Friday, May 31, 2013

Bogota

After leaving the desert, Marlynn, Taylor and I arrived back in Neiva's bus terminal. Wow, you should have seen all the bus touts trying to get us onto their respective buses. We didn't have to negotiate anything! Anyway, we weren't ready to leave knowing we had a good six hour or so bus ride ahead of us, so we went looking for some lunch. Now, pretty much everywhere offers the same thing here. Seriously, we stopped along the way in town that seemed to only have bakeries. I'm not joking. That's it. Just bakery after bakery down both sides of the road. I'm not really sure if entrepreneurialism exists here when they all just seem to copy each other. Or as another example, you see eight guys on a street corner all selling oranges. Anyway, amidst all the 'same' lunch places, one lady was calling out "vegetarian". She obviously saw three skinny Gringas and figured at least one of us would be. She was right. And it was proper vegetarian too, none of this trying to pass off chicken or fish as vego. My point is, offer something different. It works!

So after lunch we then went to find a bus. I wanted to go on the nice Bolivariano bus (Colombia's best buses) but the other girls didn't see it and instead we 'saved' $2000 COP (like a dollar) to take a shit bus.



For some reason, this bus appeared to have smaller seats, so everyone was all up in everyone else's space. And it was so hot and not air conditioned, which made it worse. Also, I don't understand why, but the guy in front of me was sitting there wearing a leather jacket and a scarf. Freak.

While we were waiting for the bus to fill up, I saw a guy on the bus next to us with a chicken in a sack. While he was waiting for that bus to fill up, he put his chicken on a lead and was giving it some water and letting it walk around outside the bus. Hmm, not seen that before but I guess the term 'chicken bus' came from somewhere.

Then the stalker came on board. Of course he sat next to me and wanted to put his bag and umbrella in my foot space. I firmly said no and gave him a look. I was definitely not sharing the little space I had with his crap. He should have put his bag under the bus with the rest of the luggage. Anyway, off we finally go. Then about five minutes later we stop for petrol. I don't get that. Why can't these crappy buses fill up before they leave the station? It's so annoying. Then we stop again so the money dude can get a drink.

Then stalker guy strikes up a conversation with me. Most of what he said I couldn't understand. But then he gave me his name and number. Handy for the police. I wanted him to stop talking cos he's just asking me questions like where I'm staying in Bogota etc. so I put my headphones in. Now everyone knows this is the universal sign for "don't talk to me". Not stalker guy though. He continuously taps me on the shoulder randomly throughout the whole journey to ask me shit. So then I had to pretend to be asleep. Fuck!

At one of the many, many unnecessary stops, the driver gets out with a hammer and starts hammering something near the back wheel. I think to myself, this can't be good. Then when we get to the freeway near Bogota we start going really slow, when we should be able to speed up. Then our bus broke down on the outskirts of Bogota. By this stage our six hour journey had turned into something like nine hours. Thankfully some empty bus went past and stopped and we all got on that. Of course stalker guy was trying to sit next me again (even though this was a much bigger bus with loads more seats). I had to quickly put all our bags on the one next to me so he couldn't sit there. Then he sat directly behind us, still trying to talk to me. By this point I was thinking I was really was going to have to find the coppers in the bus station when we arrived so I could ditch him, but thankfully he got off the bus before we did.

At the bus station, Marlynn and I said goodbye to Taylor and headed off to a hostel we wanted to stay in. Of course it had moved and we didn't know. So the taxi dumps us in the street at 10pm and we have no hostel. Some girls seeing us looking bewildered, told us not to walk to the new address (a few blocks over) cos it was too dangerous. Anyway, there was a hotel next to the old hostel and we ended up staying there, in a crap room, for a high price. But at least we were safe and inside now.

The next morning we went on a walk to find a cheaper hostel and checked in. It was much nicer. Then we walked around.

This is the main square (Bolivar Square). Lots of bad historical shit has gone down here.





Everything in Bogota is covered in graffiti. So much so, that you can even do a tour. Although I didn't find out about this until after I left.





I asked the hostel guy about the graffiti and he said they used to clean it all off, but there are regular demonstrations in the city, and every time there is one, everything gets re-graffitied. Now they just leave it cos it's too expensive to keep removing. Makes sense, but not ideal for attracting tourists to your city I think.

Some parts of the city centre seemed ok.










Then we found the bargain shopping street, which was kinda cool just cos it was so busy.


I think this is the around the Presidential Palace. Cars aren't allowed down there and the army/ police search your bags before they let you through.



Some dude told us not to walk down here. But we did anyway since there were women and children about. Night time would obviously be a different story. 




There was something musical going on around the Presidential Palace when we walked back. It was cool.
  



