*I’m just gonna start writing this as if I haven’t been absent from my blog for nearly two months, play along*
The summer of 2016 had officially started, and the one thing all us teachers were so desperately waiting for was finally here- summer vacation. Three glorious school-free weeks. A time to relax, sleep in until noon, party until the early hours of the morning or (what I did) travel for 17 hours in search of a colonial town.
This vacation of mine was dedicated to exploring picturesque colonian villages that time forgot, and for some unexplainable reason I was determined to start it all in Mompox, a village that literally nobody knows where it is. Mompox is located in Bolívar Department in the north part of the country. It is the one of only two UNESCO heritage sites, the other being the historic center of Cartagena, and the nerdy archaeologist and lover of old things in me was set on seeing it. From the very beginning it was made clear to me that getting there was not going to be easy, as:
- Majority of Colombians I’ve asked at the bus station act as if they’ve never heard of the place.
- The companies that do offer buses raise their eyebrows at me for wanting to go there.
- Wikitravel actually states that you can get to Mompox if you have a private jet.
That’s right, a private jet. Mompox is located in a land surrounded by marshes and swamps, in the heart of the Magdalena river. It was the first strategically important town back in the 16th century as it acted as a port for transporting goods up and down the river within the country. It’s no longer a port, but the swamp lands still surround the area, meaning road travel can be abit of an issue. Nonetheless, it was a fun journey. It all started with me going to the wrong bus terminal in Bogotá, getting angry with myself and panicking, asking policemen for help and then getting a ride to the correct terminal in their car. Fun. After roughly 14 hours from Bogotá, we arrived at El Banco, and from there it was another 2 hours to Mompox. The road stopped being paved at one point, and I was cracking up inside thinking what I’ve gotten myself into. But things got even better when we finally arrived. 35 degree heat and 100% humidity powerfully hit my face as I stepped off the bus. It was sort of hard to breathe, not to mention go look for a hostel for the night. But the incredibly well preserved colonial architecture and tranquility of the town made up for all of that. The towns inhabitants (30,000 roughly) are incredibly friendly and are willing to tell you about the history of Mompox and even give you a tour of their homes which are all colonial mansions.
One of the main attractions here is a river tour you can do to see the marshes and wildlife there. I was randomly asked by Carmen, a lovely girl from Bogotá who I met while melting in the heat on a bench by the river, if I wanted to join her for the tour. It lasts about 3-4 hours and you get taken to some of the most peaceful spots in the swamps and even to an island where a local family lives.
Even though I only spent one night in Mompox, the town won me over quickly. It is very much the magical realism that Gabriel García Márquez describes in his work and was absolutely worth the time and effort of getting there.
After saying goodbye to Mompox, I took a 7 hour bus (lovely change from 17) down to Bucaramanga, where I met up with Jorja, a british girl who I was roomates with during orientation. It was really nice to see her after nearly half a year’s gap since we started the programme. The unintentional party we started lasted until half four in the morning and, as it is with Jorja, face paint was involved.
I spent two days in Bucaramanga and then made my way to San Gil, a town known as Colombia’s adventure capital. Anything from rafting, caving to paragliding can be done there, and I managed to get Jorja to agree to do a bungee jump with me, 70m high above a mountain river.
The next day my search for colonial towns continued as I made my way to Barichara, a village that is frequently described as one of the prettiest examples of colonial architecture, and it is true. All you need to do is simply walk around and get lost among the delicate white one-story houses and cobbled streets.
I had read before that from Barichara you can do the Camino Real, a short pilgrim walk to Guane, another toy-like colonial village. I highly recommend it, it’s only 5km and the road twists though a very scenic valley. Just don’t do what I did, do not get lost and stumble into a little old lady’s farm and have her dogs bark at you as if you’re a thief asking for directions. Pilgrimages are hard .
San Gil is also the perfect place to try paragliding. I met Daniel, a Brazilian guy who was staying on my dorm room who had been paragliding for 4 years now. After seeing a few photos from some of his flights, it didn’t take me much convincing to try it. The Chicamocha Canyon is a paragliding paradise, and I went with an instructor who I later found out has been Colombia’s paragliding champion several times now. As cliche as it is going to sound, the only way I can describe the experience is that it was AWESOME. You’re simply there, 1.5km above the ground, trying to soak in the grandiosity and beauty of the canyon, whilst there is nothing around you but wind and dead peaceful silence…
And on that high note I will end my travel story telling. The end of this vacation also marks exactly half a year that I have been living here in Colombia. 6 of the greatest, most chaotic, full of ups and downs, but overall amazing months that I would not trade for anything.
Until next time people, until next time:) And as always, more photos will be coming soon.