As the title suggests, I returned to Colombia at the beginning of August. I didn’t stray too far from the capital in my first month or so here – the dissertation took a lot longer than expected. Thankfully I had “El Gordo” (i.e. the fattest cat you’ve ever seen) keeping me company.
However, I did manage to escape the city for my birthday, at the end of August. Charissa arrived in Colombia a few weeks after me, shortly followed by two good friends of her’s, Basti and Max. It turns out Basti has an aunt living in the nearby Tolima department, who kindly let us stay for a few days. Probably the most striking thing (or, at least, the most memorable) for me about Tolima is that it’s HOT. Really bloody hot. You could feel the temperature rising and rising as we descended into Tolima, which, together with the miles of curvy, steep mountain roads and sharp corners (invariably taken at 70 kmph, despite clear signs saying the limit was 30), made for a very “interesting” journey, to say the least.
Before we reached Ambalema, we stopped off for lunch (consisting of enough food for the entire day) and went to a nearby river. It’s a popular bathing spot at the weekend, however as we were there on a Monday it was empty. We climbed over the fences (apparently not trespassing, because, who owns a river, right?) and spent an hour or so cooling off in the water with some beers. Unfortunately no one had the foresight to put on mosquito repellent.
We arrived in Ambalema in the late afternoon and, after showering and saying hello, set off to explore. Ambalema is a very typical Colombian town. It’s tiny. I think every single person we passed greeted us and often stopped to have a chat; this would never in a million years happen in Bogotá. There is a disproportionately high number of cats and motorbikes in Ambalema. I’m fairly sure every family must own at least one or the other, if not both. We ambled down to the main square and selected a suitable food/beer place from the many ones surrounding it. We spent several hours there, watching everyone going about their business and marvelling at the sheer number of motorbikes zooming past us (in a town where literally everything is within walking distance). Max discovered the wonders of the salpicón – essentially an enormous fruit salad in a plastic cup with icecream on top.
It’s hard to get across just how different pueblo life and city life are (even just as a foreigner): we walked back from the centre in the darkness, sticking out like four sore thumbs, without a care in the world. It makes you realise how much you absorb the culture of suspicion that reigns in Bogotá, without even realising it.
However, Ambalema’s tranquil, danger-free image was shattered during the night, when we were kept awake (and scared out of our wits, or at least, I was) by the loudest and longest thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced.
Having enjoyed the sights and sounds of Ambalema, on Wednesday we decided it was time to head somewhere else.
Basti (the only one of us who had formed any kind of plan) was keen to go to a place called La Vega, which unfortunately sounds a lot like the Spanish word “verga” (enthusiastically telling people you had a great time in “the dick” is really not ideal). It’s a small town about an hour north of Bogotá and, with no other ideas, we decided to trust the scant but positive reviews online and go and see for ourselves.
Much to our relief, this turned out to be a brilliant idea.
Basti’s uncle kindly drove us all the way there. The camping site we’d decided to stay at was at least a half hour’s drive from the town and, luckily for us, we ended up having the whole place to ourselves. If I remember rightly, it was called “Cascadas del Chupal” and, as the name suggests, there were waterfalls. There were many small paths from the main camping ground, each leading to a different waterfall or pool, of which there were around 5 in total. We quickly dropped our bags and headed off to explore.
In the evening we made a campfire and some surprisingly delicious food (even arepas!). I couldn’t have picked a better place to turn 24 or people to spend it with.