Colombia 1996

Contents

This travelogue includes Cartagena, Medellín and Bogotá.

Introduction

This is part of my diary from my trip to Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador in August and September 1996. The first 6 weeks I was traveling with a friend, Sara, who is in the last year of her studies of Nordic Literature and Language.

I'm 28 and work as a programmer in a small computer company in Århus, Denmark, and I had a prolonged holiday. I've had two evening courses in Spanish, and knew enough to get around, but not enough (unfortunately) to have deep conversations with people.

This travelogue is written to help people who are going to travel to this area, and for others who like to know about what is happening in the world.

Facts

Exchange rate: 1US$=1045 Colombian pesos (ps); 1 Danish Crown=177 ps. 1US$=479 Venezuelan Bolivares.

I have not converted the rates from pesos to US$ since you just have to remove 3 zeros from the pesos to get it in US$.

We flew Billund-Frankfurt (with Maersk) - Bogotá-Caracas (Avianca), and back from Quito-Bogotá-Frankfurt (Avianca)-Billund (Maersk). The roundtrip costed 1150$.

Note:

17 August 1996 - Mérida (Venezuela) - Cartagena (Colombia)

We are on our way with the bus from Mérida in the mountains of Venezuela towards Maracaibo which is in the plains of the north. During last evening we have seen a couple of new movies; e.g. I have to explain all the jokes in Spy Hard for Sara, since she hasn't seen any of the films this movie makes fun of, including the James Bond jokes... The rest of the night is a tough one; the driver and co-driver play the music so loud in order to be able to stay awake themselves with the result that none of the rest of us can sleep either. I do get some sleep, but we are all put out of the bus at 3 a.m. on a truck stop for half an hour. There is lots of water on the road, some places it can be measured in meters - so Sara tells me the next day; she didn't sleep so much.

We have a nice entry into Maracaibo. We splash water in the face at the station, and some guy leads us to what we think is a shared taxi, which it is - kind of. It is a big, black mamma in a Chevrolet who is driving to Maicao (in Colombia). We can get two seats in the back for 3.000 Bs/6.25$ per person. 6 other women are in the car as well - with 10 big suitcases. A girl from Baranquilla who speaks English is one of them. We have breakfast at a quick stop before going towards the border. It is a bad road, and we pass several checkpoints where they look at our passports, and it is kind of difficult to find out where the border actually is! We pass through large areas of 'white', which are plain areas where they lead the salt water into, and after the water has evaporated, they can shovel the salt up in bags. Well, we get to the 'right' border, and have to pay 2.500 Bs/5.22$ in exit-tax (we were told it should be 2.000). One of the persons in the car handles it. We need some form which we never got on entry to the country, and mamma says: 'It's gonna cost'. But after some negotiations, we are let through. At the Colombian point, we have to fill out a lot of papers which makes the other a bit restless. We change our last 6.500 Bs to 12.000 pesos and 50$ to 45.000 pesos - 900 pesos/$, which of course is a pretty bad rate... Later we get around 1048. It is so hot, and so dusty and dirty, and Maicao looks pretty lawless (which is exactly what our books says too: Get out of there as fast as you can!) and we are put off at the Expresso Brasilia. Two men makes a lot of fuss and make us go to another bus company opposite. 17.000 pesos/19$ per person to Cartagena. This seems extremely expensive compared to getting around in Venezuela. We want to go as far as possible from this place as quickly as possible. We wait for almost an hour, and Sara has used the company's toilet, and have to pay 2.000 ps! The bus is small, but new and fast. The English speaking girl from the Chevo is coming along too. There is a very annoying, drunk guy on the front seat. He speaks a lot to us and offers us beers and cigarettes. Not what we want right now. We pretend not to understand him. Actually most of the time we don't have to pretend we don't understand him. Just out of town, we (that is, us men) are put up against the bus at gun-point by soldiers and searched (no exceptions for tourists). Too bad Sara didn't take a picture... They don't take any chances here, it seems. We are so tired, and there are 470 kilometers to Cartagena. The pay roads are good, but the rest are really bad. The landscape around Parque Tayroona (near Santa Marta) is very pretty - near the Sierra Nevada. There is jungle and palm trees. Closer to Cartagena, it is much like in Denmark - cows on the fields, tall oak trees, etc.

Many hours later (just after sunset), we arrive at the bus station (somewhat out of town), we take a taxi to the Hotel Vienna (3000 ps). The owner of the hotel, a guy from Belgium, pays half of the hotel's income to different projects which help street children. It was recommended to us by our paragliding instructor in Mérida who comes from Colombia. Well, all full - by westerners. One of the guests recommends us to go to the Hotel Doras around the corner (also in TSK). They have one for 5.000 ps. per person. A shower and in bed at 10 p.m. We have now just traveled for 22 hours in bus, car, bus and taxi! Phew.

18 August - Cartagena

What a wonderful sleep! We sleep until 9 (which is 11 hours). There have been 28-31 degrees during the whole night, but we have two connected rooms, and there is a fan over each of our beds.

We walk towards what we think is 'centro', and see herons, pelicans and fishers with throw-nets. We cannot understand that the map is so bad, but it turns out that it is us who have walked in the wrong direction from the Castillo de San Felipe. It costs 5$ for foreigners, so we continue on. Walk back to the real 'centro', and look for an hour for a place to get breakfast. At 11:30 a.m. - after walking through all of the old town - everything closed (it's Sunday!), we find a Chinese place where we get something (good) to eat for about 4.000 ps per person. We find a teller machine which accepts my MasterCard, and we are surprised that we can get 300.000 pesos! (around 287$) We had only 12.000 left.

And who do we meet here... Robert! Small world. We hear someone calling out 'Sara!', and he is with his family in a car. Explanation - on a beach in Venezuela, we met Robert from Boston (USA) who has a wife from Colombia. When she visits her family, he often travels to other places in South America. He had even seen most of Bille August's films (including Zappa), which had surprised us a lot - how many of you know Zappa? So here we meet him again. What a small world.

We walk to the Palacio de la Inquisición (Museum of the Inquisition) - 1.300 ps, and are (after a long time) convinced by a guide that he should show us around - he comes down from 6.000 to 4.000 ps. It is an old mansion (the real place) with many torture instruments and pictures - mostly copies though - of Goya and El Greco. The latter had painted one of the inquisitors with a hand making the devil's sign (lifted thumb and little finger), which cost him two years in jail. Many things about witchcraft, the inquisition, sorcery, etc. They also had some belongings of Bolivar and old original things from the house. Also a collection of Indian origin. The Inquisition was here for about 200 years. Just around the corner was a small niche where people could ride by, and inform against people they thought were witches (or didn't like), and the inquisition would then investigate.

After a nice lunch we take a walk on the harbour and book a full day tour for the Rosario islands (14.000 ps) including lunch. Many stalls line the harbour, and all kind of jugos (fresh made juice) can be had here, and we have a piña for 600 ps. We look for postcards, but don't find other than those at the inquisition, and they cost 500 ps each.

We eat at a place opposite our hotel - pollo frito (friend chicken) (with free soup) for 1.600 ps (same as 3 postcards...). Went to see a movie - Twister - 1.500 ps. Sara didn't like it, so I had to explain that you don't see these films and analyse the plot and purpose afterwards - it is the technical things and the excitement in the movie that you should notice and enjoy. I'm not sure she was fully convinced.