Later, we went for a walk to find an ATM. One of the streets was closed off to traffic, which was replaced by pedestrians and street performers. Some guy had a bunch of guinea pigs and you could bet on which 'house' they would run into. 



I am curious how he got them all to line up and stay there for so long (like several minutes while he rambled on). I bet it was not through any cruelty free methods. Also, what is with this city and poorly treated animals? I also saw a guy carrying a puppy in a sack and he beat it with a stick for no apparent reason. Animal cruelty seems like another reason to hate this city. And it's got shit weather.

But I do like this building. It does cool things with lights at night.



The next day I walked up Monserrate, which is this hill:



I was going to take the funicular but it was Mother's Day and the line was super long. I figured it would be just as quick to walk. It took me about 40 minutes. It was hard after the first 1km, because then you get to altitude.

Once again, I saw a lot of inappropriate footwear for climbing:



Here is Bogota from the top:




There is a big Jesus here but I couldn't work out how to get to that. And given the overall dodginess of this city I didn't want to just wander around and hope for the best.



After I descended, I found a veggie restaurant in the centre of town. While Bogota does have a decent number of veggie restaurants, including an impressive six vegan restaurants, none of them are particularly central. Additionally, this place sold the veggie patties and sausages they use to the public, which is a first for me in South America. I was pretty excited. In fact, this 'find' is probably my highlight of Bogota.



After lunch I went to the Museo del Oro and because it was Sunday, entry was free. Hooray! There was some cool stuff in there obviously.





And they had erotic pottery, which still amuses me to no end.



Hmm, a dude straddling a giant penis. That's not gay at all. Those crazy Incas.

What I liked most about this museum is that you basically got to walk around inside a giant safe.



This is the park outside the museum. I thought it looked quite nice at first glance, until I noticed all the homeless people living there. Then the piss smell kicked in. Suddenly, it didn't feel so nice. Or safe.



The next day I got out of Bogota and went to the Salt Cathedral. On weekends and public holidays there is a tourist train that goes the 70km or whatever to Zipaquira. So I got up early and worked out how to use Bogota's amazingly complicated bus metro system to get to the train station. I thought I had 15 mins to spare, but what I didn't realise was that my watch had slowed and the train left as I got there. Bugger. However, this is no French TGV averaging 200 km/hour. So I had time to get a taxi to the next station in the north of the city AND wander around the shopping centre across the road to buy some food, before it arrived.



I like that they had bands playing on the train. Everyone except me knew all the words and sung along, really getting into it.



Here's the entrance to the cathedral in the old mine.



There are a bunch of crosses and Jesus' story.








 Err, who is Veronica?



Scary Doctor Who angels.




Salt.




It was good. I liked the salt cathedral. Plus I like going inside mines.

That's not a mining truck.




This is a mining truck! (from my archives: Orange NSW, circa 2007).



And that was it. The next day I left the graffitied, unsafe, piss smelling shithole that is Bogota to go to the lovely town of Salento in the coffee region. Ahh. Much better.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Desierto de la Tatacoa

After San Agustin, Marlynn and I headed to Desierto de la Tatacoa. We left in the morning but like most bus trips over here, this took most of the day because Colombia has such shit roads. Although the government is obviously spending a lot of money on improving them cos roadworks are occurring everywhere, which is good.


Also, I don’t know why, but we passed A LOT many fuel trucks between Pitalito and Neiva (the main city). Like, there must have been 100 or so. And everyone here is such a shit driver it just made it even more dangerous. When trucks have a sign saying "keep a safe distance" I think they mean more than 30cm. I'm also pretty sure 'safety' includes not playing chicken with fuel trucks coming in the other direction and not overtaking them on windy roads with double lines. I have no idea why they are moving so much fuel about by road, but they could definitely do with a pipeline. 

Anyway, after getting to Neiva, we then had to get to the desert. The closest town is Villavieja so at the bus station in Neiva we found a ute going there. As I've discovered in Colombia, most vehicles don’t leave at the advertised time (even though they tell you they do). In fact most of them in an effort to get your money say there’s a bus leaving “right now”. This is usually a lie unless you do actually buy the last remaining seat. So, this ute needed five people to leave. It had two – me and Marlynn. Since we are now wise to this Colombian transport game, we put our bags on the top of the ute and told the guy we were going to get some lunch. We figured if enough people showed up, he would just have to ask where the two Gringas went, and everyone would point him to the juice bar. Interestingly the fruit salad (while good and cheap) came topped with ice cream and cheese. 

Marlynn's "what the???" expression pretty much sums it up.


I asked for mine with just fruit.

