Tag Archives: Colombia

Person of the week

20 Oct Lady with lunch, Raquira

I’ve met some totally awesome people during my trip.

Some have been other travellers, some have been bus drivers, shopstore owners or just local people I’ve met in the street.  I’ve had some great teachers who have taught me un pocito de Spanish and perhaps even un pocito less de charango but all along the way I’ve had fab experiences and connections with people.

So I thought I would try to see if each week I can nominate someone (obviously in my own head) to be person of the week…of course as it’s an internal analysis with myself I have to give reasons for my decision (a bit like Big Brother I suppose).  I also will try to give some personal details about the person if I can (ie if I can understand their Spanish!!!).  The person need not be the most interesting, most challenging, most handsome (or pretty) or even the person with whom I’ve connected with most that week..it can just be someone whose paths I crossed and who made me laugh or made me think….so don’t be sad if you’re not person of the week..some people are best kept within my own little head!

Right enough of the justification…it’s time to pick a person for this week…and my person is…..


Lady with lunch, Raquira

Lady with lunch, Raquira


I met this little lady when I was waiting for a bus back from Villa de Leyva to Raquira.  It was one of those days when everyone kept telling me a different thing…yes there is a bus..it’s at 12…it’s from here..no the bus at 12 is from “Plaza de Libertad”.  There’s no bus at 12 today..but there is one at 1.30pm..there is no bus at 1.30 but there is one at 2….so eventually I decided to just sit, wait, watch the world go by in the knowledge that some bus would arrive sometime!!!! I’d seen this cute little lady earlier in the day and really wanted to take a photo of her interesting face and cute pleats..then she came to sit down next to me while I was waiting.  She lived in Raquira, was 78 and had collected lunch for someone in her family (that’s what she’s holding in the photo).  She kept saying “me voy”(I’m going) as the food was for someone in her family who waiting for it..but then she’d sit back down and chat more..she did this at least 4 times..it was cute…she spoke super fast so I couldn’t understand a lot of what she said but she was a really nice little lady with her terracota plate of food so she is my person of the week for this week…


Villa de Leyva, Raquira and El Monesterio de la Candelaria, near Villa De Leyva

19 Oct Raquira


After thinking that finally I had a Bolivian stomach and saying it aloud..fate dealt me a blow by landing me with a bout of food poisoning..I blame some cheese in a leaf that someone gave me in a hostel..cheese should not be served in a leaf or it makes you ill.

Still what better place to be ill than the beautiful Villa De Leyva in Colombia which has one of  the biggest main squares in South America, even though it is a tiny little town.  It also has beautiful houses, all with red clay roof tiles and painted white, a top cathedral and for such a small town, some good museums (the best one for me was the Luis Alberto Acuna Art Museum which houses many paintings by this Colombian artist).  The town has been super busy the last few days as it’s the annual tree festival and the main square has been full of stalls selling trees.

After seeing the sights of Villa de Leyva I decided to go Raquira which is the pottery capital of Colombia.  It’s a nice little town with lots of painted houses and is full to bursting with pottery shops.  I did a walk to La Candelaria which is about 7 km from Raquira.  The walk itself, although it was along a road, is stunning.  The valley is beautiful.  Traffic is minimal.  One van and a scooter passed me the whole route, both called out “buenos dias” as they passed.

The monastery has a wonderful setting nestled between beautiful hills.  The guidebook said a monk would do a tour. This did not happen which was a bit disappointing as I wanted to talk about the life of a monk with a monk.  The guidebook said the tour was free.  This was not true.  God needs money in these hard economic times.  It now costs 3,000 pesos.  Still it is worth it to see the paintings around the cloisters and the strange room containing obsolete computers and projectors…I shared my tour with 22 school kids from a local school who seemed about as interested in the monastery as I would be interested in taking a vow of silence…

