Bogotá

Bogotá is big. A city of over ten million people. Ten million!!! It’s a gritty working city, full of graffiti and certainly not known for its colonial charm. A trip up the Monserrate cable car for an overview of the metropolis provides a small clue as to the scale of the place, but never let it be said that we judge a book by its cover.  We’re here to give Bogotá a fair crack-of-the-whip and we find it a nice city to mooch about! Also, we’re here to do some gadget shopping. Hmmm… sounds expensive! Bogotá BlogBogotá blog

City Park-upsBogotá Blog

Cities are always a challenge for parking-up an overlanding vehicle. The bigger the truck, the harder it gets (surprising that, huh? 😊). Traffic volumes, lack of safe street parking and height restrictions to get into car-parks can make it a bit of a nightmare sometimes. In Buenos Aires, Santiago, Lima, Rio de Janeiro and Quito we found good, secure places right in the heart of the cities from which we could easily wander out.

Unfortunately, Bogotá isn’t quite so obliging. Here we have to park in the far suburbs of the city and transit into town with the commuters. Sounds awful, but actually the spot is by a pleasantly peaceful park with a nearby out-of-town shopping mall. The commuter bus system is remarkably clean and efficient, with a dedicated lane allowing us to be whisked past all the traffic into the heart of the city pronto. Just 40 minutes and we’re off the bus, keen for a bit of Bogotá action…

Graffitti

Street art, graffiti, de-facing or vandalism… I guess it depends on your point of view. But even if it’s not your ‘thing’, it’s hard to deny the talent of some of the artists decorating the streets of Bogotá today. We join a walking tour with a local artist to ‘get down with the kids’ and learn a bit about the ‘street art culture’.

After our impressively informative walking tour with Milo in Medellin, our expectations for this tour are probably unreasonably high; the guide isn’t as good as Milo. A rather idealistic, left-wing, anti-government young lady spends more time ranting about Colombia’s political problems than the street art we see before us. “Democracy doesn’t work in Colombia“ she declares on numerous occasions. Who knows? Maybe she’s right… but she’s not exactly brimming with ideas when asked what system she would like to see in place as an alternative. Nevertheless, the tour is an enjoyable couple of hours and the quality of some of the art work around the town is astonishing. We’ll let the pictures do the talking.

The great thing about Bogotá is that the street art is everywhere. It’s not restricted to some dodgy neighbourhoods where you need the close-armed protection of the local mafia to get you in and out of the zone. It’s in the tourist areas as well as the business districts. If you ride across town by bus, you’ll see oodles of it, of a greater or lesser quality, all across the city.

Pure Gold

There’s some high-end culture in Bogotá too. We’ve seen a lotta, lotta museums on our travels. Frankly, some of them are generously stretching the definition of the word. And many of them are just plain dull. But then there is the rare occurrence… just occasionally we come across a super-shiny world-class display, par excellence! Beautiful artefacts, imaginatively presented, reviving all faith in the curating profession. Exhibit ‘A’ to demonstrate this rare occurrence is the Bogotá Gold Museum. A morning well spent learning about the history, science and artistry of producing gold.

Policing Colombia

Pablo's Motorbike

Pablo’s Motorbike

It maybe something of an understatement to say that law and order has been a bit of a challenge for Colombian police in recent history. That said, we can honestly say that our experience of them has been nothing short of exemplary. They carry out routine road-stops professionally, with courtesy and good humour. Not once has there been any hint of arrogance or aggression, no bribery or corruption. Thoroughly nice chaps! So it’s fascinating to gain an insight into the policing at the Colombian Police Museum. Sure… it’s only the bit of the story that they want you to hear, but nevertheless, it’s interesting. Mateo, a young cadet is delegated the duty of showing us round the displays and tells us amusing stories passed down to him from the ‘old hands’ in The Force. The star exhibit is Pablo Escobar’s Harley Davidson, needless to say, it’s all very ‘bling’.

