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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

San Gil and Baricharra

COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 13 November 2012 | Views [438]

Despite the night bus (P50 000) being reasonably comfortable we didn’t exactly arrive in San Gil bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  The night bus didn’t take us directly to our final destination and 10hrs after setting off we had to change at Bucaramanga.  We caught the 7am bus to San Gil terminal a further 2 ½ hours of travel.  We attempted to jump on a local bus into town but gave up and took a taxi instead.  We knew San Gil liked to bill itself as the adventure sports capital of Colombia so we were expecting somewhere quite big but not so busy and bustling.  We not sure if we stumbled upon another Monday holiday or what but everyone was boozing away and it was barely 9am!

We were way too tired to be wandering around pushing through the crowds so settled for the first place we looked at.  Santander Aleman Terrace Vista is a very pleasant place to stay and seemed nice and calm after the chaos of the streets.  It was a bit above our budget at P60 000 but the place has been very nicely furnished and decorated and the roof-top terrace is worth a few extra thousand pesos.  There was quite a lot of information available and the lad who booked us in had some English so we learned a bit more than we already knew.  The first thing that struck us was just how expensive all the activities are.  I know I’ve mentioned the high costs here in Colombia previously and the longer we spend here the more we realise that EVERYTHING is very dear.  Maybe for those landing from Northern America or Europe it seems good value but us who are used to Asian prices are finding it difficult.  http://www.hostelsantanderalemantv.com/

With just completing a tiring and quite long journey we decided not to do anything too ambitious so went for a wander round town.  They don’t have pubs or bars here but every little shop that sells drinks also sets up a couple of tables and chairs so patrons can sup and spend more.  It’s a great set up and a cheap way to have a drink but we couldn’t believe that every place was packed and the tables were laden with empties.  We’d heard that Colombians like a good fiesta but hadn’t anticipated that meaning celebrating getting up and out of bed each day!

We’d read you could do some day walks in a park near town so we went to check it out.  It turned out it was nothing more than a municipal park within the town limits and they had the cheek to charge P6000 entrance fee.  We splashed the cash, walked slowly along every path they have and still it didn’t take up an hour of our time!  To be fair it’s mainly natural vegetation and the river runs along one side so it is an oasis of calm away from the trucks and buses hurtling through town.  There were loads of birds chirping away and we spotted another squirrel; this one was bright red very much like those native to Britain.  We stood still to watch it when it decided to come and check us out.  First of all it had a little sniff of one of Steve’s boots then came to inspect mine.  The next thing I knew it had scampered up the back of my leg so it could investigate my rucksack!

We sat listening to the river rumbling by discussing all that San Gil had on offer but quickly came to the conclusion it was all far too expensive.  We’d thought there’d be some day hikes to do in the area similar to those we’d enjoyed in Salento but it appeared not.  Or if they are available everyone was keeping quiet about it.  We knew there were a couple of pretty villages in the area that were worth visiting so decided to go there the following day and move on again.  Despite having arrived only a couple of hours earlier, we headed back to the bus terminal to book our overnight tickets to Santa Marta; the jumping off point for the coast.  As we were walking along the road that follows the river we spied some huge green lizards that I think are a type of iguana.  They were very similar to the ones you commonly see as pets and magnificent specimens they were too.

By the time we were ready for a meal that evening everywhere was shut!  You know when things conspire making it difficult for you to warm to a place?!  An early bath was in order as we had a full day’s sight-seeing pencilled in before heading back to the terminal and climbing aboard yet another night bus.  Before reaching Colombia we knew our main focus would be the northern coastline but we’d not anticipated skipping across the country quite so quickly.

The local bus stand was conveniently situated virtually next door to our guesthouse and with the buses departing every half an hour to Barichara, we were soon on our way.  This is just a short 30min hop and costs P4000 for a lovely ride through the surrounding area.  The village itself is made up of white washed low slung cottages which, of course, are all centred around and radiating from the square and its church.  We’d been told there was a path, as well as the road, linking this village to and even smaller place called Guane, so went in search of the tourist information place.  Once again our attempts at remaining positive were being tested as they were digging up the streets – what is it about South America and their obsession with this?  We decided to navigate town by avoiding the dismantled streets but this left us with few options and we found ourselves skirting round Barichara. 

As luck would have it, this inadvertently led us straight to the tourist information office which is positioned over-looking a pretty valley.  Guess what?  It was shut!  However, it was also right next to the start of the path we were hoping to find.  Since you need a map to find a map I’ll let you know where the start of the walk is should you find yourself in this part of the world.  As you’re facing the church in the main square there’s a road on the right that goes straight up to another church; turn left in front of this second church and you’ll soon spot the track.

We could only hope the path would remain as obvious and as well sign-posted as the start and set off for the 2-hour stroll to Guane.  In fact the path was very easy to follow and very picturesque and peaceful along its entire route.  With having plenty of time on our hands we ambled along, stopped to look at birds, butterflies and lizards and reached the next village in well under 2 hours.  Guane, in our opinion, is much nicer than Barichara as it’s smaller, has a more rustic and real feel to it and the streets were intact.   It was quiet and peaceful to the point where no one could be bothered to open their cafes so we couldn’t find anywhere to grab a snack.  That’s not strictly true – a couple of places were open but the look of disbelief that service / action were going to be required made us about-turn.  We scavenged some picnic supplies from the local shop and sat in the pretty little square munching our over-priced purchases.  Oops – this was supposed to be a ‘positive thoughts’ only day!

To return to Barichara we had the choice of waiting a couple of hours for the bus or walking back down the path.  We invented a third option and chose to go down the road (almost devoid of traffic) to make it into a round trip.  Again we saw lots of birds and lovely views along the way and re-joined the path where it crosses the road not far from Barichara.  We picked our way through the road-works and back to the main square where we whiled away an hour with a yummy juice before hopping on the bus back to San Gil.  A good, easy walk in a lovely part of the country and a great way to fill a day while waiting for a night bus.


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