The bus journey from Cartagena to Medellin really gave me a feel for the country. Through the night there was the familiar swaying motion from side to side and back and forth which meant we were going through mountains. In the morning I could see densely wooded hills and rich valleys with knobbly meadows where small groups of cows grazed on the lush grass. People were sweeping their yards, milking cows or weeding the fields. Many of the houses were small and simple, but had been brightened up with colourful paintwork and masses of flowers.
I was surprised, coming in to Medellin, to find it a predominantly red city, with most of the houses built of brick blocks. This was borne out when I took the Metrocable, which climbs over one of the poorer parts of the city. I am used to the shacks in other places being constructed of bits of wood, bamboo and metal, but here, though crowded in on top of one another, they were solid and the streets were comparatively clean.
The Metrocable itself is an example of speed and efficiency. Although the queue was long it took only a few minutes before I was in one of the constantly revolving cars, as helpful supervisors sorted the people into groups for boarding.
The metro ticket you buy, (again, a single price for all journeys), allows you to use the cable also, but I then paid an additional fare to go to Arvi Park. This is an immense nature preserve above and behind the city.
For me, though, the Colombian ability for organization was a little too much in evidence, as there were paved walkways, barbecue stations and even a tent in which to watch the football. It was primarily a good day out for all the family, while the reserve itself is more inaccessible. I did get to ride in a Chiva, however, one of the colourful rural buses that are rapidly disappearing from Colombia.
The following day I arranged to go to the “Penon de Guatapé”, a giant rock overlooking a valley which has been flooded in order to construct a dam. It turned out to be a real coach tour, which I have avoided, but I got talking to people as usual, both local and travellers, so it was OK.
The day included walking the 659 steps up the rock to the fantastic views from the top.
After a truly boring walking tour of Rio I thought I’d never go on another, but I’m pleased I gave it a go in Medellin. The guide, Hernan, was very knowledgeable, explained a lot about Colombian history in a few minutes and an amusing way and took us to places we probably wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. He is very proud of his city and I tend to agree with him that Colombians are working hard to make the most of what they have and trying to change things for the better.
I moved on to Manizales, further South. Nice location, shame about the city. Happily, I managed to get out into the surrounding countryside. One day I spent in a beautiful coffee plantation.
My time in South America was nearly up. I took a short trip to Pereira, a much nicer city than Manizales in my opinion, so that I could take the bus to Salento. From here you take a jeep to the Bosques de Cocora. There is a quite challenging hike up the side of the valley, through the cloud forest, where you have to cross rickety wooden bridges and scramble over rocks to get to the top.
Then there is an easier descent past the tall wax palms that are native to this area.
The little town itself is picturesque and was packed the day I was there as it was Father’s Day.
After Pereira I had just one more day in Bogota, before I had to take the flight out at 12.15am. I took the opportunity to visit the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. I did a bit better with the bus service this time as I discovered that the return buses do leave from the same place, but have different letters. The Cathedral is 200 metres underground and built in an old salt mine. It has great significance for the Colombians and especially for the miners who used to work here.
So it was time to pack my bag and off to the airport to fly to San Francisco.
A final image from my time in S. America, for those who did not follow my link to easytransferbrasil. This is me in full travel mode.