19 August - Cartagena - Rosario Islands

Up at 6.30 a.m. A guy who works at the hostel thinks that we want tickets and follows us to the harbour. He shows us a good place to have breakfast, and leaves disappointed when he finds out that we have tickets. Good bread and my first coffee in days - and I just got over my abstinence from the absence of coffee... We are at the quay at 7.33. We have to pay 1.000 ps/1$ to get onto the pier. We don't leave until 8. Almost all on our boat are Colombians (maybe 100?). Also several small boats leave - and they are much faster than this. The weather is looking good - and hot. It takes 3 hours to get to Isla de San Martín, where there is a maritime museum. It costs 3.000 ps, but it is worth it - they have sharks ("Tiborones - muy peligrosos!" - as the sign says - very dangerous) with their tips sticking up of the water. Also morenas, saw fish, sea turtles, cow nose rays, two flamingos, mega fish, coral fish, and several dolphins which entertain us all. We have an hour here.

We continue on to a 9 km long beach - Playa Blanca. With rafts we are transported to the beach (we almost capsized). Here we have lunch - fried fish, rice and fried bananas. The water is pretty bad; the corals are dead here, and only a few small fish. We have 2 hours here in total. We enjoyed the hazy sun on the deck all the way back - and saw flying fish. The crew had taken pictures of most of the people and put it in a small plastic thing you can put up to your eye. Most people buy it. We were lucky not to be photographed. On the roof is a fat man who is very annoying. He sits there commanding his family and crew members. Sara don't think I dare take a picture of him - but I do :-)

At the harbour we have another of the great jugos - a Jugo de Coruba - a special yellow fruit from this area. Not the best taste though.

Take a shower, and go to a burger bar and have a Chilli con carne. Good, but costs 3.200 ps. Go next door to get a coffee.

The evening is hot and humid - like the rest of the nights - 29.4 degrees.

20 August - Cartagena

We ask at a travel agency how much a ticket for Bogotá costs. 104K pesos- 100$. We buy a newspaper and see that the exchange rate is 1048 ps/$ which is about 180ps per DKR - we had calculated it to 150, so things are not so costly as we had thought. We eat a yoghurt and walk to the Museo del Oro y Arquelogía. 1.000 ps in entrance fee. Nice gold collection in a big vault - but not much else. Only text in Spanish though. Take a walk on the ring wall, but the sky is clear with the sun baking down on us - 32 degrees. We try to find the Candeleria, and also see the ground floor - nice restaurant, but a lobster costs 35$... We find a pizza for lunch (8.000 ps for two with cola). My biggest wish for this visit to Colombia is to find a nice T-shirt saying 'Colombia', so we go to hunt for one. No luck. (Much more about this later). At a supermarket we find candy and caramels. Back at the hostel to write postcards. A big thunderstorm passes by. We consider going for a snorkelling tour, but how do we go? I was on my way to a hotel which has snorkelling trips, but the thunder stops me.

We meet two Danish girls at the hotel who travel in Colombia for a month. One of them has worked in Medellín.

The hotel has no water in the baños. The toilets are stopped, and no light on the balconies.

21 August - Cartagena - Playa Blanca

Up at 6.30. The two Danish girls are flying to San Andrés (islands in the Caribbean). We have our backpacks stored at the hotel, and they have a safe for our valuables. The guy who have hunted us every day to buy a trip to Islas Rosarios gets to sell us a couple of tickets without lunch for 12.000 ps. We hurry to the ferry, but are in good time for 8 o'clock. We don't sail until 8.30 anyway. 6 others from the hostel are going too. It is cloudy, but it clears up when we get to San Felipe. It is the same trip as we took the day before yesterday, but our plan is to get off somewhere and stay for a couple of days. We ask around, but everybody says that there is no room or hammocks here. The island is so small that there are just 4 or 5 houses and nothing else. I take a 20 minutes swim with my fins among tons of schools of fish and corals! A boat full of snorkellers arrive and we are a bit envious (turns out we don't have to be...). We get a slice of Pizza (2.000 ps) and continue on to Playa Blanca.

A guide from another boat tells us it is much better to get off there. I'm a bit afraid since the water was so muddy the other day. But to our big surprise - the water is crystal clear today, and we can see just about everything in the water. We check a couple of places to stay. 'Cabañas' (wooden sheds without nothing) from 12-15.000 ps. Hammocks for 2.500-5.000 ps (without bargaining). A bit further away, a woman (she is a cook, who cooks for visitors) fetches a man who has a VERY nice (actually, the only) wooden house - with bath room! We negotiate a room for 25.000 ps. It turns out to be the local police man - so we didn't have to be afraid about not having a key to our room :-) He has his own jet ski. We jump into the water and find that the corals (unspoiled many places) a few meters from the coast. The water is 30 degrees, and we are thrilled. Millions of fish. I follow two squids for 5 minutes - it is a bit difficult to see which part is the front, and whether they swim forward or backward... There is also a beautiful black fish with blinking fluorescing blue spots.

Relaxing on the terrace with a Caribbean sunset between the palms.

We have a good fried fish together with the police man. After 4 p.m. the beach is totally empty - all the boats have left, and so have all of the beach vendors, so everything is quiet. Only the mosquitoes are left...

The police man sits on his terrace with his TV - he has a generator. There are a couple of mice running around in our room. Sara hasn't noticed yet. Also a couple of bats hiding.

22 August - Playa Blanca

Up at about 7. Sara did observe the small mouse, actually she had watched it for an hour this morning. I had put our bread in a plastic bag, hung it in a string from the door. It was no problem for the mouse, but every time it would get near, Sara would just make a small sound, and it would run away.

Swimming, reading, more swimming. We are so happy that we both bought swimming goggles with the same power as our glasses. I had brought my fins from home, and they come to good use here.

A film-team arrives - in 6 boats, a jeep and a helicopter. They are maybe 50 persons or so, and they occupy the terrace of the policeman which they use for makeup and wardrobe. I speak with one of the make-up women, who tells that they are from the French TV, and they have been filming on the shores of Colombia for the last 4 months. Until now they have had no problems with the guerrillas. She is Colombian but has lived most of her life in France. We watch their filming, but they speak mostly French, so we don't actually understand much of it.

We have lunch with the woman who found the room for us. More swimming, reading and watching the filming.

At about sunset time, we are kindly told to move away from the beach for some minutes, so we move back a bit, but I think we could have been in the shot anyway. They film along the 9 km beach, which at this time is completely empty, so it is bound to be a good shot.

23 August - Playa Blanca - Cartagena

Morning swimming, breakfast with our mistress - mixed eggs with tomatoes. Another long swim.

The best corals are at the south end of the beach (or is it the west end?), and then a bit out among the rocks. I saw some local divers with harpoons about 200 m out where there seemed to be a sand bank.

Reading below the palm shades, and a last swim. A nice old man sold us his 2 Pepsis (1000 ps), he only had these and 4 beers in his box. Clouds started coming in, and it drizzled a bit. We walk to the landing site of the Alcatraz (our ship), and wait for an hour. It is fun to watch the 30 (or more) people running from boat to boat: young girls braiding hair, people selling beads, hand chains, coconut cakes, fruit, shrimps and much more - "Nice shrimps, only 10.000!". We didn't buy anything - but the Colombians did.

When we left, the crew on the boat could recognise us, so no problem getting on. There was also a couple of backpackers too. It is getting popular staying here. It rained on the way back - tough luck for the Colombians on vacation.

We are back at 5.30 p.m. We find the post office of Avianca, and send Sara's postcards - 900 ps per card. It takes between a month and 5 weeks for them to arrive in Denmark... So if you can, send them from Bogotá - it takes a week from there. I find out that some words in Spanish are different here in Colombia. E.g. I learned that a stamp is called 'un Sello', but here it is 'Estampillas'.

