The coach journey to San Gil was hazardous in the extreme, our driver veering around hairpin turns and seemingly blind to oncoming traffic in his zeal to overtake every moving thing on the road. Arriving (miraculously unharmed) in town, we checked in to Moncorá hostel, tucked away a few streets from the main square. That night we chilled with an English couple several months in to their own South American adventure and played with the resident predator; a 3 month old kitten named Lucrecio.
The fearless hunter – Lucrecio
The next morning we toured the enchanting El Gallineral Park, where giant moss-hung trees (called ‘barbas de viejo’ or ‘old man’s beard’) loom over the jungle flora. Strangely muscular red squirrels scuttered around our feet while we posed with the brightly coloured resident parrot.
After a trip to the local market, we sat down for a lunch of giant avacado, granadilla and the local delicacy – Hormigas Culonas or ‘big-assed ants’. Roasted and eaten whole, some say they taste like chicken, others say like nuts. Crunchy, smoky and with a hint of goo at the centre, they taste uncannily like cooked ant.
Hormigas Culonas – delicious…
Following our 6-legged snack, we caught a bus to the nearby Juan Curi waterfall, 180m of splendour located deep in the humid jungle foliage. Arriving at the base of the waterfall, visitors are obliged to scale a small series of ledges with the aid of a rope. The combination of comically inadequate footwear and Erin’s fear of heights made this quite a challenge, but we were rewarded with beautiful views as spray from the roaring waterfall cooled our sweaty faces. It was definitely worth the effort, though failure to charge the camera meant we left without any instagram-worthy photos.
On Sunday we took the bus to Barichara, a picturesque white-washed colonial town about an hour from San Gil. After exploring the main square, with it’s leafy park and beautiful domed cathedral, we hiked 7km through the Chicamocha canyon to the village of Guané. The cobbled path was constructed by Geo Von Lengerke, an eccentric German who supposedly fled to Colombia following a fatal duelling incident with a love rival in the mid 1800s. Rumours abound that aside from the path, his other legacy is the preponderance of blue eyes and blonde hair amongst the local population.
The white-washed town of Barichara
The views along the route were otherworldly, a vast chasm cutting through the dense foliage to the valley floor. However, once again our footwear was woefully deficient (flip-flops) and the going was painful. Celebrating our survival with a beer in Guané, I noticed that insect bites were causing my right foot to swell to elephantine proportions. Shrugging this unwelcome development off, we headed back for a hearty dinner at the best restaurant in the world, Gringo Mike’s.
Chimamoca canyon and the town of Guané
Before leaving San Gil for the Caribbean coast, we went white water rafting on the Rio Foncé. We flipped over a couple of times in the rapids and had a thoroughly good time, though we burned horribly despite the cloud cover (UV levels near the Equator are INTENSE – wear sunscreen kids!). The nearby Rio Suarez has the 3rd strongest rapids in South America, but tempting though it was to drown in the jungle, it was time to catch a night bus to Santa Marta.