Transport in these parts is not easy.  I was advised by locals that there was a bus back to Raquira at 10.30am but after waiting a bit on the road for it I decided to ask another local who said that the bus wouldn’t be passing that day.  Still he offered me a lift back to Raquira so it all worked out..ended up having to wait 2 hours in Raquira for a bus back to Villa de Leyva (was glad I had a good book)…and felt a bit like a gringa again when the bus driver told me the bus definitely called at Villa de Leyva..but I know the route to Tunja as I came on it a mere few days ago..and this bus was going to Tunja not Villa de Leyva.  Managed to communicate this to the bus driver who said no problem he would flag down a lift back to Villa de Leyva for me….needless to say this didn’t work out..ended up having a long journey back to Villa de Leyva from a roadside cafe but still saved 1500 pesos so, on balance, it must be my face and the driver was really trying to help me out after all!!!

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Is it my face?

18 Oct

Do I have the sort of face that screams out “help me”, “be kind to me” “I am lost”?

I’ve never before had the effect on people that they instantly want to help me and be nice to me.  But three weeks in Colombia has made me start to wonder…..


My face

My face


It all started at Leticia.  I sailed along the Amazon River to Leticia and checked into a nice little hostel in town.  I asked the hostel owner where I could get some trousers taken up.  It’s quite novel but in South America they can fix, mend and change anything…next thing I knew she left the hostel with me, took me to a neighbour’s house who does repairs, negotiated a price and waited with me while the repair was completed…

But that wasn’t all.  I then asked her if she could help me find a hairdresser in town.  No sooner had I asked that we hopped on her motorbike, me, her and her little son and a price was duly negotiated with the local transexual hairdresser…

What had I done to my face to engender such kindness I thought?

Maybe this would only be the case in Leticia a place without a road to..well anywhere… and with borders with Brazil and Peru…and with my hair slightly different would my changed locks change the kindness offered to me I pondered….

Cue the bus from San Gil to Tunja…now from my previous posts you’ll see that bus travel is a pleasure in Colombia..no sooner had I got on this bus than I started chatting to two Colombian ladies…during the course of the journey one got off the bus to try to find a local delicacy made from sugar cane which she told me about…the same lady (a schoolteacher and mother of five who travels about 8 hours every Saturday to attend a computing course) then gifted to me a bracelet made from coffee beans and wooden beads in advance of my trip to the coffee regions of Colombia ….the other lady shared some local sweets with me..called bocadillos and made from guabaya (a local fruit which is green on the outside and pink and fleshy with hard seeds on the inside) and sugar..I then said to her I loved ballenato music which is a Colombian music combining accordion and some other instruments with beautiful romantic words..no sooner had I said this than she had found some on her phone for us to listen along to and sing along to in the bus…


Coffee bean bracelet

Coffee bean bracelet


Then I got to Villa de Leyva…and my face brought me the cheapest hostel in town on one of the busiest weekend of the year..3 quid a night for a room on my own a stone’s throw from the beautiful main square which is one of the largest town squares in all of South America…then a conversation about the price of bananas with a local architect and his partner brought me a night of wine, quesadillas and wonderful conversation in a house designed by the architect himself…

If it is my face I’m not changing it for nobody…but in my heart of hearts I know it’s not really my face..it’s just the remarkable kindness of the Colombian people…

My ten favourite photos of Colombia (so far!)

18 Oct


Graffiti, La Candelaria, Bogota

Graffiti, La Candelaria, Bogota



Statue on a roof, La Candelaria, Bogota

Statue on a roof, La Candelaria, Bogota



My top travel mate Sylvia (from Edinburgh), Playa Blanca, Caribbean Coast

My top travel mate Sylvia (from Edinburgh), Playa Blanca, Caribbean Coast



Clouds over Playa Blanca, Caribbean Coast

Clouds over Playa Blanca, Caribbean Coast



Dinner Playa Blanca, fresh fish, rice (you get this with every meal), salad, fried plantains...mmm

