Bogotá, Colombia – Mid-May, 2017

We reluctantly left al Bosque on Sunday the 7th. We drove south towards airport and then through Retiro. That’s when the fun began. I should have known you can’t rely on Google maps. Per the map, there is an ‘orange-colored’ (meaning second level, but not third or even fourth level) road around Medellin towards Highway 25 which is what we wanted to take to avoid the heavy Medellin traffic. 

Immediately after leaving Retiro it became a dirt road. We should have turned around then. Over the next 30-40 miles, the road became worse and muddy in spots because of all the rain during Colombia’s rainy season. Other spots were rocky and uneven. Numerous mudslides. The most difficult slide had most of the hillside washed out. When we arrived at that spot, one car was stopped on the other side. Dave got out and walked through the mud to check it out. While sizing it up, another small car forged through the 50′ long mud hole. We decided if the small car could make it so could we even with our extra camper weight. We did with some slipping and sliding to immediately face a stream overflowing its banks and running across the road. We made it through since only about 4″ deep. In another spot, another mudslide left only a 6′ or so wide path through it. It took us almost 3 hours to go this 40-mile stretch. Never so glad to reach pavement at Highway 25. 

Highway 25 itself was a challenge since it is the main artery through central Colombia and only a two lane highway with all semi and truck traffic using it as well as Sunday bicyclers. 

After leaving Highway 25, we headed back up into the he mountainous coffee-growing area towards Jardín – our next destination. Of course by now it is raining again. We arrived at a recommended campground – Truchera MonteMar just before dark. 

At Truchera – an operating trout farm and restaurant – we were met by gracious hostess Magdalena and settled in for the night. 

The next morning we trudged down and up the hill into beautiful Jardín. The town is wonderfully maintained with colorful fronts and doorways. Few cars and one of the most beautiful churches we’ve seen on our trip. 

We spent the next few days wandering around town and watching people while sipping sodas in the main square outside the cathedral. On another day, there was a small but loud protest of approximately 100 teachers and their students that were upset by education funding. (Sound familiar?) Then we would return to the Truchera where Magdalena would fix us a trout dinner. When we asked if we could have something other than fried trout, she created two trout dishes that were wrapped in tinfoil and cooked with garlic butter sauce one day and on another day with tomatoes and onions. All was delicious. 

One day we hired a well-known bird guide Jose Castaño who took us up into the cloud forest (in the rain of course) to the Loro Orejiamarillo – Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve. These parrots that nest only in Wax Palm trees were thought to be extinct until a small band was discovered in the 80’s and through restoration efforts have re-established in three distinct areas of Colombia and northern Ecuador. Just at dusk we saw five separate pairs fly over to roosting spots for the night. Also during our outing we saw 16 new Life Birds for us. One of the most spectacular was the Grass-Green Tanager – the brightest green all over except for red feet and bill. 

Grass-green Tanager

We left on Saturday 13th. Our goal was to reach a parking lot on Highway 50, the main thoroughfare between Manizales and Bogotá, high in the Andes. Although paved roads, numerous road construction and maintenance of mudslide areas caused numerous delays. Manizales was much bigger than we thought but we were able to skirt the main part on a bypass. We pulled into our destination, a restaurant parking lot where they allow overnight parking (called boondocking in the RV and camper world) after another long day of driving around dark, foggy and of course rain. 

After waking up the next morning and because of difficulty breathing, I checked the altitude and discovered we were at almost 12,000′. But woke up to gorgeous clear day. Our drive continued climbing up over the pass around 12,500′ through vivid green hillsides with contented cows eating on steep hillsides. Looked like Switzerland. 

Our plan had was to drive to Zipaquirá and check out the ‘salt cathedral’. But this two-lane highway is winding and has heavy use with semis and trucks and steep. Our brakes were heating up and we thought it was a return to our early problem so we instead decided to head directly to Bogotá so we could have a mechanic look at the problem and replace brake pads with a set my Sister sent us in one of our care packages from the US. 

So after another long day of driving, compounded by Colombian Sunday drivers and rain, of course, we arrived on outskirts of Bogotá as it was getting dark. Missed one turn and soon we are weaving our way through neighborhoods flooded with rain water and stalled vehicles towards hotel I selected by the airport because it was on the outskirts of this city of 8.8 million people and that had open-air secure parking for the truck camper. 

We were not happy campers when we checked in due to the stress of all day driving, heavy traffic, wrong turn, rain and flooded streets. But the hotel has an excellent restaurant and excellent steak dinners made up for a lot of our frustration with the day’s drive. 

Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th were taken up with finding a reliable mechanic and getting our truck there before heavy morning commute traffic and checked out. Turned out it wasn’t the brake pads and said it was normal for brakes to heat up in steep mountain roads around Bogotá. They did re-calibrate the tire sensors that kept telling us Low Tire Pressure on the truck’s dashboard. 

On Wednesday 17th we took a taxi to Centro. One interesting fact is that hundreds of murals line the miles of freeway retaining walls. Makes the ride so enjoyable viewing the different mural topics, themes and styles. 

We were dropped off at the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) established by the Bank of the Republic – similar to US Federal Reserve. 

This museum occupies six floors of exhibits. The gold exhibits (which number around 30,000 pieces) are on second and third floors. We elected to wait 20 minutes for the English tour led by Sebastian. He gave us the option of selecting which of three galleries we wanted to visit and, of course, the Offering Raft Gallery. 

We selected the Symbolism Gallery. For next 90 minutes he lead us around that Gallery explaining what the pieces represented in the Museum’s opinion and answered our questions about provenance. 

The Offering Raft was small and represented the practice of initiating a new King by taking him out into a lake, adorning him with gold dust and placing/offering numerous pieces of gold and precious metals in the lake. 

The high-tech multi-media room showed gold and precious metals artifacts in a 270 degree surround sound presentation similar to what was discovered in the lake after it was drained in the 19th century to retrieve the pieces. 

Afterward, we quickly wandered through the other two gold galleries. 

Since this Museum was celebrating International Museum Day on the 17th instead of 18th, the entrance fee was waived – normally 4000 p each. 

Returned to the hotel by taxi and called it a day. 

Thursday 18th we have hired a driver to take us up to Zipaquirá and its underground Cathedral of Salt. 

On Friday we plan on heading out again to the South and towards San Agustín. 

We’ll keep you posted. 

The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – ELLIOTT ERWITT

Photos.

 

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