Steak-out

Way back down-south in Patagonia (seems like years ago… in fact it was pretty much exactly two years ago) we received sage advice from travellers coming down from the north that we should enjoy the good meat while we can. The steaks up-north just can’t match the fabulous parilladas of Argentina and Chile. And it’s true, of course. It’s a long time since we’ve had a really good steak in South America. The exception to said rule is the crazy steakhouse of Andrés Carne de Res. This whacky place has to be seen to be believed! It’s a huge venue outside of town, crammed full of weird memorabilia, life-sized crazy cows and random signage sprinkled with twinkly lights of every colour. The place is a Bogotá legend; one taste of their steak and it’s not hard to see why. The whole experience is unforgettable in more ways than one.

Salt Cellar

Salt Cathedral

Salt Mine Cathedral

What else can we mentioning about Bogotá? Ah yes…. the salt cathedral in Zipaquirá. Well, okay…. the sharp cookies amongst you may recall that we mentioned this in our last blog as we visited it on our way into Bogotá. But just for the sake of completeness, it can’t really be omitted from a Bogotá blog. A disused salt mine in the hills north of Bogotá has been converted into a stunning underground cathedral – one of only three in the world. The lighting is a bit kitsch in places and the underground parade of souvenir tat-sellers is extremely so, but hey… it’s not every day that you find a cathedral cut out of salt (in fact we’re told there are only three in the world and the other two are both in Poland). It’s still very much worth a spot on a Boogie-around-Bogotá itinerary.

Drone Swap

Remember the ‘gadget shopping’ bit in the introduction? Well… having carried out due-dilligence on the selection of drones available in Colombia, Marcus has decided that our old drone is no longer ‘up to scratch’ and is in need of an upgrade. Surprise, surprise, the preferred new drone (a Mavic Pro) just happens to be in stock in the Bogotá gadget store and Marcus just happens to have a certain ‘big’ birthday coming up soon! The mission to buy was therefore successful and soon afterwards, the mission to sell the old drone completed our time in Bogotá. Practice flights with the new drone are now underway. Stand-by for some footage from the new gadget in the near future… sometime 😊

Dropping in on Pablo

Hacienda Napoles

Pablo’s Place – Hacienda Napoles

Heading back to Medellin, the route just happens to run right past the gate of Pablo Escobar’s old ranch, Hacienda Napoles. Those familiar with the tv series Narcos, will recognise the scene from the opening sequence of the show. The actual house has long been demolished and the site has been turned into a theme park (complete with his menagerie of safari animals) that is very popular with locals. It’s the Saturday morning of a holiday weekend when we pass. The place is teeming with coach after coach-load of visitors, bussed out from Bogotá some 3 hours away. The crowds almost put us off stopping, but we can’t resist the photo opportunity of Cuthbert in front of the famous gateway.

So…. a few weeks ago, we left Medellin to do a roundabout exploratory tour through central Colombia. Now, mission accomplished, we’re back in Medellin eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Iveco spare parts that we ordered 6 weeks ago back in Cali (routine spare parts to prepare Cuthbert for the next leg of our trip up through Central America). Iveco Colombia is making all the right noises in the email communications (which is encouraging) but we don’t actually have the parts in our sticky-mits just yet. Keep your fingers crossed for us 😊

Bogotá Graffiti Gallery

Central Colombia

Help! We need an adequate superlative for Colombia. Bit unimaginative to say that it’s just the loveliest country… but trust me… it really is. After the friendliest welcome, countless scenic small towns, the finest coffee, the ancient history and the fascinating former drug-lands… we’re heading east and south a bit, on a very roundabout route through central Colombia to Bogotá.central colombia Continue reading

Medellin: Tale of a City

Milo is just 25 years old and extremely personable. At the age of 7 years old on his way to school, he saw his first dead body, lying riddled with bullets in the street of his neighbourhood. Eeishh… bit of a grim start to a travel blog, eh? Milo has much to tell us about growing up in the ‘90s in a drug-war-torn Medellin, but first let’s lighten things up and back-track a bit… Continue reading

