mechanic, they said to come back the next day at 8:00am but to go across the street for batteries. Which we did, the guy only had one battery that he installed right there on the street and he said to come back the next day for the second one and we could pay him tomorrow!!!
Driving into a large unknown City is always stressful and intimidating, Bogota was no exception! We thought we had everything lined up for some truck repairs but our day was quickly turning into a disaster.
But once again thanks to the amazing people of Colombia we ended our day in a beautiful Suite at the Holiday Inn Bogota Airport enjoying a hot bath and a soft king size bed!!!
While getting a new battery installed, Joe struck up a conversation with Felipe who was having some work done on his car in the shop next door. They talked about our journey and when I asked him if he had a recommendation about where we could spend the night, with secure parking for our large rig, he said that his wife was a Hotel General Manager and she could probably arrange for parking.
He immediately got on the phone and a few minutes later he told us that she was expecting us!
The next morning, we showed up at the Mechanic, but when he realized our truck was a Diesel, he said he could not help us but the manager said to follow him. We drove through the Siete de Agosto Barrio, an experience on its own, for what seems like a long time making many turns, to finally arrive at CR Diesel.
The professional team at CR Diesel spent the whole day inspecting the whole engine brake system, they tested and cleaned all the parts and determined that the vacuum pump needed to be replaced.
They were able to locate the part and sent a courier on a motorcycle to pick it up! For about $470 for parts and labor the job was done.
While spending the day at CR Diesel, I was able to do some research to address our solar panels electrical wires issue. I called Pasion 4×4 Aventura and spoke to Andres one of the owners, who spoke perfect English, turned out he studied at Carleton University in my home town of Ottawa, Canada! He told us to come by the shop Saturday morning!
When we got there, Andres immediately called an electrician to come by. Along with one of the other owners they determined that the wire connectors had to be changed to avoid over heating. Issue #1 solved! ($13)
Then Andres called Miguel, the battery guy who had installed the first battery 2 days ago and still hadn’t been paid, he showed up on a motorcycle, with the second battery, that he replaced on site. Issue #2 solved! (2 new truck batteries installed $250)
Another guy picked up 2 gas struts for the main camper door and installed them. Issue #3 solved! ($44)
The ARB front locker, on the passenger side, tire had been re-installed backwards, Guillermo, one of the owners, took it apart and reinstalled it properly. Issue #4 solved ($0).
Andres found the right people to fix all our issues, but in the end we didn’t pay a dime to Pasion 4×4. It did not seem to bother them one bit! This is just another example of Colombian Hospitality!
After three stressful but fruitful days we left Bogota (we will come back later to explore the City) direction Medellin.
On July 10th, 2017 we made it to Santa Elena, just outside Medellin, with three days to spare before the arrival of the grand children.
Few Facts about Colombia:
- Population: 48.65 million (2016) World Bank
- Area: 440,831 sq miles (1.142 million km²)
- Capital: Bogota
- Currency: Colombian Peso (COP) 1 USD = 2,879 COP
- Time spent: 6 months (May 16 – November 1, 2017)
- Miles driven: 4162
- Diesel price per gallon: $ 2.69