Trip summary – Colombia

Thursday, 3 April 2014
Pela Mampang, Jakarta

25 February. Sidik drives me to the airport. I am ready for the big adventure and the 20,000 km flight to Bogota. I have pre-selected good seats on the Emirates flights with lots of legroom in the front row. I board the Boeing 777 to Dubai, and am sitting next to a young man from Somalia. He is on his way to Mogadishu.

26 February. The next flight is from Dubai to New York aboard an Airbus A380, world’s biggest passenger aircraft. This time I am less fortunate with my side companion, a small Indian child bothering me constantly. The plane passes over, among others, Norway, Iceland, and Greenland. From New York, I take the third and last flight to Bogota, with JetBlue. There is a short stopover in Orlando, Florida. After around 40 hours since I left Jakarta, I land in Bogota late in the evening, and meets Superman in the passport control queue at the new and modern airport. We take a taxi to the pre-booked hotel downtown, Ambar Hotel. Bogota is located 2600 meter above sea level, so it is cold! But I am prepared and bring a jacket recently purchased. We are hungry and everything seems to be closed, but we meet a friendly Colombian who stays at the same hotel as us, and he takes us to a nearby junk food place. That is the only open restaurant nearby. End of day.

27 February. Surprisingly, I don’t feel any particular jetlag, even though the time difference between Jakarta and Bogota is 12 hours. We are ready to explore the streets of Bogota, and start walking from the hotel. After walking up and down some random streets, we find our way to the police museum, and enjoy a free guided tour by one of the uniformed officers there. Among other things, combating drug trade is in focus of the tour. After the long tour, we continue our walking trip, and make a short stop at the military museum. Then we walk through the idyllic neighbourhood of La Candelaria, a historic colonial district. Next stop is a trip on the cable car to the hill, or mountain, overlooking Bogota. It is located at 3170 meter. Nice view from the top. In the evening we take a taxi to the restaurant and bar district. I accidentally hit my head inside a small cramped toilet, and am bleeding profusely. It takes a week for it to heal, and I still have the scar from that accident.

28 February. It is cold and it is raining when we wake up in the morning, and since we have seen so much of the city the day before, we decide to leave it behind and seek out new adventures further afield. A bus to Cali is the answer. The name of the bus company is Bolivariano, and the trip takes around 11 hours. Parts of the bus ride take us through valleys with dense forest and high mountains in the background. Very beautiful. Upon arrival we pick out a hotel in the Lonely Planet book and instruct a taxi driver to take us there. The place is called Posada San Antonio, and situated in the charming old district of the city. It is now already late and raining. Cali is located at 1000 meter, so the temperature is more comfortable than Bogota, however.

01 March. Walking trip around the hotel neighbourhood and downtown area in the day, and Avenida Sixta in the evening. During the evening a man sitting next to our table offers us one of Colombia’s most popular export articles, namely cocaine. He is a bit disappointed when we reject the free sample.

02 March. More walking, and paying our first of many visits to Juan Valdez Cafe. This chain of cafes will later be frequently patronaged by us during the rest of the Colombian trip.

03 March. On a stop at a mall cafe, we come in contact with a friendly Colombian who buys us several beers. He claims to be a teacher. The teacher has more than a couple of beers too, and it is already late when he decides to leave. He says he has a class to attend next morning. I am wondering how that class is going to turn out.

04 March. A taxi trip to the hill overlooking Cali. There is a big statue on top called Cristo Rey.

05 March. Nothing memorable happens today. Lunch consists of the standard soup and flat piece of meat with rice, beans and fried banana.

06 March. It’s time to leave Cali for Manizales, which is on the way to Medellin. The main objective by stopping in Manizales is to break down the trip to Medellin, and to visit a coffee plantation. The bus is small, and the driver is fast, so fast that I begin to question his competence. I rarely care about how people drive, but this driver is just plain insane behind the wheel. The last distance is on a very curved road, and it feels like we are about to fly off into the ditch any moment. In Manizales, we just pick a place in the Lonely Planet book, as usual. The hostel is called Mountain House. This city is another mountain city, at 2200 meter. It is very mountainous around here, with steep roads, and there is even a cable car between points in the city used as public transportation. At the hostel we book a tour to the coffe plantation the next day.