Colombian Coffee Time

Got time for a coffee? These days we’re not short on time to sit around and swap stories with other overlanders over a coffee, so it’s rather cool to finally be here in the centre of the Colombian coffee universe. You know that Colombia’s big on coffee, right? Well, here in the Zona Cafetera they grow shed-loads of it. And many of the coffee haciendas don’t just do the coffee-crop, they do coffee-tourism too. Large-scale and small-scale producers take pride in both educating visitors and producing top-notch beans. We trotted along to a hacienda at each end of the spectrum to see them do their thing.Colombian Coffee tasting

Here’s ten little factoids Colombia’s Zona Cafetera has taught us about coffee:

Coffee tree

All the way from Arabia

1. Coffee’s not a South American thing.

It’s from Arabia! The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia and Yemen and was brought to South America by the colonisers in the 1700s. Only in the early 20th Century did Colombians get serious about big-time production and export.

2. There are only two main types of coffee bean in the world.

Almost all the coffee in the world is either the top-notch Arabica or the lower-grade Robusta. Would you fall off your perch to learn that the Robusta crop is more ‘robust’? (the clue is in the name 😊). It’s easier to grow, more resistant to disease and produces a higher yield. So why bother with the Arabica? Well… Arabica has half the caffeine content, better flavour and is more aromatic. Hmmm… Arabica gets my vote!

3. Colombia’s coffee was blighted when the Borer Beetle came to town.

Colombia is now third in the world, trailing just a little behind Vietnam and a long way behind Brazil, but it is still the largest producer of Arabica. The 1980s were Colombia’s coffee hey-day when it was second only to Brazil. In the late ‘80s the dratted Coffee Borer Beetle joined the party and devastated the industry; Colombia lost a chunk of its global market-share to young up-start Asian rivals.

4. The coffee plant bears a ‘cherry’ with a ‘pit’.

On the plant, the coffee fruit forms from a pretty white flower. The whole coffee fruit is called the ‘cherry’ and the internal ‘pit’ is the bean bit that gets roasted, ground and brewed. Around the pit is a tasty sweet layer of fruit and an outer skin.

5. Honey can be made from coffee.

Who knew???  The sweet fruity layer of the coffee ‘cherry’ can be processed into a yummy honey. Unfortunately, the process is too pricey to be economically viable so don’t bother searching for it in Waitrose.

Making coffee, Colombian style

6. Coffee harvesting continues all year.

End of October starts the main harvest when seasonal workers from all over Colombia flock to pick beans. Problem is… the individual beans don’t all ripen at the same time, so the large producers harvest on a smaller scale with permanent staff all year round.

7. The ‘Torrefacto’ Factor.

You might want to look out for the term ‘Torrefacto’ or ‘Torrefaction’ on your coffee label. It means the bean has been coated with sugar in the final roasting stage. The bean gets a nice super-glossy finish and it can add up to 20% to the bean’s final weight. It seems the arguable effects are that it adds: a) more carcinogens (bad thing); and b) more anti-oxidants (good thing) to the end-bean. The unarguable effect is that it adds hidden sugar to your diet, affects the taste, and there could be up to 20% less real coffee in your pot. Apparently, some like it. To me it doesn’t sound much like a great thing, but then what do I know? 😉

Anti-clockwise from bottom right: ‘green’, light roasted, medium roasted, dark roasted.

8. Coffee beans are normally exported ‘green’.

The beans aren’t usually roasted until they reach the destination country. This is partly to avoid the tax-man, but also because different markets have tastes for different strengths of roast; and because the flavour deterioration starts after roasting.

9. Colombians aren’t great coffee aficionados.

A small quantity of the best stuff is kept for local consumption by the gurus in the coffee region. The rest of Colombia gets the low-quality beans (in fact they often drink a yukky instant) and most of the good stuff is exported. Producers told us they want to keep more of their high-quality beans to develop a local/internal market, but they’re under pressure to sell it all to the National Federation of Coffee Growers for bulk export.

10. There’s a picker shortage.

The future of Colombian coffee is under threat from a lack of picking-bods. In peak season, a picker does 11 hours per day. They use both arms alternately to pull beans from the branches in an action not dissimilar to milking a cow. It’s labour intensive and can’t be mechanised due to the different ripening stage of each bean. We had a go at the coffee-picking lark… it’s not easy work. Not surprisingly, today’s young Colombians aspire to things greater than coffee picking, which leaves the farms wondering where they’ll get their pickers in 10 years’ time.

