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San Gil

COLOMBIA | Monday, 8 January 2018 | Views [407]

Whew! 14-hour bus ride complete; it was now time to explore Colombia’s adventure capital of San Gil. For such a small town of only about 50,000 people, there are numerous things to do: paragliding, rafting, mountain biking, bungee jumping and little days trips to surrounding towns. Oh yeah, I also rang in the new year here too! I spent five days here, the longest stay of anywhere on my trip yet, and while I didn’t do everything, I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I stayed at a great hostel right on the main square from which we could watch the people, the Xmas lights and the fireworks from the third floor balcony.

The first activity on the agenda was rafting Rio Suarez, an hour and a half trip with Class IV plus rapids on New Year’s Eve. The sun was hot, the water refreshingly cool and our six-person crew ready to go. There were two other boats, and I’m happy to report, that our boat was not the worst. Nobody fell out the entire time even though we had a couple first timers who refused to sit up front. That’s ok, more for me! Speaking of that other boat though...the first rapid they went through less than 30 seconds after starting, two people fell out. There was one instructor in a kayak who was quite busy throughout the run. Among his saves included a couple people, one paddle and a shoe. Tip that man!

The rafting was exhilarating; I sat in the front the whole time, constantly getting splashed in the face with water as we dropped down through rapids and paddled vigorously at times throughout the run avoiding big rocks, whirlpools and probably some other rafting dangers of which I don’t know the terms. There was one Class V rapid and I don’t know what the hell happened, but after we passed through it, I turned around to find our guide on his ass the middle of the boat. After watching the Go Pro video, turns out the drop was so big, he lost his balance and fell right on top of one of the people in the middle. Amazing. There were also a few calm parts in the river where we jumped out of the boat and just floated down, peaceful as could be. A couple guys, more adventurous than me, even went through a small rapid on their backs feet first. One of them wasn’t even wearing shoes. Frickin’ crazy Kiwi!

Everyone survived and we got to celebrate by maxing out on a lunch of chicken, yuca, potatoes, fresh fruit and a local treat of cheese with guava paste. Not too shabby. This was all a precursor of course to celebrating new years. So on the way back from the river, we stopped at the grocery store to stock up on booze so we could get good and liquored up on the balcony before going out. I got my first taste of aguardiente and we also found some surprisingly decent sparkling wine, which passed the first test, no one went blind! Aguardiente is similar to ouzo in that it’s a liquor with a licorice or anise flavor. I happen to like it, but I know it’s not for everyone. Better drink it chilled, warm would be a little rough to say the least.

Our night consisted of playing musical Jeopardy with a Spotify playlist and pre-selected categories and card games while waiting for midnight to approach. When the clock struck 12, we popped open our bottles of bubbly and headed to the one bar/club in town, which truly is a gem. It’s part bar, part food court and like all good places, part gas station. I think we got there around 1 AM and joined the mix of other travelers and locals. I’m not sure how a I was able to do it, but I was there until the place closed at 5 AM. I lost my hostel friends at some point, but shared a cab back with a local guy and a girl from Chile that I befriended. We made him sit in front!

New Year’s Day was rainy, which could not have been better. I worked off my first true hangover of the trip and took it easy. Beyond a couple day trips to small towns in the area to go swimming in a river with natural pools (Curiti) and to see a gorgeous colonial town with white-washed stone houses adjacent to valley (Barichara) the other big activity I did in San Gil was paragliding. I had never done it before, but apparently the Chicamocha Canon, an hour outside of town is perfect for it, a little too perfect on the day we went. The thermals were so good that day, making it very easy to take off, but difficult to land.

The process is pretty simple. You get strapped in, and then start running toward the edge of the cliff until you don’t feel your feet on the ground anymore. No jumping required, just run and let mother nature do the rest. Once you’re up, you just sit back, practice speaking Spanish with the guide and enjoy the views of the valley, which are absolutely stunning. The valley was covered in sunlight with a few puffy clouds in the distance. Apparently sometimes you are even able to fly into the clouds if the conditions are just right; however, I think we had too good of weather for that unfortunately. My trip was 40 minutes, but other people’s times varied quite a bit. A few of the girls in our group who weighed less had trouble landing and were up for over an hour. The flight is supposed to be only 30 minutes. One of them got sick in the air from all the twists and turns. Pobre cita!

After I landed, there were still quite a lot of people that had to go, but after waiting another hour or so we were ready to go; tired, sunburnt and hungry. The whole experience was so amazing. The only downside was that we got so much time in the air, that we missed all the delicious lunch specials once we got back into town. Que triste! San Gil was great. I really enjoyed being in one place for more than two or three days. Got to meet and hang out with some great people and did not have to pack up quickly. That bliss was short lived as I have since taken another night bus to Bogota where I spent only two nights before flying to Buenos Aires.

I’m not going to write much about Bogota. For it being the capital of Colombia and having eight million people, the tourist stuff is a little limited. I did a free walking tour hitting all the major destinations in the historic city center, hiked to the top of Cerro Monserrate to get a panoramic view of the city (which went on forever), tried the interesting combination of hot chocolate with cheese and bread (pretty good actually) and went to bar/club with the hostel gang. I’d say two or three days is probably enough there for those wanting to go to Colombia, and if you don’t want to go by now, something is definitely wrong with you!!

Next up, a change in the itinerary and onto Argentina...


Tags: new years, paragliding, rafting

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