Thursday, 31 May 2012

It all begins in Colombia.

Instalment number one from across the pond in South America. It feels like this is the first chance I’ve had to put my thoughts down since I arrived on 23rd May. It’s been fast, fun, action packed discovery so far and sitting on this 16 hour night bus is a great chance to remind myself of the whirlwind that has been my first 5 days in Colombia.

Recognising the stereotypes that go with a country like Colombia has been pretty easy. It does feel dodgey and there are a lot of drugs flying around but adrenaline flows at the same rate as rum and creating lifelong memories is just as easy as buying a bag of ‘white stuff’ out of a taxi window.

First port of call was Bogota – the sprawling capital city home to more than 8 million people. At 2800 feet above sea level it can get chilly and there is something about its atmosphere that will keep you on edge. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing all the time, it just keeps you on your toes, Especially with locals and expats alike both warning of people on weekends “stabbing people for fun”.

To appreciate the sheer size of Bogota you have to take a trip into the clouds on a cable car. It must be more than 4000 feet up and the stalls sell coca tea to help anyone ease difficulties with the altitude. Buildings run as far as the eye can see in most directions and if you’re steady enough on your feet, picture opportunities are incredible. If you’re not too keen on heights you might want to skip standing on the one foot wide wall and acting like you’re on top of the world.

When we were leaving Bogota late on Friday evening the streets were filled with young and old, relaxing and partying. Police were on every corner and even came into the hostel we were staying in to check passports and documentation. Something about foreign police in an infamously corrupt country really makes me uneasy but apparently these kind of things are the norm.

After Bogota the next few days rolled into a continuous hive of action and adventure. San Gil – 6 hours north by a surprisingly comfortable bus – rightly makes claims to being the adrenaline capital of Colombia. Staying in a sociable, friendly hostel called Macondo – run by an Aussi who’s a fountain of knowledge on the local area, I began to feel like we were getting under the skin of what Colombia is really all about. I get the impression that people are either over the top and extremely friendly, willing to help and welcome you to their country or they’re dismissive when you say hello and frown upon you somewhat – time will tell how true first impressions are.

San Gil is a place that I could probably best describe as having the feel of a busy Italian mountain town. Paved streets and a square that buzz’s with musicians and social locals, it has a nice feel. Not so good a feeling was coming from my legs after a 22k bike ride in the midday heat. Luckily the reward was cold, in the form of a 180m high waterfall  that could not of been more welcoming to jump straight into.
The following days we filled with some amazing caving which, at parts, involved being tugged through underwater tunnels and swimming through freezing waters, mud and rocks – quite an experience to know that above ground life simply continues as normal.

After being cancelled on the Sunday because of the fallout from a local wedding the night before, we got to take to the Suarez river in order to tackle some pretty scary grade 5 rafting rapids. After a lengthy safety tutorial which quite frankly scared the hell out of me, the rafting itself was a buzz of adrenaline and danger. It’s a great way to realise the power of water and more broadly, nature. I’ve never listened more intently to someone’s words as I did our instructors as we came face to face with rapids that looked more suicidal than entertaining. Everyone survived and at the end of the day, ear to ear smiles showed it was the best £40 we’d all spent in a long while.  

Bumping into travellers, swapping stories and sharing experiences you’ll remember for the rest of your life is a big draw to travelling for me and when in San Gil one of the most enjoyable things was meeting and sharing the time with Alex, Nicole, Jordan and Jodi – a Canadian, Kiwi, Brit and Australian. The times you spend together, even if short, allows you to form strong bonds because you’re doing such memorable things together. Myself, Cal, John and Dan (the friends I’m travelling with) found leaving San Gil a lot more difficult because of the friends we made there.

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