Back at Hotel Doras, we can use the shower, and the man in the reception doesn't know what we should pay to have our luggage stored here, so we pay him 1000 ps. Nice service here, but everything is pretty ramshackle and badly maintained. We eat at the Hotel Balvarte's (opposite) which is quick and efficient.

Taxi to the terminal (3.000 ps). We are lucky, there is a bus going to Medellín with Rápido Ochoa at 9 p.m. - the time is 8 now. It costs 31.000 ps (30$!). We have a good Colombian coffee. In the bus we see the new James Bond - Golden Eye. The road has a lot of turns, and the headrest is hard and annoying. The A/C is good at the beginning (Sara disagree :-). There is no loud music during the night. At departure, everybody is body searched, before entering the bus. The bus doesn't stop anywhere to take up other passengers.

24 August - Medellín

We have a 10 minutes stop at 6 a.m. - just enough for a quick yoghurt. It rains and it is cloudy. At this time they turn off the A/C. We are in Medellín at 8.30 a.m. - after 11½ hours. The bus terminal is nicely arranged (like in Cartagena). Morning coffee and there is a Adpostal office in the building, so I have my postcards send. They also take about a month to get back from here... Sara makes a phone call to her mother (for about 1.800 ps per minute). A taxi to the Aparta Hotel El Cristal. It costs 28.536 pesos. We have to fill out lots of papers, and they cannot understand our passports. The room is nice and clean. I try to call Bettina - a girl from Germany whom I have met on the Internet. She is going to visit a friend here in Medellín, and should arrive today. A guy gives me another phone number, but no answer there.

We decide to go for an one hour walk, and take a look inside the largest brick church in South America (next door to the hotel). It is called the Catedral Metropolitane. We pass through the Plaza Bolívar and up the pedestrian street. We find the first T-shirts from Colombia, but they are not that good, and most of them have pictures of the newly finished Metro. I wonder why my City didn't make T-shirts with 'Århus Sporveje' and a picture of a city-bus...

We pass the Iglesia San José, where a mass is in progress. Good sandwiches for lunch.

We try calling Bettina again, and decide to go to the former prison of Pablo Escobar - "La Catedral". There are good directions in the TSK to get there. Pablo was the leader of the Medellín drug cartel, but gave him self up, on the condition that he could choose where to go to prison. He chose his home town, Envigado, where a hotel was build with swimming pool, and a lot of other nice things. After living here for a year, he escaped, and 1.500 police men searched for him for 1½ year before finding and killing him - you might remember the episode from TV. Probably the biggest manhunt in the world.

We have to look between 20 busses, and wait a bit for the right one to arrive, but it do arrive. We pay when getting out - 480 ps. In other busses we pay getting when gettin on. I can't really figure out when to pay. Get off in Envigado - the place where Pablo was born. We wait for 15 minutes, but the right bus doesn't arrive. We take a taxi instead (2000 ps), and see from where the right busses towards El Salado leaves (continue past the park, and they leave from a street to the right). We buy water and walk up a dirt road. It is easy to find 'the portal' (after 20 minutes) - there is a writing on a rock saying 'La Catedral'. We continue up and up for an hour, and the landscape is beautiful and varied - and a great view over the city! When we get to the top of the road, we can see La Catedral in the distance, (Press here to see a picture of the prison) and it is situated all alone on a hill side. We continue on to the place. The book says that there is a guard post, but not any more, all is in ruins, and it'll probably be gone soon. We get some nice pieces of souvenirs - pieces of Escobar's bathroom! We return at about 4.30 p.m. After half an hour, we get a lift from a real estate salesman and two buyers. I think it was the La Catedral he was trying to sell. Another bus from the park.

After returning, it is good with a shower; I make a phone call; out to get a Pizza. Another phone call (still no answer). Coffee. What are we going to do tomorrow?

25 August - Santa Fé de Antioquia

A long sleep today - till 8.30. Yoghurt from the hotel fridge. Had a bit of diarrhoea just this day - I wonder from what? We pass the new Metro to Carr. 51 and Calle 55 - 200 meters from here. It is new and shiny. We find out that it goes both to the North and South Terminal - it costs a flat 200 ps to use it. We walk on and take a look at Plaza Minorista José María Villa, which is probably the biggest marked with fruit, house holding things and spices that I have ever seen! No T-shirts though. We wait 5-10 minutes for a bus to the terminal, which doesn't come, so I pay 1.000 ps for a taxi to go there. We buy bread, cola and coffee and send a fax to Bettina. After a bit of searching, we find a company which has busses for Santa Fe de Antioquia. It costs 2.700 ps (per person). We leave at 11.45 a.m. Excellent and impressive trip up to a pass (from 1.600 to 2.400 meters), and down again to about 550 meters. We have a 10 minutes lunch break on the way, and I get a couple of good pictures of the valley. There are many of the small eagle like vultures. They fly so gracefully, but look very much like a vulture when sitting in the rubbish. There are also many banana plants and coffee bushes along the way. Sit on the left side going to Santa Fe, and on the right going back. Several recreational sites near the city - everything for the family thing - swimming pools and play grounds. On the TSK map, they forgot to put the bus stop, so we are not quite sure where to get off. Next stop is probably Turbo 400 km away along a dirt road... It is close to 8 on the map. We buy a return ticket for later (near the cathedral), and take a taxi to Puente de Occidente. We try to negotiate, but the driver has a sign in his window, so we have to pay the 6.000 ps. The puente is a large suspension bridge (291 m) from 1887! Very impressive. You can still cross, though it is closed for traffic. We meet an American with his Colombian family who is afraid of heights, so he can't talk much to us since he is very concentrated about walking right in the middle of the bridge. The water is brown and muddy. Returning, we get off in the outskirts of town, but we are not able to get good view over the red roofs which all the white houses of the town have. The colonial style of the whole town is one of the reason for coming here, and I'd say that much of the atmosphere is still here. All houses are much in the same style with 4 meters to the roof, white walls, red tiled roofs and straight streets with cobblestone.

We enter the Arte Religioso (1.000 ps) which is only mildly interesting. A woman keeps a close eye on us most of the time. Same goes for the Iglesia de Santa Barbara next door.

One is supposed to try the pulpa de tamarindo - the local candy made of - yes, you probably guessed it: tamarind. It tastes a bit like figs with sugar. After enjoying a cola on the town square, we return at 5.30 p.m. It starts getting dark soon, and down towards Medellín is one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen - millions of lights from the city spark like stars, and in the background there is lightning without thunder! If I come back here, I want to go up on a hill side with a taxi to enjoy the city in the night.

Outside the hotel is a lot of police, and the hotel is locked. We have supper at a sandwich bar - they are pretty good here.

During the night it sounded like this wasn't a hotel, but a brothel.

26 August - Medellín - Jericó

Up at 7. The hotel could store our backpacks for tomorrow. One of the personnel found a soda in our refrigerator which was half open - we found out later on our bill - I hate things like that - especially since we did not half-open the bottle. We take the metro to Terminal del Norte. The officer at the stations runs after us and ask if we are going to the Terminal? Yes, then we should go to the other exit. Thanks a lot! This wouldn't have happened in Denmark. Inside we ask if we can get to Jericó from here. No, it is from the south terminal. Well, so it has opened. The books is quite up to date, we think, but new things do open. We take the metro, but we have to walk another one kilometre west on Calle 10 to get there. It is through a district of mechanic shops. The terminal is ideal and easy to survey, and using the information we easily find which company to take - and yes, in just 45 minutes there is a bus for Jericó (at 10 a.m.). We buy coffee and water. Sara has just learned to drink coffee, though she need lots of milk and sugar, but everybody else here have the same strange habit :-). I often have to make a point out of saying that I want it black - and no sugar and no milk and no nothing. It is worse in Venezuela and Ecuador though. Occasionally other persons drink it black here. Pure joy.

