I stopped planning my every move about a week into my trip and started moving through places faster than I thought I would. This meant I had seen everything I’d wanted to in 2.5 weeks and I suddenly had so much extra time in Colombia. I woke up the morning of Thursday, April 13 having no clue where I was going next. After a few hours of reading blogs and Lonely Planet guides, my friend Adrien and I booked flights to San Gil in the Santander region (known as the adventure capital of Colombia) for the next day. It turned out to be a very long day of traveling, complete with flight delays (boarding and then deplaning to wait for the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen to pass), incredible mountain views from the bus ride on windy roads, and traffic jams for goats crossing. We got there on Friday of Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week), an extremely important holiday for Colombians and a very busy weekend for traveling. For days people had been warning us to book things in advance but it’s hard to do when you don’t know where you’re going to be. Because of that and our last minute planning, the only hostel available was the crappiest place I’ve ever seen. C’est la vie!
The first thing we did when we got off the bus was try hormigas culonas – literally translated to big ass ants! These huge bugs are toasted up and served as a local delicacy. They were surprisingly good!
Our first stop the next day was the local market for some fruit before heading out on some adventures. I’ve never seen larger produce in my life! The green fruit on the right below is called guanabana. The English translation is soursop, so unfortunately I have no idea what it is, but when blended with milk and sugar it makes for a delicious morning treat, one of my favorites in Colombia!
While Adrien did some extreme white water rafting, I walked a part of the Camino Real, a path connecting a few colonial towns near San Gil. I was the only gringa on the bus to Cabrera where the Camino starts. I was told the bus would leave at 9am and be a quick 45 minute ride. After an hour of multiple stops within a few blocks of the bus station to wait for fellow passengers to buy their groceries from various markets, we finally started down the dirt road to Cabrera. Along the way we dropped off people at their farms, groceries at people’s houses, and even some beers to a farmer at his…roadside bar? We arrived 2 hours after I got on the bus. This is Colombia – where no one has an accurate sense of how long anything is going to take.
The Camino was so beautiful and I saw almost no one on the path the whole day. It was very similar to El Camino de Santiago, which I walked in Spain during Semana Santa exactly a year before. I hiked up a boulder filled mountain, walked through farms, crossed busy highways, and of course passed through the beautiful towns of Cabrera, Baricharra, and Guane. I stopped for lunch at a cute cafe where the waitress sat me at a table with 3 French girls. They were happy to have me join them but it was certainly bizarre to be sat with them without consulting them first. The hike itself was relatively easy despite the heat and I finished in 5 hours. It was actually nice to spend the day on my own doing something I love so much. On the bus ride back, two young nuns prayed and sang hymns all the way to San Gil which was a nice reminder that it was Easter weekend in a very religious country.
That night we were headed to The Lost Inn, a hostel up a steep dirt road where no taxis wanted to drive. After multiple failed attempts to convince someone to drive us, a police officer who had been directing traffic left his post to help us (meanwhile traffic continued to move as it had when he was standing in the middle of the intersection, so I’m not sure why he was there in the first place). He helped us call the hostel who sent their friend in his pickup truck to get us, and while we waited we hung out with him and his police friends who were very convinced that I’m more free in Colombia than I am in the US. It’s an interesting point to think about, and I wish I could’ve picked their brains more on the topic.
The next day we planned to go to a hostel in the mountains that offered rock climbing and yoga but we didn’t realize it would take us 5 hours to get there. We were told we might have to hitchhike some of the way since it was Easter and buses ran less frequently. That wasn’t so appealing but luckily we had only made an email confirmation and were able to cancel it without a penalty. Another instance where having no plan would’ve been better. So at the last minute (literally as we were about to put our bags in a taxi) we decided to go on a day trip with a group leaving less than an hour later for zip lining, canyoning (rappelling down waterfalls), and cliff jumping. I’m quite afraid of heights but since this was so spontaneous I was basically in a harness being told to jump before I had time to think about what I was doing. Like most fear-inducing experiences I was really glad I did it in the end. After all, life inside your comfort zone is way less fun!
Back in San Gil, we tried to get a night bus to Monguí but everything was full of people returning from their holiday weekend. So there we were walking through town at 5pm looking for a hostel. Showing up to a place and asking if they have beds available is a really cool experience. Of course they did because this is a common backpacker stop and the city had quieted down significantly from the previous days. Our bonus day allowed us to visit some natural pools in Curití. Santander is such a beautiful part of Colombia and I’m so glad I had the time to explore it!