Dinner Playa Blanca, fresh fish, rice (you get this with every meal), salad, fried plantains...mmm



Colourful buses, Cartagena, Caribbean Coast

Colourful buses, Cartagena, Caribbean Coast



Sculpture of a woman sewing, Cartagena

Sculpture of a woman sewing, Cartagena



Houses, Barichara

Houses, Barichara



Looking out of the Cathedral door, Barichara

Looking out of the Cathedral door, Barichara



Little cute lady, Barichara

Little cute lady, Barichara


How to survive Ciudad Perdida, The Lost City, Colombia

18 Oct

My new motto…never listen to what other travellers tell you about a place to visit.

Reason for new motto…my recent visit to the Ciudad Perdida, situated near Santa Marta, on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia.

So what did travellers tell me about the Ciudad Perdida?

Here’s just a few of the phrases which spring to mind when I asked folk what they thought of the Ciudad Perdida..

“We had a good group…”

“You can buy beer and coca cola at every stop en route”.

“You will find it the hardest thing you have ever done in your life”.

“The indigenous people hate tourists”.

And finally…and this was from some tourists who just came down from the ruins that morning…

Question: “How was it?”

Answer: “There were a lot of mosquitos”.

Question: “And?”

Answer: “Yes, there were a lot of mosquitos”.

I’ve just finished the trek and none of these phrases would enter my mind when describing it to others.  Instead I would say “awesome”, “not difficult”, “take the right stuff and you’ll be fine”.

I did the trek in 5 days with a company called Magic Tours who have offices in Santa Marta and Taganga.  They were good though if you can try to find others in the hostel who want to do the tour as well as they give a cheaper price if you go into the office with more than one person (even two brings about a substantialdecrease in price).  I paid 430,000 pesos.  In a group you pay about 400,000 pesos though the agency told that the price is soon to rise to 500,000.

What to take with you…

1. Trekking shoes

Those in the office will try to persuade you to do it in sandals.  I wouldn’t recommend this.  It’s much better to do it in trekking shoes as if it rains the paths become like fast flowing rivers.   It’s also much easier and quicker to cross the rivers with your trekking shoes on.

2. Long trousers and long sleeved shirt

It’s hot but if you have cool trousers and shirt it’s much better than being attacked by mossies and sandflies!

3. Dry clothes

Take at least one entire change of clothes with you.  You will get wet.  Youcan’t avoid it crossing rivers and it’s more fun if you just wade in and don’t worry about it knowing you have a change.  Put your dry clothes in 2 bin liners to keep them dry.

4. Extra pair of shoes and socks

It’s so humid that when your trekking shoes get wet they take an age to dry.  It’s great to have another pair of shoes that you can wear in the evening with socks (again to keep the insects out!!)

5.  Mosquito repellent

If you have a good one, your response when asked about how the trek was will be “yeah the ruins were awesome” and not “there were a lot of mosquitos”!!!!

My new approach to repellents is to use the one they sell in the area I go to using the philosophy that this will work in that area.  For once, this approach worked in the Ciudad Perdida. I used “Nopikex” which is a mosquito soap.  Basically you have a shower and cover and fill everywhere with it and it creates a waxy layer on your skin and keeps the mosquitoes out.  This stuff works….I came away with a handful of bites from the trek and probably only in the areas I had missed when applying it.

6. 96% alcohol

I don’t leave home without this stuff these days. It’s great to keep cuts and grazes clean but also works as a disinfectant for bites and also curbs the itch of bites…I’ve spent over 20 years looking for something to curb itch and have tried antihistamines, vinegar, lemon, antiinflammotories, a hot bath, standing on my head…the only thing that works is this alcohol so if you do get bitten, it’s a godsend.

7. A good book or two good books and some cards

You have a lot of down time on the trek since you rise early to beat the sun meaning you sometimes arrive at camp in the early afternoon.  There are nice hammocks at camp and these are perfect for chilling out and catching up on reading. Cards are great if you have a fun group (I had a great group) to pass the evenings.