The bus is quite old, but OK. I have to go outside with my legs spread out and body searched, which is kind of absurd since many people get on the bus on the way... After an hour we are out of the civilisation. We leave the paved road to Cali towards Amegá and Fredonia (which is a quite big town). It is paved until here. After this town, it is up again to about 2.100 meters through coffee plantations. They are all over, and for a coffee drinker as me, I really appreciate it. Now it gets muddy on the way down to a river, with road work all the way. The river is at 600 meters. It will probably soon be paved. Just past the river we have a 10 minutes lunch break, and we continue up on a dirt road through big haciendas - big grass fields with many cows. We go up a valley to Támesis and not directly to Jericó, which means a big detour. Again up to 2.100 meters where suddenly again we are on grass clad hills with small streams, haciendas and cowboys on horses. We get to a valley, but are still up in about 1.800-2.000 meters with great vistas. Later we can see Jericó in the distance. It seems so unrealistic that a place like this can exist; taken right out of a fantasy film - but I have said that so many times before, so I accept it. The road up here is very muddy and bad. We arrive at 4 p.m. - that is after 6 hours on the road. Our behinds are quite sore at this point. The town is like it has never found out that there is another world 'out there', behind the valleys and mountains - or at least that it is 50 years behind. One side of the plaza is occupied by the Cathedral (all the 7.000 people of the town can be there at one time), and the other 3 is lined by cafés, a couple of hospejas, a couple of heladerias (ice bars), a shop for farming tools (saddles, poison, manure, etc.) - and the people! It is a farming country, and they are Real Farmers (in Denmark the farmers have slogans like: "Real Men are Country-Men!") - they are wearing Ponchos, cowboy hats, long knives at their side in leather sheaths (about 30 cm), and leather (or plastic) boots. They are pretty cool, if you ask me. And for once we are the tourist attraction. It is like there have never been any white people here before. We ask in the Hostería Piedras, but it is full. At a place on the other side of the square, they have a room with balcony towards the square for 3.000 ps per person. While we enjoy an ice-cream, a large burial-procession leaves from the cathedral - seems like half the town is following.

We find the path for the hill which overlooks the town. On the top, there is a statue of Christ - Morro del Salvador. We go up from the 'right' side. On the top there are 10 kids with their kites. It is now 5.30 p.m. and the sun goes down behind the hills. We speak with them, and they are quite surprised that Jericó is known 'en todo el mundo' - which we can show them in our book. None of them speak English. They show us a path through the botanical gardens which descends the other way to the town. Sara (the expert on this field) recognises many flowers which we also have in Denmark - cornflowers, pansy and other.

We end out in Carr. 3 via a small jungle path. It gets very cold, so we put on our long trousers. Dinner at a restaurant (the only one?) to the right of the Cathedral - loin steak with mushroom sauce - good meat for 4.000 ps. The waiter is funny; he tries to speak English, but knows just a word or two, and mixes it up with Spanish. We have a good laugh about the events of last night.

We go to one of the cafés - and I try one of their café con leche (after two black), and have to admit it is good as well. It is half warm milk with half expresso coffee. Probably just roasted from the beans from the fields outside town. Some of the young people cast glances at us. We enjoy the evening atmosphere, and we talk about that there could not be a place like this in Europe; it would have been made a tourist place a long time ago and spoiled by now. Amazing that they are still here. Well, it IS quite difficult to get to this place... It should be said that one of the 'famous' things about Medellín is actually not the city, but the surrounding towns in the mountains. They have their special atmosphere. This is just one of them. Sara says that it would good to go back to this place in 20 years, and see if it is still the same. Somehow I think it will be.

We had thought about going to a couple of other towns, but it is a bit difficult to get around, and the busses are sporadic, so we decide it is not worth it, so we'll just enjoy this tranquila town tomorrow too.

27 August - Jericó - Medellín

Up at 8.30. Outside, there are a lot of preparations in progress. They are putting up a banner on the Cathedral - all the way from the top of the tower: 'Quiero mi Colegio' (I love my school). Also red/yellow flags on all shops and streets. We take a walk in the streets, and the procession starts - several thousands young people and children. And they have really prepared well with fancy dresses and equipment. The small children wears costumes, butterfly wings, roller blades, stilts and in several decorated cars. They are from maybe 15 different schools. We see it from different views as they pass through the streets, and they end up in the plaza, and we go to our balcony from where we have a good view. The whole square is filled at this point. It is the day where all the children and teachers can express their love for their schools. Now follows several (boring) speeches by prominent speakers - after singing 3 songs: the Colombian national anthem, one from Antioquia and one from Jericó. Also the Bishop speaks. After a while I put on my small radio and try to find some music, but the only thing I can find is a live transmission - yes, from this very square :-)

I read a bit about Bogotá while Sara takes a nap. The crowd dissolves around noon. At 12.45 we go up to a rock cave on a cliff wall. It has a Christ figure and one of Mary. There is a good view of the town. Barely out of town we are stopped twice - first by a girl and then by two boys who ask where we are from, and give us a warm welcome. After walking on the marked path, we continue up another 300 meters to the top of the hill for an even better view. Back we spend some of our last valuable time looking for lunch, but do not really find anything, so we buy some bread, bananas and cola, and today's soup at 'the' restaurant (1000 ps). We leave with the last bus at 3 p.m.

Fortunately we drive the direct way down from this plateau by a very scenic road; it goes steeply down close to a waterfall. Good views, palm trees and jungle. We reach the river at 4 p.m, Fredonia at 6 p.m. and Medellín at 7.30 p.m. On the way a sales man tries to communicate with me, but the noise is quite overwhelming during the steep descent, so we just exchange a few sentences. We leave the bus at the Metro, and are at the hotel at 8. Bettina from Germany has called. It turns out that the phone number I had was wrong. We go to our sandwich bar and have supper. After returning, we call Kirsten Wilkens; a Danish girl who works in Bogotá, and we are going to meet Thursday for dinner at her place.

28 August - Medellín - Bogotá

At 7.30 a.m. we take the Metro to Terminal del Norte. We are quickly showed to a counter with a departure at 8.30. The time is now 8.15. We want to have some breakfast first, but 'No problemo!'. We just have to be here 8.30. We pay 39.000 ps for 2 persons, and we were the first on the list. All passengers have to write name and id on the lists when going on the busses. Just in case they have to find out who were on the busses if they run over a cliff ledge or is abducted by the Guerrillas - it is true! Post cards sent, yoghurt eaten and coffee gulped. The bus left at 8.35 even though we were only 6 persons in the bus - the bus was OK, and for maybe 40 passengers. Many people had told us that this would be a fantastic trip. On the way out of Medellín, it was not anything special. The next hour, I could use my radio and listen to music while crossing a plateau. Then it goes down towards the low-land between the two mountain ranges. Here is a couple of places which could make good pictures, but beside this... nothing special. Lunch (a couple of Frankfurters - made of good meat). Soon after we are on a level stretch along the big Rio Magdalena (a river), which we cross. We go 100 km towards the south in 35 degrees to Honda. Around here there are some scenic Tepui's - a bit like Monument Valley in the States, except that these have vegetation on them.

Fortunately it gets colder going up towards Bogotá. We go up from 250 meters to 2.800 meters. All right, there is another quite nice stretch - a small railroad winds along the road. We were waiting till the end for the 'fantastic' view - but it didn't come... Next time we'll take the plane. It was on this stretch that some Danes were kidnapped last year; the guerrillas sometime operate around this road.