07 March. Visit to the coffee plantation Hacienda Venecia. We are picked up at the hostel in the morning and driven to the plantation. The tour starts with cups of coffee and lecturing by an English speaking employee about coffee around the world and in Colombia. It is pointed out by him, however, that the world’s most expensive coffee is not from Colombia, but from Indonesia, and is called Kopi Luwak. After the lecture, the group is taken on a tour of the plantation and the warehouse, with an explanation of the various equipment and machinery used there. On the premises is also a very nice villa with swimming pool and beautiful gardens, which is possible to rent. We have lunch before driving back to Manizales, to the bus terminal. Next stop Medellin, located at 1500 meter. We check into a not-so-nice place in El Poblado upon arrival. It is raining.

08 March. It’s not a hard decision to move away from El Poblado and to a much nicer alternative on the other side of town, in the downtown area in Prado. We try the modern metro system and take a train to the end station and back again. Superman is not feeling well, so we return to the hotel afterwards.

09 March. Superman is sick and staying in the room, and I don’t want to go out on my own. I spend time on my laptop instead. No photos taken today.

10 March. Superman is back in business again, and we are exploring downtown Medellin on foot. There are many of Botero’s sculptures around. Not that I am very interested in sculpture though.

11 March. It’s again time to leave, and we have an Avianca plane ticket bound for Cartagena. We were first thinking to take a bus, but since the plance ticket costs the same, why bother with a 13 hour bus trip. The flight only lasts for one hour. Superman is trying to find the same place he was staying in Cartagena last time in 2007, but fails. We check into a mediocre place instead.

12 March. First thing to do is to find that place we didn’t find yesterday, and after some time we succeed! It’s just behind Juan Valdez cafe inside the walled city of Cartagena, and costs 100,000 Colombian pesos a night. Address: Edificio San Augustin No 6-31. We spend the rest of the day walking up and down the streets of Cartagena, and also on top of the wall surrounding this historical and beautiful city.

13 March. Generally just relaxing in cafes and restaurants in Cartagena. No photos taken today. Cartagena is a charming city, except for all the drug dealers who are everywhere. They come to us and offer their free samples while we are sitting at a restaurant. I ask one of them what is the price for one kilogram of cocaine, and the dealer is a bit surprised, because that was quite a lot of the chemical! But no problem, a telephone call to his boss confirms the price is 10,000 USD. I say thank you and perhaps we will think about it first!

14 March. We visit the nearby fortress Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, and watch the sun sets over the city.

15 March. As usual, we start the day with a cup of Colombian coffee at Juan Valdez cafe. We also walk the remaining part of the city wall, so I think we have it covered completely by now.

16 March. Last day in Cartagena.

17 March. We board an early morning Copa Airlines flight to Bogota, and check into the same hotel in Bogota as before. We made sure to reserve a room here when we left last month. This is the last day in Colombia, and we are walking around and looking at emeralds in the emerald market.

18 March. The big departure day! I have more than 40 hours ahead of me before I am home. Superman has only around half that. His flight takes off one hour or so before me. The security at the airport is quite tight, with questions about my activities in Colombia et cetera. And while boarding the plane another set of questions and bodysearch. Stopover in Florida, where I must carry my baggage through customs. Dogs sniffing around. In New York, I go out to the taxi stand and take a couple of pictures, so that I can say that I have officially set foot in the USA! The Airbus A380 to Dubai is only half full.

19 March. 12 hours after taking off from New York I arrive in Dubai. I have 9 hours to kill at this huge airport. I find internet and electricity, and the hours seem to pass by faster.

20 March. Takeoff again, bound for Jakarta aboard the Boeing 777. While flying over Nicobar Islands, I try and see if I can spot the missing MH370 plane, but looks like it has disappeared. Sidik picks me up at the airport.

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