14 June 2010

Traveling Through Colombia in a month – Part 2: on the road from Bogota to Cali

Previously in Colombia Travel Blog by Marcela:

Part one of the Traveling through Colombia in one month was published, Marcela mapped out her trip through Colombia, kissed her parents good bye, and headed Lucerito – her 1998 Pajero truck – from Bogota to Cali, the salsa city….

After about 2 hours driving through the renewed and therefore smooth motorway, the scenery color gradually changes from a dark green forest tone  to an array of green tonalities sparkled with colors of flowers and fruit trees, that and  the hot weather announces that you’re not in Bogota anymore.  

My first stop was for an abundant Colombian breakfast at a joint called “Parador Rojo” just before entering Melgar ( a town close to the home of the Panches tribe and 98k from Bogota).  El Parador Rojo is one of those typical Colombian roadside restaurants where you can see people of various places and origins, they have a huge buffete with fresh eggs, arepas, bread, coffee or hot chocolate and a big selection of fresh fruit juices or if you have a truck driver's belly they also have an absolutely delicious beef soup or a stake with fried eggs and rice.... mmmmm!

Besides its weather, Melgar is known for an astonishing wavy and rocky canyon above the river Sumapaz. This canyon takes you down from  1700 m.a.s.l. to 250 m.a.s.l in about 45 minutes and is famous because there is a huge rock that's sticking out of the rock with a nose like shape that the locals  call "Nariz del Diablo" – The devil's nose.

Back at Lucerito and with enough energy gathered for the remaining 6 hours of driving I had ahead, I stocked myself with loads of water bottles to fight the increasing heat (28 C  at this point) and took the Panamerican Highway again.

The next checkpoint in my map was Ibague, a city located in a major rice plantation area,  which is the point in which you start ascending to Colombia’s central mountain range “La cordillera Central de Colombia” ,  but on the way there you have to pass by  Giardot, a small and lively city at the banks of the Magdalena river where many Colombians have their “fincas”  , literally translated as “farms” but the word is actually used to name colombian’s  holiday homes ( I’ll write a post about Colombians and their fincas soon),  anyway, before reaching the entrance to the Andes you have to pass the cities of Espinal and Guamo too.

It was around noon already when I finally reached Ibague to fill the tank up in order to get ready to face the road leading to the picks of the Andes.  This part of the Panamerican Highway  is known as "La Linea"  (the line) , firstly because the highest pass of the Cordillera is also called “La Linea” and second because, oh irony!,  the road is nothing like a straight  line. La Linea is the road that communicates both sides of the Colombian Andes, meaning it is a very busy trade route, so it takes about 3 hours (but only  35 kms)  to get from 1200 m.a.s.l. to 3,500 m.a.s.l., through a wavy and misty road full of buses, trucks and cars. 
Once again, as it is usual in Colombia, the scenery changes dramatically…as well as the temperature, the thermometer was now showing 10C – 18C less than before!. I stopped for a bit to put my jumper on and to check if there was any signal  in my mobile phone  to report  back home, but and there was none. It took me a about further two hours to get down from the central mountain range of the Andes and to reach one of the most spectacular landscapes of Colombia: The Triangle of Coffee, a destination that I planned to visit after Cali, so after reaching Armenia , the first city in El Triangulo del Café I took the left road, to Cali (The right one would have taken me to the triangulo).

Just before reaching Armenia I stopped in Calarca for lunch. This is the first town right at the bottom of the Andes. There, I had a beautiful plate with red kidney beans, rice, mince beef and avocado called bandeja paisa; very popular and a traditional dish around this area. Having finished my lunch I headed towards Armenia and then Cali, the salsa capital of Colombia. The road, as opposed to a couple of hours ago, turns into a very straight motorway surrounded by sugar cane plantations and wineries. This area is called el Valle del Cauca, is where all sugar consumed in the country comes from. I could see on my left hand side the Andes and on my right the huge sugar cane farms. From time to time I came across some of the biggest trucks I have ever seen carrying sugar cane to be processed. 

About one hour later I finally reached the last toll before entering Cali. 9 hours and 479 kilometers later,  I finally  entered Cali and started looking for the hostel I was planning to stay that night not far from  the 6th Avenue.  Luckily Cali as the rest of the cities in Colombia have their roads divided into Calles and Carreras identified by numbers which means is quite easy to find your way around once you know that the numbers decrease towards the mountains. The other good thing is that you can always ask a taxi driver for directions and they will be more than happy to help. After running up and down a couple of blocks I finally reached Calidad House. I parked Lucerito a block down the hostel and after calling home to say that I was ok and happy, had a shower and went straight to bed. I had to rest to get ready for the week ahead as I was planning to catch up with a few friends for some salsa nights and also to visit some of the most amazing local sugar farms and doing some rafting and paragliding…. All that and more in my next “ Travelling   to Colombia in one month” entry about Cali.

A few tips...

  • If you are driving have in mind that there are at least 5 tolls with an avarage fee of $7.000 or US$4.
  • Driving time varies between 7 to 9 hours depending on traffic.
  • There are plenty of petrol stations all the way.
  • If you want to go by bus try Expreso Bolivariano they are good and have buses almost every hour, every day. Tickets are $60.000 or U$30.
  • I stopped for lunch in a very local little restaurant which I loved. Is called Gusto y Sabor, Calle 38 N 25 - 30  tel 7422095 - Calarca.
  • If you are going on a budget try Hostal Calidad House, they are friendly and well located. If you prefer to stay in a hotel try Cali Plaza Hotel well located too with rates from US$75 for a double to U$190 for a three bed apartment. Some other excellent hotels are Dann Carlton, Four Points and Raddisson.

However, the best of Cali are its surroundings.... but that is going to be my next post' subject so until then...



Travelling Through Colombia Part 1 and Part 3