We arrive in Bogotá at 6 p.m. At the station many touts tried to get us to their hotel. A guy (from Argentina) who came with the bus also took a taxi. He was 20 persons in front of us in the line, but we wound up on the same hotel at the same time. We also had the same book. The taxi cost 2.200 ps and there is a fair distance to La Candelaria - a district in the centro. They had empty rooms at Hotel Turisticó de Santafe. 21.800 ps for two beds. The menu of the day at the hotel cost 2.500 ps - soup, meat and rice.

29 August - Bogotá

Slept 10 hours - one always gets so tired of the long bus journeys. First thing is to go to a bank (Banco Anglo Colombiano) at 9 a.m. At the desk on the second floor, one of the employees looked exactly like Finn Nørbygaard/Woody Allen. He laughed a lot and wore a smile going all the way up to his ears. He would sometime kiss the woman doing the exchanges - she didn't mind. Rather amusing. It takes most of an hour to get 200$ in Traveller's cheques changed. The rate was 1030. We get breakfast - and a reproof at a café: Black coffee which I call Café Negro - it is Café Tinto here!

We walk along the busy Carr. 7 north to Centro International. An interesting street. At Jiménez we see a lot of people with their small parchment envelopes with emeralds. Some are black and some are Colombians - some are probably both. They trade them here, often in small groups.

Finally (!) I find some Colombian T-shirts - and even a place with postcards. The only postcards we have found until now was a booklet from the Gold museum. Had to pay the outrageous sum of 350 ps per card, but at this time it was the only place I had seen them :-( Later we find shops selling only postcards - try Jiménez around Carr. 4. We go to the Intercontinental Airlines and buy tickets for Pasto (close to the Ecuadorian border), Monday morning. 92.000 ps. Walk to Museo Nacional and take a look at the 3. Floor which is their Fine Arts department with Colombian painters. Some of the artists are quite good, e.g. Alejandro Obregón and Botero. 1.000 ps in entrance. Spaghetti for lunch (at "Spaghetto" on Carr. 7). I buy my T-shirt - 7.000 ps, but good quality - now I can rest assured that I won't come back without my Colombian T-shirt. I end up almost ruining it in Ecuador - (se the picture of me in my T-shirt swinging in lianas in the following travelogue!)

We look in Iglesia de San Francisco, which has changed the candles with artificial ones which light up when you deposit a coin. It was renowned for the many real candles. The altarpiece is quite impressive though. Now we are back at Jiménez, and one of the emerald traders show a few pieces to us. A rather big one (I'd say 3-4 ct) he is willing to sell for 200$ (probably just a peridot or another gem). He also have a ring with small emeralds - I think they look too artificial; too much brilliance - 50$. We could probably have had both for half the price if we haggled. We just wanted to have a look, so no buying. All books advice against it anyway. A tremendous boom sounds, and we fold up - the seller even drops a couple of his stones. It turns out just to be a clap of thunder, but I'd say they are quite louder than I'm used to here - probably because we are up in 2.800 meters. We pass by the Plaza de Bolívar; the new Palacio de Justica is still not finished - the old one was taken by M-19 guerrillas in 1985, and after being liberated, they tore the rest of it down. It rains a bit, so we enter a café and write postcards for a couple of hours, and walk back home.

At this time it is in it's place to write a bit about the security here. Along the Carr. 7 and in the Centro International, there has been police and military everywhere, so we have felt pretty secure. Of course we have heard this and that about Bogotá being quite unsafe, but this goes for many cities, so you take your precautions. We had our valuables stored at the hotel, and didn't bring our camera while walking in the City. We had only seen a couple of other westerners, and NO cameras at all. So I didn't fell so unsafe so far, but we would hear more later about safety here...

We were going to meet with the Danish girl at 6.30, so we left at 6.15. At this time, it takes 15 minutes to get a taxi, but at least he uses the meter. It only costs 1.200+100 evening extra charge to get to Chapinero! Slightly more than a dollar - that is a bargain for a trip taking almost half an hour.

We don't know so much about the girl, but it turns out that Kirsten stays in this house with Berit, both work for a Christian organisation called Pan de Vida (Bread of life). I will refer to them as 'the girls'. They are in the early twenties and work with street children, children's homes and a home for people who want to get out of their addicts - drugs, alcohol, etc. This house is owned by the organisation where there is room for 10, but right now they are only 2. At this time they have been here for 7 month, and have 4 months left. They have a social- and health education.

We enjoy the dinner with subsequent coffee. We hear about their work, the church and hear stories (true) about the dangers, the violence and the crime here in Bogotá. It has just been elected to be the most dangerous city in the world! After hearing what they have told, we believe it.

They can get the day off tomorrow and show us around, if we like, and we do! We have brought a small packet from Denmark to Kirsten (from one of her friends), which turns out to be candy of different kinds. The mice (at different places) have taken bites of different parts, but some things they don't like - e.g. the liquorice.

The girls are very warm and friendly, and we feel much at home here. They love their work very much and 'their' children.

Sara and I (mostly I) have had many laughs about all the mosquito bites that Sara has got on her legs; she couldn't quite understand where they came from since she had not seen so many mosquitoes. My explanations was that it is usually the case that the persons I travel with are more attractive to mosquitoes than I so they get the bites, and I don't. Kirsten and Berit then told us about the many fleas and how they bite you on the legs, and what they look like. Sara and I glanced at each other and began to laugh.

30 August - Bogotá

We have heard a little about what we are going to see today, and what precautions we will have to take: no earrings, the hair tied up, no jewellery, no watch, no bag, no camera. On one hand I look much forward to what is going to happen, but I also know that today I'm going to see things that I have been spared for until now, so in a way I wish it was over by now.

We do our daily ritual - eating a yoghurt and take a taxi to the girls place. We talk about what we are going to see and pray together for protection. The girls live in a part of the city called Chapinero, which is north of the centro, but before the rich parts to the far north. First we walk to a Christian kindergarten which is situated on the outskirts of one of the 600 slum areas - or shanty towns. Berit and Kirsten work here some afternoons every week. Most of the slum areas are on the southern hills, but also up on the hills to the east, and in the middle of the city. It is run by a small congregation which is building a church next to it. The woman who is in charge of the kindergarten, Carolina, tells that there have just been a burglary into a shed on the ground - and there has been stolen for 1.500.000 ps building materials and inventory. These were new things that they have been collecting money for during a long time.

The children have one room - 8 x 3 square metres. We see no toys except pens and paper. The girls tell that they have a bit which volunteers have brought from Denmark. At this time there is 20-25 children in the age of 3 to 5 years. The 5 to 7 years old are in school until the afternoon. It is obvious that these are children of the lowest and poorest of all - but are they happy! They run to us and hug us and want to be swing around; some are writing a few words in Spanish. They line up for photography - Sara brought a camera for this place which is not the most dangerous - and they sing 4 songs for us. Carolina wants to follow us further into the slum area and show us some the other kindergartens. The children who are not in the kindergartens are sometimes tied up to - or chained to their beds while their parents are out. We continue up and see 3 places which look pretty much the same - 10-15 children in a complete dark 2 x 4 meter big room (maximum!), and a woman in the kitchen. It looks like the children take care of them selves. I guess the children in the Christian kindergarten are lucky compared to these.

We walk a couple of blocks, and in a cafeteria, the girls see a couple of people from El Cartucho ('the bullet'). It is maybe the worst slum area in Bogotá - but more about this later. They are former drug addicts who now live at one of the two homes where the girls also have worked. They have to work for their food and shelter. In the home they have a small workshop where they make small clay figures. These they sell in the busses while they tell their testimony or their story and they also sell a small booklet by the leader of the home, Eduardo Betancur. We buy a couple of booklets, which they also have in English.