After our delicious but slightly strange lunch we headed back to the ute which now also had two guys, about 75 eggs and a sack of potatoes in the back. So off we went. For about five minutes. Then we stopped at the side of a busy road somewhere in the city and waited another 15 minutes. Then as we were about to leave again another four people got into the cab in the front. The trip took about an hour. Along the way, the ute stopped and we dropped off the food. This is an interesting thing that happens over here. You’ll be driving along in a bus (or ute) and suddenly it will stop on the side of the road somewhere and someone will be waiting for their sack of whatever. Or alternatively they will hand something to the driver's helper (there’s usually another dude who collects the money). Then two minutes later you’re on the road again. It’s really strange, and yet an interesting local delivery service. It's also no wonder it takes bloody ages to get anywhere when you're stopping all the time. Express is not a word Colombian transport companies appear to be familiar with.

Anyway, after being in the back of a ute for about 1.5 hours we arrived in the desert at about 4.30pm. The temperature was so nice and warm compared to some of the more variable weather I’ve been experiencing in the mountains recently. Perfect beer weather and 4.30 in the afternoon is definitely an appropriate time. 

Our hotel:


If you wanted to be cheap, you could sleep in a hammock instead of in a room and there were three European guys there doing that already. Marlynn joined them in the hammock area. I took a room. I like cheap but I also like beds. Then, while we were enjoying a cold beer, our friend Taylor (not Swift) from yesterday turned up. Hooray!

In the evening, Marlynn, Taylor, the hot Portuguese guy and I went to the observatory. This is one of the two things to do here, and definitely worth it even if you're not a nerd. You can see constellations from both hemispheres in clear skies with no light pollution. There are three big telescopes and the astronomer professor knows where everything is by looking up, then finding it on the telescopes. The best thing was seeing Saturn. It looked exactly like this but imagine seeing it for real through a telescope.


You could totally see the rings and everything. I can't even describe how cool it was.

He also found Jupiter. You could clearly see the gases around the edges and I think, its moons. There were definitely some things around it, like in this photo:


Again, amazing. Seriously, you could see all the details of both planets. He also pointed the telescopes at a bunch of stars, which obviously look very different up close, but I don’t know what they were.

As I mentioned, you can see stars in both hemispheres. So you see the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper. There is also this arrow constellation which points to the northern hemisphere. I'd never seen that before so I'm not sure it's visible from Oz. He gave a whole lecture the constellations, and pointed things out with some cool super strong laser that could probably bring down planes. The lecture was all in Spanish, so I only understood some of it, but it was definitely one of the best things I’ve done over here.

Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel. Now we were only staying about 200m away so you think this would be a relatively easy task. But there are no lights so this was a bit more challenging than expected. It didn't help that our hotel ran on solar electricity so it was not lit up like a Christmas tree making it difficult to spot. Luckily I had brought my torch with me so this made not tripping over on rocks along the dirt road easier.

When we arrived back at the hotel, the night critters were out. This guy was on the toilet wall:


There was also a big spider in my room, but I tried to convince myself that we are in their home now. Plus having no lights meant I couldn't see where anything was anyway. Ignorance is bliss.

The next morning, Marlynn, Taylor and I did a tour of the desert. The guy was supposed to drive us around in his mototaxi, but it broke down and he had to borrow one and then share the money with this guy.


The scenery was stunning.


 







It's also very green since it had been raining recently. I have found out that in my attempt to avoid the southern hemisphere winter by heading north, I have been tracking the mini wet season up through Ecuador into Colombia. Explains why I walk around in the mud so much!

Then we got to the grey dirt, which apparently has more water in it, which is why it's grey.




Then we got to a bit that is supposed to look like various animal formations. I can't see any. It just looks like more dirt and desert to me.




Maybe you need some hallucinogenic Guatemalan peppers, like Homer ate before he saw a bunch of shit in the desert:


Also, how good am I at making Simpson's references in my blog?

So, after not seeing the animals, we continued on to the next bit, which was some really soft clay and we had to take our shoes off.





This was really nice to walk in, but cos I never walk barefoot at home, as soon as we off the clay, I found it hurt a lot. Marlynn and Taylor laughed at me so I had to justify my wussiness with all the things that can bite you if you walk around barefoot at home. That did the trick. Everyone knows Australia is one big death trap!

This bit is the valley of ghosts or something, cos they all look like ghosts:

 



Then we got to a pool. The water was lovely.


Pity I was too stupid to bring my togs. Fail.

Then we headed back to the hostel to get our stuff and tow the guide's mototaxi back to Villavieja.



Here's some photos of the ride back between the desert and Villavieja.



So that was the desert. It was an amazing experience in a truly beautiful place. Although there is not a lot to do there once you've done the observatory and the tour, it is so worth visiting. I absolutely loved it.

Next stop: Bogota - South America's shittest capital city including the worst bus ride so far.