Colombia Part 2 (Boyaca – Santander)

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.

Chicamocha Canyon

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.

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The Chicamocha National Park is the newest National Park of Colombia, it opened in 2006.

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Beautiful entrance, covered with bougainvillea, to Cabanas Campestres, our camp.

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How about that view! Chicamocha Canyon.

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!!!

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Joe is not to sure he want’s to do it!

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No time to think, let’s do this!

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There he goes, Joe paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon!

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It was suppose to be a 20 minute flight but it ended up more like 40. For 2 people with pictures it cost us 330,000 COP ($105)

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Who said retirement is suppose to be boring!

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Can you see Silver?

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Thrilling new experience but i’m not sure it’s my thing, I just get nauseous to easily.

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Thanks to the team of Paravolar Colombia for the thrill

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Last photo of a great camp spot at sunset, Cabanas Campestres

Bucaramanga

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 …

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Bucaramanga, the Capital of the Santander department, is a large modern City known for its many parks but go figure there is no batteries, our size, to be found!

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

San Gil

“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.

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San Gil is not the prettiest but it has a nice vibe with friendly locals and a festive atmosphere on the weekend.

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The 18th century stone Cathedral Santa Cruz dominates the Central Plaza.

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We love street food! Empanadas and Papas Rellenas deep-fried stuffed mashed potato balls served with aji, a delicious green hot sauce for dipping! With freshly squeezed orange juice.

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Colombians take their billiard very seriously, every town or village has a least one, but most of the time several, pool rooms or billiard halls.

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Camping Fogatas, a nice oasis just outside the town of San Gil on the bank of River Fonce, beautiful trees covered with long silvery tendrils of moss called barbas de viejo (old man’s beard)

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On Saturday afternoon a young couple held their wedding ceremony and reception at the campground, all of a sudden we became the backdrop for the wedding pictures!

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

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.

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Rolling into town! Barichara’s large stone streets have a very distinct look easy to recognize.

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Barichara has nice wild camp spots with great views but we opted for a little Hotel, Artepolis,  for a couple of nights. Silver waited for us in the parking lot.

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We ate our breakfast on this terrace overlooking the valley.

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A quaint square where you can just sit on a bench shaded by a beautiful tree, embracing life.

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Even the cemetery is beautiful!!!

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One of our favorite photo of the 2 of us. Immaculate Conception Cathedral and the main square are behind us.

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The colors!

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If you Google Barichara you will probably see a photo of this street with the Dome of the Cathedral and a view of the Valley.

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Walking back to our hotel we would pass in front of this purple door and let our imagination run wild about what was behind!

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More vintage trucks and cars. Joe loves the trucks but I’m crazy about the Renaults

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.

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Historic walk to Guane!

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Once we reached Guane’s main square we had lunch in one of the few restaurants then hopped on a bus back to Barichara.

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We also visited Guane’s small Museum of Paleontology and Archaeology where they sold these beautiful and unique pottery made by the Guane Indigenous people.

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.

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White wash buildings, red tiled roof and wooden balconies, a staple on Villa de Leyva.

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At 120m x 120m, the Main Plaza is one of the largest town squares in the Americas!

 

Bogota

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!!!

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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!

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When we got to the Holiday Inn Bogota Airport, sure enough Andrea Arb, GM was waiting for us with the VIP treatment. She was so interested in our journey that she wanted us to talk to her staff about it! We have a new found love for Holiday Inn but mostly for Colombians.

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Andrea also got Silver a special Suite in the Loading dock parking area.

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The next morning, we showed up at the Mechanic, but when he realized our truck was Diesel, he said he could not help us but the manager said to follow him. We drove through the Siete de Agosto Barrio (neighborhood) an experience on its own, for what seems a long time making a million 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.

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Joe and the CR Diesel team in Bogota.

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!

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We showed up at Pasion 4×4 Aventura on Saturday morning, which is the day that all 8  owners meet up to eat empanadas drink coffee, talk 4×4, but mostly to socialize!

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!

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Andres with the green shirt on the left, is the son of one of the seven original owners. He’s part of the second generation and is the only owner that is present in the shop during the week. Joe is looking at the equipment in the classic Toyota Land Cruiser. These guys have been doing 4×4 rallies and trips all over Colombia and South America, one of the owners is a former professional driver. Our encounter with them was amazing, such knowledge and experience but most of all real gentlemen with a true passion for Overlanding.

After three stressful but fruitful days we left Bogota (we will come back later to explore the City) direction Medellin.

 

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Best road side car wash ever! ($6.50)

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Colombia’s CHIVAS (translate to goats) have nothing to be envious of Guatemala’s chicken buses. They’re both colorful, creative rolling pieces of Art! We spotted these beauties while grocery shopping in the little town of Marinilla on our way to Medellin.

Santa Elena

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.

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Al Bosque Hostel & Glamping is a very popular hang out for Overlanders. In addition to Camping and Glamping options, Al Bosque offers rooms, use of kitchen, hiking trails, fire pit, hot showers and a nice common room with fireplace, it will be perfect for the grandchildren!

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Silver parked next to a Dutch MAN

                                                   Joe got his pack of dogs, he’s happy!

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

I’m sure that by now you have noticed that our blog posts are way behind. Even though I enjoy writing it, I don’t want it to become a burden and the internet being what it is in remote areas of South America, I only write when I have a long period of down time and good wifi.

For more current updates you can follow us on Facebook at Joe and Josée’s Journey or on Instagram @ joeandjosee

Next: Colombia – Part 3 (The Grandkids) … Stay tuned!

6 thoughts on “Colombia Part 2 (Boyaca – Santander)

  1. Thank you so much for making your trekking life available to us. Your adventures answer many questions for me. Motovated… I’m motivated to go to Columbia. Thanks.

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  2. It’s always a pleasure to read about your adventures and travels please keep them coming, it reads to me that no matter what your past, this is what you were both meant to do together, I really hope that I can catch up with Joe again and get to meet you, Josee, safe travels always

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    1. Hi John, you made Joe’s day! He often talks about you. One day we will make it to Ireland or Turkey if you still have a place there, It would be wonderful to meet you. Thanks for following our Journey. Big hug from Bolivia, J&J

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