We have our postcards sent - and these arrive back home within a week. The girls know the right place to buy ice-cream; near to their place.

Kirsten and Berit are expecting a visit from a former 'client' who now lives outside Bogotá. They are going to visit him next weekend, and need directions. In their house they cannot have visits from clients and former clients, but they sometime meet here and go to another place. We wait for an hour, but he doesn't come. Typical Colombian mentality. They tell that they have sometimes waited up to 3 hours for their visitors and friends to arrive - but they usually come.

We buy a slice of pizza before leaving.

We walk to a house for children without parents or street children. It is here that the girls work most of the time. We talk to the children and I play and practice my Spanish with a couple of them - and so do Sara, Kirsten and Berit with others. This is one of the houses that Pan de Vida has here. Most of the children are sponsored by people in Denmark and other countries. The children are here for some time, and if Pan de Vida can get the accepts from their parents (if they live), the children can be adopted to 'real' parents. For each child they spend many days in court to get the permissions. Most of the children have been abused, been living on the streets sniffing glue, before coming here. If you would like to sponsor a child there, you can write to Børnenes Liv, Mars Allé 98, DK-2860 Søborg, Denmark. You will get pictures of the child and general information. It costs 150 DKR (about 25$) per month to help a child.

We have to walk a lot since the girls were not allowed to use most of the Calles to walk between the Carreras. We take a bus to Jiménez, which is one of the east-west streets which is OK to use. Pan de Vida have given the girls instructions about which streets they can use - the rest is just not safe at all. I think it is more dangerous for girls, so I don't feel so scared about it.

We walk past Plaza de Bolivar and the parliament. At Calle 8 we go west two blocks to Carr. 10 - 3 blocks from where the President sleeps. On the other side of the street we could see El Cartucho. The girls phone to the home for someone to escort us. He comes 5 minutes later. The girls are a bit suspicious since they have never seen this man before. He turns out to be OK, and is actually working full time at the homes here. He was working as a teacher (I think) when he was called by God to work in El Cartucho. We walk quickly 20 meters into the area, and enter a door. This is the woman's house. Inside is a small corridor which leads to a small 4 times 4 meter area. The girls tell us that before they got the other house (for the men), they could have service here for several hours with 100 persons! They would also fill the stair which leads up, and the kitchen behind. We are told that this morning they found 4 bodies on the corner, a few meters away. Our friend who escorted us walks several times to the door and gives bananas and other things to beggars who come to the door. After 10 minutes we hear shouting outside. One go out to ask what has happened. It was a small shop opposite which had been robbed. We talk with some of the residents - former drug addicts and prostitutes. Many of them falls back after some time, and go back to live on the street for some time. To live here, they have to work for the home, and cannot take drugs. We take a look upstairs where 15 bunk beds are placed right next to each other. A mother (most of the girls have children) only have their bed and a few personal belongings. An interesting thing, which goes for most Colombians, is that even though they have nothing, it is very important how they look! The girls wear makeup and 'fancy' clothes - and it is probably the only thing they have. For other Colombians - and maybe for most Latin Americans - people spend much of the little money they have on clothes and their appearance. From the window, we can see more of the street, and the people there. Depressing. The girls tell that last time they had a visitor to this place, he had brought a camera, and going out of the door he had pressed his camera box to his chest so people would not see it. But they had noticed that he was holding something, so after a few meters he fell behind, quickly to men were behind him holding a gun to his head and gone again in no time.

We then meet Eduardo who doesn't look very special - a nice young man. The girls have told us about him, but I don't really realise who he is until reading his testimony later (the booklet we bought). He had been working as a drug trafficker for drug cartels in Medellín, stabbing people, lodging at deluxe hotels, been in prison for 3 years, had hired assassins, most of his family was killed or died of drug addiction, he stabbed the woman he lived with, lost everything and lived on the streets in El Cartucho. Ends up in jail again, and God starts calling to him. After getting out, he ends up in a church, and his life changes. Now he is 24 years old, and he gets a honest job, marries a girl and they get two children. He gets help from the mayor to start the 'Chain Breaking Homes'. They now have two houses and 50 people live there. He preaches the Gospel and runs the home 24 hours a day. The girls tell us that they have services often, and if they come for a visit, they could say - let's make a service this night, and these could run for many hours. In the booklet is a couple of accounts you can use, if you want to help them financially: Banker Trust Company New York No. 041-68505 ABA No. 021001033. Or Banco Caja Social Cta. No. 150390040736, Santafe De Bogotá, D.C. - Colombia.

Leaving, I glance back the street, and I cannot really describe it, but it looked like something out of a war-movie. Covered up people all over, the whole street full of people, burning fires on the street, beggars, etc. We walk to the other place - the men's home - and have to take a detour around the area. They almost never walk through the district any more. The street we pass through looks like something from the war - bombed out houses. It feels like another world. The men's house is outside El Cartucho, and somewhat bigger. We look around for half an hour, and are greeted by all the men there with a blessing. Most have returned from selling and making the small things for the day and are watching television. They are later going to have Church all night.

Two of the men follows us out to find a taxi, but it is now rush hour, so it takes some time. We take the girls back to their home, and pick up our things. A big cadeau to them. We take the same taxi back to the hotel. We are silent after all the impressions of today.

A day in "El Cartucho" (from the booklet ' Freedom from the Hellish drug')

6:00 a.m. A few people, only about three dozen indigent people consuming drug, the other ones are sleeping. Only a few ones are on the streets asking for money to continue consuming drug; on the corner, a bad smelling, pale and haggard being is screaming; everything is normal; the card board collector gets to the garbage cans and picks up card board, bottles, and suddenly he sees a hand in the garbage, uncovers it with a wooden stick, looks at everywhere and runs away - a dead person!

7:00 a.m. The garbage collecting truck picks up the first shovel and someone screams ¡a dead person!, stop, stop.

8:00 a.m. The door knock downers arrive, the advisor watchman fell asleep, two of them are taken to somewhere else. The advisor is condemned to death; everything continues to be normal; only a murmur sounds, how many people are in the group?

Mario - the police - is coming down, watch very carefully because the sight is deceitful.

10:30 a.m. Six shots, someone screams, - drag him! Only the dust left by the dead man in a bag is seen.

11:00 a.m. The patch, someone says, "I'm a philosopher", "I'm a doctor" says the other one; an elderly woman get close and says, "I'm Chatita, the owner of a great mansion"; everything is believable going over her manners conscientiously.

3:00 p.m. Hundreds of indigents, only smoke, fights, dead people and alcohol.

5:00 p.m. The dead one's brothers and sisters arrive and cry, "taking the stake, taking the shake, get close, dear brothers and sisters, taking advantage of the blessing"; we start getting to the place only by one, they look at us lovingly and give us their love.

Cordially,

El Ñero - 'The Indigent one'.

31 August - Bogotá

Up at 8. Yoghurt and coffee at a café. We had to wait from 9 to 9.30 for the Museo del Oro to open - the famous gold museum. It was supposed to open at 9. It costs 1.500 ps per person. We went to the third floor first, the Strong Chamber. The guard thought we didn't know about the other floors, but we said we wanted to see this first. I thought it was quite good to see this first since you get a bit exhausted after some time. On the top floor is the finest gold findings, divided into regions of Colombia. We were impressed several times - just think that these pieces of gold looked exactly the same hundreds of years ago. They also have a couple of multi-media computers with pieces of information - but it is the same as you get while taking the round trip. You are not allowed to take pictures here - with or without flash (the TSK says something else). They have English translations; you get a sheet for each 'region', but they are a bit confusing since they have numbers, but they don't correspond to those on exhibition cases. At the end, you enter a big room with 4.000 (!) pieces of gold. They play some Andean music and let the sun rise and go down. Neat!