So there you go. Something to ponder on next time you pick up your mocha-spiced-flat-white-caramel-macchiato-latte from Starbucks 😊.

Link to next blog: Medellin: Tale of a City      Link to full South America Blog

 

Colombian  Coffee – Photo Gallery

Cool Colombia

Hope we’re not tempting fate…. but after three weeks, cool Colombia ’s already looking hot-favourite for Cuthbert’s ‘Top Spot – South America’ Award. In the last blog we joked about Colombia’s notoriety for drugs barons and banditos. In truth, the threat to tourists from such characters is now very much history. Beautiful, clean, lots to see and do, outstanding value for money, exceptionally friendly and with a kind of chilled-out vibe that’s difficult to quite put your finger on. We’re continuing north now for some ancient tombs, a photo-dilemma and (yet another) visit to Iveco. The bar has been set high for Colombia so far… let’s see if we can find any points to knock it back along the way!
Cool colombia Continue reading

Colombia: Drugs Barons and Banditos?

Drugs barons and banditos are what Colombia is famous for, but we don’t spot any obviously suspicious candidates in the immediate vicinity of the border. Maybe they’re all further up-country? We’ll keep our eyes open for them as we head north. On our way, our Colombia travel blog takes-in the odd mysterious monument, cactus desert, crater lake, death-road and a jaw-droppingly beautiful religious sanctuary.

San Agustin Continue reading

Ecuador Equator: Hummingbirds and Fiestas

Quito’s not a bad place as far as capital cities go. We wouldn’t ordinarily choose to spend ten days there, but we’re on an admin-mission here. Missions accomplished, we head north towards Colombia, with a few detours hovering around the Ecuador Equator: a misplaced monument, some little and large birdies, a great-fiesta-escape, some hats, and (another) volcano.
Volcan Cayambe Continue reading

Ecuador Volcanos: Just a Puff of Smoke?

Ecuador has its fair share of volcanos and an even greater share of active ones. In our last blog, we saw Chimborazo and Tungurahua. Now we’re moving on to the hyperactive Volcán Reventador. On the way, we see some jungle critters, spot a rare bird, walk to some pretty cool waterfalls (yes… more waterfalls) and end up with Uncle Sam’s ‘Man in Quito’.
Ecuador volcanos Continue reading

Closest to the Moon

Physically speaking, we’re doing some ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ in Ecuador. We enter from Peru across miles and miles of banana low-land. Then we climb up-high. We get lots of cheese and chocolate, and spend a night closest to the moon. After that, we do a quick swing off a cliff (as you do) then it’s back down-low on the other side of the Andes, to the Amazon (again!).

Swing at the end of the world Continue reading

Far-west with Whales

North coast Peru travel doesn’t showcase the best of north Peru for the tourist; much more excitement on the Andean route. Loads to see there. But we got that tick last year and boy, is it a sloooow way to go! So this time, after arriving in south Peru from Brazil, crossing all the way over the central highlands from the Amazon to Lima, we’re winding-up Peru with a long run up the coast to Ecuador. We’ve done this leg before, but this time we see some history, watch some whales, hit the far-west and have a ‘ponder on Peru’ as we leave it for the last time. Continue reading

Story Boxes… the big update!

So we’ve been a bit slack on the blog updates recently…. not our fault… we blame the location really! You see, it’s all down to this fab beach-camp.  We’ve been doing a bit of pottering about, cleaning and maintenance on Cuthbert, generally ‘chilling out’ (as we believe the kids say these days)  and… Oh yes…. doing a bit of whale watching – more on this in the next blog coming soon (promise!).  Anyway… we’ve managed to fit in a bit of fancy-pants web-site stuff. Check out these travel blog stories…

Click on the link for our new ‘Story Boxes’ Page. This pulls together lots of our favourite and the most ‘Liked’ stories and posts of our three and a half years on the road so far, across Africa and South America. There might be a slight formatting/display issue on some mobile devices… we’ll see if we can work on that. Let us know if you have any problems with it and what you think.

