Our Kadey Krogen Trawler

Our Kadey Krogen Trawler

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Colombia by land – Act 2 – Before the Shutdown

Colombia by land – Act 2 – Before the Shutdown
From the far north in Santa Marta, we flew to Bogota for a few days to get the flavor of the big city.  An over view was had from Monserrat – which we reached by the funicular railroad.

shopping area on Montserrat - note elevation sign

copy of one of the San Agustin statues


The gold in the Museo del Oro, blew us away – our minds blown after only one floor of the multi-story museum packed with literally many thousands of gold treasures from the earlier inhabitants of this region. Some are tiny but others are big and all are GOLDEN. just a taste.....

Just wandering the streets of the old city – the Candelaria – was interesting and a good workout with the steep cobblestone streets and vast public squares.  We chose to stay in a small hotel a few blocks from the old town and got a feel for the hustle and bustle of the city as we worked our way through the crowds.  Several major boulevards are now limited to pedestrian and bikes but lined with street vendors selling everything from tourist trinkets to everyday essentials. At the first drops of rain, vendors literally fold up shop – gathering their items into a bundle inside the blanket on which they were displayed.  It’s a good thing they can be quick when one afternoon a sudden downpour nearly caught us with heavy rain and hail. 

big city but colorful

street poet?



must try - YUM - waffle things

Bogota, at an elevation of 8660 feet and surrounded by mountains, enjoys much cooler weather than we had in Santa Marta – a pleasant change for us and a nice break before heading to the Amazon region.
Started at the top arrow and found Amazon at the lower circle

Our next stop required a flight to Leticia – in the far south of Colombia on the Rio Amazon. Colombia has a short stretch of this mighty river and a vast swath of territory that drains into it as well. We found Leticia a bustling town with the airport only a short ride from the central market and river dock. 

Although we arrived in time to catch the noon river boat, it was already booked out so we had to wait for the 2 PM boat.  They have a unique system – one pays and books in the office but no tickets are provided.  Instead the agent calls off names as passengers board – baggage is tossed on the roof of the boat, and we board roughly in the reverse from the order that we will disembark. Of course, with our limited Spanish, all of this was kind of a mystery, but we managed to make our way to Calanoa – a “rustic” resort on the river. (We were delayed over an hour when our boat’s engine failed and another boat had to be brought in – the entire 60 passengers and bags had to be switched over – totally messing up our careful seating arrangements.)  

waiting room

fast boat makes big wave

The normally one-and-a-half-hour trip took closer to 3 hours, but fortunately our hotel had a man on the “dock” to welcome us and hoist our bags up the stairs to our cabana. This resort includes seven cabanas built over the last eight years by the owner and his crew.  Diego, was in residence for most of our stay and we enjoyed hearing the history of this retreat and the close symbiotic relationship with the neighboring indigenous community at Macaqua. Diego is an artist and it shows in the careful attention to detail with artistic flare through out the compound. Although all our comforts were attended to with generous and delicious meals, the rooms were screened on three sides and we slept under mosquito nets. (No A/C and no fans, but plenty comfortable.)  The power was mostly solar with a little assist from a generator so we were able to keep our phones/cameras charged, but there was no cell service that we could connect to or WIFI. We saw staff standing on the dock and getting a signal but it didn’t work for us. So, our time there was a total break from the big world – where the Covid-19 threat was brewing.

dinning "tent"

cabana view

boots are needed and need to stay outside

Our stay included several “activities” each day – the night walk to see tarantula spiders among other interesting critters was a favorite as was the daytime hike through the reserve and return by canoe. Steve got a kick out of catching a piranha – although it was too small to make a meal. The trip on the river to see the pink dolphins – which are kind of stealthy mostly only revealing their backs – was another high point.

raw materials for poison darts

angel bees - 

a welcome sight after  two hour walk

translator and local guide

frog story - yes that WAS a frog

One our third night at dinner we met a couple who live in Thailand – Chiang Mai. Chatting away about Thailand the gentleman said he had been a Peace Corps Volunteer there back in the 70’s, so I asked him his group number and took a closer look.  We had actually trained together and were both survivors of Group 42. Although we had not kept in touch directly, we were both on the list for the previous group reunions. A small world indeed!