The second floor is a bit more varied - different things from the regions like gold, pots, gold melting techniques, statues and burial chambers - from Tierradentro. It is well arranged, but you get tired in the long run. Sara was not so easy tired as myself though. The first floor is smaller and quickly seen. We left at 12.30, so we have spend about 3 hours there.

Have lunch and split. Sara visits a couple of handicraft markets, and I check out some music stores. They are quite disorganised. We continue on to Centro International. I find a place to look at emeralds, and the pieces have quite good colours. They start with 400.000 pesos per ct. I buy a nice one with a crystal inclusion - 0.35 ct for 110.000 ps - so at least I got 20% discount... They claimed that usually I should also pay 9% extra since I used my credit card - which I believe since many other places they did charge that. They have two emerald mines in Colombia, Muzo and Chiuor. I think that the only other place they have emerald mines of the same quality are in the Swat valley in northern Pakistan, but I'm not an expert. Next door I buy another nice souvenir - a 'Colombian Coffee'-cup - 'El mejor Café del mundo!'. I walk south, and do think it looks unfamiliar - too many street vendors. Suddenly I swallow an extra time - it looks too much like El Cartucho on the other side of the street - and I can see Bolívar square to the east - so it must be, and I hurry that way. I find out that Carr. 10 and 7 meets in Centro International, but spread out to the south.

Meet with Sara in the hotel, and we go to a supermarket and buy some coffee (to bring home), and it starts pouring down. There was a note from the travel agency that we should call and reconfirm our tickets. I didn't think it was necessary since we just bought them a couple of days before. We had planned to take a taxi to the Botanical gardens, but it rains too much by now. We go to our favourite café, Baron Rojo (the Red Baron) on Carr. 8, close to Jiménez, and have a café con leche. Sara likes their bread. We give the park a miss and read until 8 p.m. Fried chicken for dinner - Sara only eats the soup of the day since she have eaten a whole bag of Marshmallows! I finish my favourite book - the Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

1 September, Sunday. Bogotá

Up at 7.15. After a Bon-Yurt with serial, we quickly find a taxi, so we are with Berit and Kirsten half an hour before scheduled - at 9. They had just had cable-TV installed. Yesterday, they had taken two children from the home with them to a McDonald's in the city, and afterwards in a park and to their place - they do it every Saturday with different children. For most of them, it is the first time in their life that they get to go to a restaurant, and for the children it is something they never will forget.

We take a bus going west. The bus system in this city is the very difficult to figure out; I never really did find out, but you have to know a lot of numbers, and where they are going. We go to the church they frequent, which is a charismatic Baptist church. They have two services each Sunday morning; about 300 people come to the first one. The pastor is black and from Belgium - but you can't tell. The church has a children's home, and people/clients from two other homes also come here. First we had an hour with praise and prayers (like being home!), and then an American preacher was here as a guest - with translation - so we could at least understand everything. The interpreter was quite good, but at one time the preacher was talking about the many facets of a snowflake and that all are different from each other. The interpreter didn't understand it. "You don't know what a snowflake is like?" - deep silence. He had to find another example. I found it a bit amusing.

After the Service, we go to a café and have a tinto and some bread with some caramel substance in the middle.

We say good bye to Berit, she is going on a visit today. Kirsten goes with us in a Taxi to the Cero de Monserrate (a look out point over the city), since the weather looks good enough for a visit. It is a bit cloudy though. There is both a Teleferíco and a Funicular. I find out at this point that a teleferíco is a cable car /aerial ropeway, and the Funicular is a small railroad track with a small train, being pulled up (I did not know that). The Teleferíco costs 2.300 ps, and we wait about 15 minutes. Wow, what a view from the top; like Sara says: you never get tired of these things! Bogotá is situated on a big plateau, so it seems very flat from here. This range of mountains is to the east of the city. We go and take a look at the church - which is the reason most people come here. It is a site for pilgrimage for Catholics - there is a wooden figure of the fallen Christ to which many miracles have been attributed to. There is a huge crowd before the image, which passes past the glass cage.

We continue up, and (of course) there is 100 stalls with religious souvenirs, liquor and food. From here, you can also see to the north. We wait (at least) an hour to get down, so we don't reach the bottom until about 2.30 p.m. Pan de Vida has a farm for children outside town, and we are invited to see it, but it is a bit late, and we have to go by taxi all the way. We had also talked about a famous waterfall outside Bogotá, but we are advised that it is often so clouded at this time of year that you can't see anything, and further more the water is so polluted that it stinks far away.

We take a bus towards the centro; close to where we live, and kind of look for some typical Colombian food. We don't find something in the vicinity, so we talk over a Mexican pizza. Apropos, it is not hot at all, which is the general thing we have experienced here and in Venezuela - they just don't use spices! But they have extra chilli to add. 9.000 ps for a medium. We say good bye to Kirsten - though we are probably going to meet again. Kirsten is thinking about moving back to Århus when she returns in December.

At the hotel, a young English couple - Nick & Nick, arrive (one female, one male :-). It turns out that they are going to Pasto with the same plane as us in the morning at 6.15, so we arrange for a taxi to pick us up. We pay for the hotel in the evening so we can leave early. In Colombia you pay behindhand for most hotels - but in Venezuela and Ecuador we had to pay in advance most of the places.

2 September - Bogotá - Ipiales/Ecuador

Up at 4 a.m. (!). We were told by Kirsten that a taxi to the airport should cost max. 4.000 ps. He wants 10.000 ps, and we argue most of the way that this is ridiculous, and we end up just paying him 7.000 ps. We are in the airport 5.05 - just 20 minutes of driving from the centro. Nick & Nick tell that they could not go from San Augustin to Pasto (a short distance on the map) because of Guerrilla attacks on the road, so there was no way to get to Ecuador from there. They had to take a plane back here to Bogotá and back to Pasto. They had travelled in Venezuela and seen Caracas, Margarita, Canaimo, Angel Falls, Mérida and other places. In Mérida they had had Spanish classes (for about 3$ per hour).

We check in quickly. We have only 10.000 ps left, so we wait with the breakfast till we get on the plane. We leave on time, 6.15 a.m. Half an hour to Cali - they manage to serve full breakfast in half an hour. A nice outlook over the city to the west of the airport! We arrive in Pasto; well the airport is somewhat out of town (30 km, I think). They have taxis directly for the border (Ipiales), but the British want to go to Pasto first. We are told that it costs 9.000 ps per person for the border. Here we make a grave error. We think it is per person, and since only Sara and I go, we calculate with 18.000 ps. The road is quite good; the ride is nice and beautiful nature around. Both the scenery and vegetation is very different and diverse. We reach the border at 10.30 a.m. We are surprised that the driver wants 36.000 ps, but I guess I have to admit that it is more or less our own fault. He had calculated the 9.000 per person for the 4 of us going. Sara is quite angry with the driver and me for letting him get away with it.

We change 40$ for 3.050 sucres per US$ - we should have waited until Tulcan where we got about 3.250/$. We quickly get an exit stamp with DAS. The border crossing here is 1000 times more quiet than that to Venezuela. We have had fantastic experiences here in Colombia; both the good sides like the villages around Medellín, the coffee and the Caribbean beaches - and the bad sides of the country in Bogotá. We feel lucky and protected that we have not had any bad incidents here.