travel blog stories

 

 

 

Peru: Battles and Mines

So is it all Incas and llamas in Peru? Well, okay… there are quite a lot of Inca sites and there are quite a few wandering llamas. But there’s other stuff too…. Honest! For our third entry to Peru, we crossed the Brazilian Amazon into the (rather similar looking) south Peruvian Amazon. Now we head up to the Andes, Peru’s central highlands, for a long-awaited dose of cool, crisp mountain air. On the way we see battlefields, industrial heritage, some lakey-scenery and just the odd llama by an Inca ruin!
Peru travel blog: Santa Barbara Mine Huancavelica Continue reading

Amazon-ing Overlanding

The Amazon: awesome, exciting, wildlife, adventure, river eco-zone? Or hot, humid, over-bearing, mud-ridden, insect-infested swamp? The Amazon jungle has been all of these things to us (and more) over the last few months. With highs and lows. Most recently we cut diagonally across the Amazon overland driving the BR-319 mud road. As we now leave Brazil and the Amazon for the last time on this trip, heading west again into the Peruvian Andes, we’ve taken a quick scan back over this sometimes challenging but rewarding overlanding route.Amazon overland Continue reading

Driving the BR-319 (with free pants and a soup tin)

The BR-319 is one of Brazil’s most notorious routes, a mud-road cutting diagonally across the centre of the Amazon rainforest. After our dolphin swim and tourist-time in the city of Manaus, it’s time for a bit of ‘proper’ overlanding. On one of the most remote tracks in South America, we get some free pants and find a novel use for a Campbell’s soup tin!
BR-319 Continue reading

Manaus and the Venezuela Option

We’re back in Brazil. Friendliest country in South America, maybe even on the planet! French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana have been a fascinating, enjoyable de-tour and one that relatively few travellers make when overlanding South America. But Brazil puts them all in the shade when it comes to enthusiastic welcomes. Even when we can’t understand a word they say, Brazilians say it with a big smile and a thumbs-up! Now we’re in far north Brazil wondering what to do next…

Manaus Opera Houses

Manaus Opera House – challenging those fancy Europeans!

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Guyana: Rupununi

Every now and then, overlanding travel throws up not just a gem, but a surprising gem. A kind of “Well! Who knew???” moment. In south Guyana we have such a moment. After the minor disaster that was our short-lived attempt to reach Kaieteur, in the Guyana Rupununi we’re surprised to find compensation in spades: the beauty of the savannahs and the little visited Amerindian petroglyphs.

Rupununi blog Continue reading

Guyana: Tolls and TV Stardom

Driving into a new country you inevitably find yourself comparing it to the one you have just left. What’s different? What’s the same? Is the food (or more importantly, the beer) any better or worse? We really enjoyed our time in Suriname with the drone and the jungle kids, now in our north Guyana blog we find: (i) TV stardom, and (ii) a very expensive car ferry.
Guyana blog Continue reading

So… Suriname!

Suriname, Suriname… where exactly is that? Near Vietnam? Nope. Next door to Ghana? Errr, no. It’s on the north coast of South America, above Brazil, snuggled comfortably between French Guiana and Guyana. It’s in the northern Amazon basin, so it’s hot, humid and – at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious – jungly!  We’ve been here a month now and one of our highlights has been entertaining jungle kids with their first ever drone sighting (click here). But Suriname has some history, great wildlife and other stuff to see too, including some interesting ‘bird-cage culture’. Here’s the Suriname travel blog…

So... Suriname Paramaribo Continue reading

Suriname: 21st Century Jungle

Suriname has rather a lot of jungle. In fact, it’s pretty much all they’ve got here. Best we take a peek then. Last blog we had the thrill of a live rocket launch in French Guiana, now we see the jungle kids’ thrill of seeing their first drone! We’re heading far in-land, well beyond where Cuthbert our camp-truck can take us. Here’s the story in our Suriname jungle blog …
Suriname jungle blog - critters you find on the ground Continue reading