8. Water purification pills

The office told me we didn’t need these.  At the higher camps the guides said the water was fine to drink and when we asked for water they just gave us it out of the taps. I was fine with it but to be safe it’s probably better to have these with you so you can pop a few in.

9. Something warm for the evening

Our trip gave us blankets but if you do get really cold leggings and a fleece are a good idea as well.

I did have a great group to do the trek with.  There was beer and coca cola at each stop.  It certainly was not the hardest thing I have done in my life. Try trekking in Scotland where the wind is fierce and the rain horizontal.  And the indigenous people did not hate tourists.  They still wear their traditional dress of cream coloured sack clothing and lead a simple life pretty much away from civilisation and while quiet they did not show any signs of not liking tourists.

And lastly just use the mosquito soap and you certainly won’t be describing the trek as “there were a lot of mosquitos”..though one thing that someone said did ring true…”take care of your camera”..unfortunately during one of the river crossing I kinda fell in and got my mobile wet which is why there are no photos of the Lost City to accompany this blog..well I guess not everything others tell you is bad advice…

Some things I love about travelling by bus in Colombia….

14 Oct

1.  On the bus people will sit next to you even if there is a double seat free somewhere else. This is strange for me.  At home a double seat is the desired choice..anything else is not only disappointing but a bit annoying, after all having paid for a seat why should have someone sitting next to you…On a packed train from Glasgow to Airdrie once upon a time had to ask a girl to move her flowers from a seat to give me one…this would NOT happen in Colombia.

2. On the bus the person next to you will chat to you.  This is strange for me.  At home, should I be unlucky enough to have to share my double seat with another passenger it would then be super unlucky if we had to chat rather than avoiding eye contact and pretending to super concentrate on listening to music!!! In Colombia it’s completely different…you have like this thing called a “conversation” with the person next to you..even though you don’t know the person, it’s a public setting and you might not ever see them again…at home this sort of thing would be plain embarrassing…

3. On the bus those entering at stops along the way say “Buenos dias” to those on the bus.  At home should I be unlucky enough to have other passengers entering the bus thus decreasing my chance of a double seat the last thing that that would happen would be that we would welcome them on the bus….madness this….and again plain embarrassing at home…

4. The bus can stop pretty much anywhere….it doesn’t need to be a designated stop…so people can get on in the middle of nowhere and off as well..at home the bus is only allowed to stop at designated stops…anything other than a designated stop would, of course, be madness…even if the next bus is an hour away….and the drivers at home seem to get joy out of only stopping at designated stops…the drivers in Colombia seem to be able to find happiness in other ways…how strange rather than finding happiness in others’ pain?

5.  You can take whatever you like with you onto the bus even if it is packed full…this makes travel a pleasure even with 2 backpacks and a charango…

6. People don’t frown at you when you have loads of bags on the bus…instead they chat to you..ask you where you are from and where you are travelling to..and of course ask if you have a violin in the music case….

7. When people ask where you are going to, it’s to help you with directions to there…not to follow you and steal your stuff….

8. The driver’s wife can bring him a cool drink and lunch and he is allowed to stop and pick it up and say hi to his family….at home this would, of course, be illegal and the driver wouldn’t be allowed to drink out of a glass on a bus..after all that is seriously dangerous in a vehicle even when the vehicle is stationary.

And a few things I don’t like….

1. The night buses are totally freezing…am still trying to work out why this is…is it to keep the driver awake??? Everyone sits with huge blankets…and am sure my minus 8 sleeping bag could be put to good use in this setting…

2. In the night buses they play some kind of Colombia cumbia music the entire night…again am still trying to work out why this is…is it to keep the driver awake again?????

So, when travelling by bus in Colombia the good outweighs the bad…I love bus travel in Colombia….

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