Afternotes - May 1998

Now, 1½ years after, I get e-mails every week from people who have read this travelogue. Thanks a lot guys! Some (Colombians) don't think I have paid Bogotá the right respect and that it also have many good parts. This is of course true - and bear in mind that there were also several good things to see and to - like the Gold museum and Montserrate. Also it doesn't change the fact that the city is the most dangerous in the world. I just saw 'Full Circle' with Michael Palin last week - he had the exact same impressions as I did, and also went through El Cartucho, and the pictures was also what I saw.

Also, the rebel activity has intensified since I visited; I would be very careful to take the road between Medelín and Bogotá. Check out the latest!

My coffee-cup (El mejor café del mundo) is still my favourite cup, and I love my Colombia T-shirt!

-- Erik Futtrup

Letters - Okt 1998

Here are a few of the comments I have received lately:

Mr. Futtrup: Read your interesting travelogue as I always do to try and understand why it is that people from civilized countries would want to come to what I consider to be the absolute worse place on the face of the earth (I´m Colombian by the way) In all my years I have not a good word to say or anything to recomend about my country, it is dirty disorganised people are rude. Any way if things were bad when you were here, you cannot imagine what it is like now!! Just 2 days ago guerrilla attacks left 170 dead in a small town called Mitu located near the Brazilian border. I guess the fun never ends.

Regards, Luis

I would say that your impressions from Bogota are very biased by the experiences your friends have had there. Sure, it is very unsafe. But I lived there for 20 something years and nothing ever happened to me. And I just happened to be studying in a University located in one of those unsafe streets. But there are good things though, The Candelaria for instance is just great and the city surroundings are very very nice. The Calle del Cartucho is part of our reality yes. But it's only a street which has become very popular among those who praise themselves of helping the indigents and the poor.... That show of the Full Circle was the most biased show I ever saw!! The last thing we need is that kind of publicity, we already get enough crap from the rest of the world. Sure you didn't like that place, I dont' like it either. And people are working to make it change. But sure Colombia is waaaaaay more than that street.

Medellin??? I would go to many places and not to see Pablo Escobar's jail... What for??? What about la vuelta a Oriente??? El Pennol??? What about the paisas?? As I said before, you didn't bother enough to get to know the real beauties of Colombia: The People and the music. Both are closely intertwined.....

I think I could write much more, but that's enough for now. Hopefully you'll go to Colombia again and improve your 'vision'.

Saludos, MP, Monica

Hola! Thanks for the entertaining account of your travels through my native country... I particularly enjoyed the picture of Jerico for that is my mother's birth place and where she spent her childhood (she moved to Medellin as a teenager). It is very interesting to see how a foreigner sees the country. I myself have been away for 16 years and went back a couple of years ago to show my husband what it looked like... We did pretty much the same trip you did with the exception of the Maicao part (you were out of your mind to even go there). I am still amazed by the natural beauty of the country, but very saddened by what it has been done to it, trash and pollution, homeless people and dogs, crime, etc... I also saw "Full Circle" and loved it... I was very embarassed when I realized that the dirty streets filled with drug addicts were actually in Colombia and not some other Latin country... Perhaps some day you can visit the southern part of Colombia where the rainforest is located. it is beautiful! Of course that will have to wait because there is a war going on down there! I hope your friends are back home...they were very nice to spend a part of their lives helping those poor children...o.k. bye-bye! cuidese mucho!

Ana Garcia

I work as an English and Spanish teacher and I'm always very interested in what people from around the world have to say about my country. I think your trip's account may be a great help for those who are planning to visit and want to have unbiased information about what they are expected to find down here.

Let me tell you I usually meet Europeans at the university I work in --although I've never met any Danes-- and still can't understand some of the things you say about our cities and culture. For instance, I was a little surprised that you went to see La Catedral, since a large number of us 'medellinenses' just despise the whole Pablo Escobar story and feel relieved he's now dead. Secondly, I agree with those Colombians who have written you about the things you said about Bogotá. I mean, you could've at least tried to talk about the nicer aspects of the city. :-) Also, if you ever have another chance to visit Colombia, you should really try and see more of Medellín and the 'zona cafetera' (coffee-growing area). I'm not going to say we don't have serious problems, but I guess you realized how interesting Colombia may be.

Regards, Juan

Hello Erik

I hope you have had a lot more of this very interesting and many times enjoiables trips and continue writing your experiences and impressions that surely help a lot of people to decide their next trip, at least it is what I guess, given the amount of visits you register in your counter. I'm really surprised about so strong enthusiasm you have when traveling and without doubt, I have enjoied all your narration, but I belive it is true, you'll find what you are expecting for, and of course, you usually will look, for things other you belive has writing about this place. I mean, you had been prevented about the dangerous city is Bogotá, and really there are a lot of danger here, but not all is in this way and maybe if you were come to other places in the same cities, surely you had a different perception of this country and of the Colombian people, and of course you could write a different history, not more true because what you wrote is something really has happened, but mybe with the same distance from a broader reality. Really there are maybe not more than 300 persons living at the "cartucho" place what without doubt is a lot of people living in the worst possible conditions of die because that is not possible to qualifies like life, but there is a distortion when you focus your narration in this place you chose, when you know ther is a city with 6,5 million people living much of them in really poor conditions but not in that exceptional and extremely bad conditions. Colombia has very deep problems and not doubt, much more than the average a European country has, but there is not justice when the few writings about our country only focuses on the worst part of our society and pretend or at least (it is the fact) show it like the Colombian reality. The kind of problem the "cartucho" has, is a problem I have seen in many other big cities arround the world: in New York, in San Francisco, in Miami, in Rio de Janeiro,... but I'm sure it isn't the average neither the more significant life style at those places like it isn't in Bogotá or any other Colombian or not Colombian city I have known. Really I was born in Medellín but I live in Bogotá since 1980 and belive me I still am surpriced with many places in this city, sometimes because of its bad, sad and poor conditions and many other because of its luxury. Here like in any other Colombian city, there are a lot of disparity and un-justice and at least in my personal feelings, I live angry with so much government corruption and really difficult life we have here because of it, but between that and the perseption your readers will take about Colombia there is a very deep difference. Colombia is not a developed country, is not going in a good direction, more strong than its president problem, we have a really bad, dangerous, irresponsible, dirty, etc congress and politic class, source of all our problems, but our population in a very high percentage (99%) is good people, 40% very poor, 25% poor, 20% meddle, 12% meddle high, 2.99% rich and 0,01 % very rich. The income of the 20% more rich divided for the income of the 20% more poor is near to 30 and the anual average income is near to US$2000. From here you can deduct how poor is the poor people, knowing besides, that an apartment 100 m2 in a clean place is near to US$80.000 and a car Ford scort is US$14.000 , it means, impossible to get for 98% of the populaton. The minimum wage is US$170 monthly and the justice has an effectiveness of 0.5%, less than 1%. Like you can see, I'm not very proud of the Colombian life style, and I'm not trying to say you that we don't have very deep problems, but we are not the society you shoow in your writing although what you saw really happened, happen and will happen many other times. Erik, I hope this comments help you to wider a little your vision about Colombia; if you like more real information taken directly from the field please let me know, maybe I can get it for you.

Take care of you and be happy, Jose

A letter from a friend

(from my friend Linda who was travelling in South America - including Colombia - with Kirsten who is mentioned in this travelogue).

"We had a funny experience in Bogota which probably would interest you. Kirsten had entered a travel agency to order a ticket and while she is sitting and waiting for her ticket, and the agent cannot understand her, two Americans come to her rescue. They talk and the man says that he has just read on the internet about two Danish girls who in 1996 had been working in Bogota. Kirsten then has to admit that it was her and a friend that he had been reading about. A bit of a coincidence. So, there are somebody reading your travelogues. The man told us to say that he had learned things from my descriptions."

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