Bogota reminded me a lot of Lima, my home town, both capital cities, grey during the winter, busy, fun, bustling with culture and with a deep passion for salsa. There are plenty of things that are very different, but for some reason these similarities made Bogota familiar to me.
It feels like we were in Colombia a lifetime ago, time expands and contracts more than ever lately. Regardless, the feeling that I had remains the same, much appreciation for the lovely people, the rich culture and how listening Colombians speak Spanish was like music to my ears.
Our good friend Janet from NY came to visit for one week, she was at the time the first person to come see us during the trip, and she brought a little bit of home closer to us. It was a week of exploring museums, churches, and restaurants, while splurging in an AirBnB, which felt like maximum luxury after months of vanning.
That first week in the city went by extremely fast. As it usually happens to us, we thought we’d stay only a few more days, but it was longer than that. We met our friend Sarita back in Nicaragua, she was getting bored there and ready to make a move, so there was a possibility of seeing her again somewhere in South America. Sooner than we even thought, there she was, living in Teusaquillo, a pretty chill neighborhood in the heart of the city. She offered us her garage to park but our van, being as big as it is, didn’t quite fit, so we parked outside her building.
She showed us another side of the city, a more local side. Sarita is the kind of person that makes friends everywhere she goes, fast too, she had become friends with some musicians from La 33, one of the most loved salsa bands in the city. Off we went to explore bars, music, artisanal beer joints, coffee shops, and as we did, our friendship grew stronger.
Luckily for us Salsa al Parque was happening while we were in town, this is a huge free salsa festival that lasts a whole weekend and it’s held every year in Parque Simon Bolivar. The love for salsa is something you can feel in the air, all kinds of people come to this(alcohol free)festival, young and old, friends, families, couples, wherever you look someone is dancing, it seems everyone knows how to dance salsa in Bogota, but not just dance, they kill it. It was impossible not to feel at home, I grew up watching my parents dancing salsa, all my family was very into it, inevitably it’s in my blood.
We were invited to a private concert that La 33 was playing at a very nice restaurant on the other side of town, and with that event we closed an amazing chapter on a high note in Bogota. It was sad to leave but what cheered us up a lot was getting the complete box set of La 33 as a gift from our good friends before departing. Go look them up in Spotify, you wont’ regret.
Vehicle import permit and visas were about to expire so we had to make our way out of the country. There were a few spots we couldn’t miss before leaving, one of them was El Valle de Cocora. Cocora was the name of a Quindío princess, it means star of water, and the valley was named after her. At 2000 meters over sea level, this cloud forest is home of the wax palm trees, famous for growing up to 60m tall. The green mountains surround the area where you can walk between the giants, which feels like being Alice in Wonderland for a moment.
Roads aren’t the best in Colombia, which made us keep the slow pace we are so fond of, as we cruised slowly through little towns it seemed right to stop in some rural areas, just to check them out or to spend a quiet night. That is how we found some hot springs by a river where we got stuck behind a truck loading potatoes on a one lane dirt road. It was not a bad time at all, and I mean it.
After kilometers of terrible roads full of pot holes and rain, we arrived to San Agustin. This town is best known for the archeological park that holds live size sculptures made of volcanic stones, aqueducts, and a very interesting museum explaining all the theories about the site. We documented all of these but lost it with the equipment that got taken from us later in Ecuador.
Regardless of the loss we still have some images of what we did while in the area. We parked the van at the most beautiful Hostel in town: Casa de Nelly. There we made plenty of new friends that we hope to see again one day, played chess, ate delicious home made bread, shared meals, learned new launguages and savor the last weeks we had left in this wonderful part of the world. Colombia made me feel like I was coming back home, there is a feeling that connects Peruvians and Colombians, something unsaid but well known. I wished for once I didn’t need the ocean in my life as much, only so I could live in the cloud forest somewhere deep in the mountains of this giant country I will miss the minute I leave.
There is a famous road heading toward the border with Ecuador called El Trampolín de la Muerte, we took it and found it was pretty scary but at the same time so scenic. Majestic views of green rolling mountains in front of us and vertical drops, were endless, some parts were so foggy we had to go super slow and pray there were no cars coming the other way.
We survived El Trampolín de la Muerte and kept going. It had to get really bad before it turned really good, but finally it did. The paved road took us to la Laguna de Cocha at sunset, with just a little time to see the beauty of the area before rushing to the border. It was a very quiet night by the lake, reminiscing of the three amazing months we had just spent in Colombia.
Apparently in Latin America it can always get more interesting, even with all we’ve seen. The roads never stop winding through Colombia but fearless men don’t care about those little details, and so we found this bus in front of us with men on top and holding to the back rack like is no big deal. Later on, I think it was Sunday, we passed through Mocoa where there was a beauty contest. The police were parading the contestants around town, while guarding them at the same time, festive, yet a bit strange scene which we witness from the van.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better we got to Las Lajas Sanctuary, our last stop officially, since we had exactly 24 hours to go across the border without overstaying our visas. This magnificent Gothic Cathedral was built in the canyon made by the Guáitara River, in 1916 and it took 33 years to finish it. Visiting the place during the day is impressive but at night is mind blowing, picture Disney’s light parade meets the Catholic church, the display of the changing lights is something I could never have expected. We walked around and tried to get a good look from every angle before heading back to the van for our last night in Colombia.