Our boat trip back to Leticia was uneventful – with a smooth transfer back to the airport and another night in Bogota before we caught a very early flight to Neiva – well we got to the airport for the 6AM flight, but our plane didn’t leave until after 7 – thanks to delays caused by the weather.
time for a shave and a haircut on our way through Bogota

In Neiva we were met by our guide, Marino, and driver, Fred, who would be taking care of us for the next four days.  We had a long drive through interesting agricultural areas then up mountains on gravel and dirt roads to the area called Terradentro.  Here ancient tombs were dug in the hills some more than 5 meters deep – accessed by anywhere from 6 to 16 steps.  Well, steps may not be accurate – some of them were cliffs!  Of the 30 some tombs in the area we visited several large complexes and even entered 6 or 7. That is Steve climbed down in most of them, and took pictures of the designs and architecture – I only made it into a few of them not liking the “cliffs”. Our driver dropped us off at the top of the hill and we scrambled down visiting these amazing artifacts of the ancient residents finally arriving at the bottom to be whisked off to our hotel.

locals using the park path to commute from school to home

restful hotel complete with eco-friendly lawn mower

Before departing this area in the morning, we stopped at the museum which explained some of the history of the area and had interesting displays of the local culture as well.

Another 5-hour drive took us over hills and mountains to the small city of San Agustin. Our guide informed us that the artifacts here are a big mystery.  No one knows for sure who the people were who carved the more than 600 statues which have been uncovered in the burial mounds scattered among these hills. We spent most of one day walking the sites in the main archeological park which is beautifully groomed and connected with shaded paths. There are four main sites where graves and the accompanying statues are displayed largely as they were found. Another area – called the Forest of Statues, winds through the woods where an additional 35 statues are displayed and protected. Some are just the bare outline – unfinished works, while others are completed master pieces.
We then wandered through the museum’s 9 rooms where even more, and some of the most delicate items found in the graves were exhibited.

can you see the snakes?

not the copy

A horse ride added spice to our visit – and took us to some of the outlying sites to look a few more statues. Finally, we made a stop on our last day to see the most recent discoveries from 1983. These statues were found to still have the original colors – yellow, red, black and white. Since they were found on private land, the government now allows the landowner to charge an entrance fee to encourage their preservation.

Not all our stops were archaeological – we enjoyed the trip to an organic coffee plantation. Luis, the owner of the coffee plantation, gave us a personal tour illustrating the entire process from sprouting new trees to harvesting, fermenting, drying and husking the beans.  Of course, he made me a cup of his best coffee as well. (We also added a few kilos to our luggage!) His passion for the organic approach was evident as he explained all the plants that were among the different coffee varieties to provide nutrients and shade. He even demonstrated how to start pineapples when we asked about that process!

We also made a short trek to see the Magdalena River Gorge. – This is the mother river of Colombia flowing from its start in San Agustin to the mouth just a few miles from Santa Marta.  We will be passing the mouth which is known to boaters for its width, dangerous currents, and obstacles from debris washed down the more than 3500-kilometer length. 

Around each location we visited were the usual tourist “services” i.e. trinket vendors and purveyors of refreshments! We occasionally had to partake – Steve enjoyed the cheese filled arepas and I found a doll crocheted from banana fibers. We even got a few minutes to wander in the green and white town of San Agustin.....
unique B & B

Finally, we must mention the beautiful hotel Arawanka in San Agustin - although a long walk from any town area, it was beautiful.

and restful

a bonus, one evening we enjoyed local dancers who entertained the large tour group

Returning to Santa Marta, we had two hours between our flight from Pitalito to Bogota, and our Bogota to Santa Marta flight – but leaving an hour late out of Pitalito added some excitement to the trip. Having tickets on two different airlines added to our connection difficulties. We flew in to Terminal 2 collected our bags in record time and taxied to Terminal 1 for our second flight making the gate 10 minutes before boarding. Back in Santa Marta to news of country wide quarantines - feeling lucky to be in a lovely country, a secure marina with access to food.
Teddy liked his new accessories too!