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  • Day597

    There was no way I was going to miss driving a road called El Trampoline Del Muerte, despite Jo's understandable reservations!

    Either luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it (me the former, Jo the latter), we developed an all too familiar rattle at the front. We popped into a garage in the morning and were pleased to find we just needed to replace the washer and nut on one of the front shocks (again).

    More concerning was the fact that all the petrol stations didn't have any petrol due to the festivities. I reckoned we had more than enough to make it, but driving steep gravel roads wouldn't be at our usual mpg so we threw in one of our spare tanks and hoped for the best!

    Unfortunately best isn't how I could describe my driving as I neglected to take the handbrake off for the first 10km! In my defense the warning light is now continually on, but it was a pretty stupid move and the worst possible time to do it. I only realised was when I saw how hot the engine was - I've never seen boiling engine coolant before - so we admired the view for a while whilst I poured cool spring water over the radiator.

    After that it was pretty plain sailing - sure it was bumpy and slow, but the views were spectacular. The multi hundred metres near-vertical drops were a little disconcerting, and I was glad my mum wasn't in the car with her fear of heights.

    Luckily the first town on the other side had petrol, so we filled up (weirdly on super cheap petrol) and cruised on down to Laguna De La Cocha (which bizarrely translates to Lagoon Lagoon), where we spent a free night at a lovely garden restaurant as we brought a gorgeous meal (garlic trout) for the same as we normally pay to camp.

    I'm so glad we did the 4 hour drive as it saved us a 12 hour round trip on real roads, and it's experiences like this that you remember. Bring on the Death Roads in Bolivia & Ecuador!!
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  • Day589

    Steelhorse Finlandia is a new overlander spot being set up by a 30 year old British lass, Yvette, escaping from the London rat race. It's a gorgeous finca (farm) set in the glorious coffee region, and a perfect spot for Xmas.

    We were joined by a bunch of other travellers: fellow Brits Marcus and Julie in their beast of a truck, KP & Taylor from Oregon in their pop up truck slide-in camper, Felipe & Gabriella from Brazil in their beautiful new but old looking VW westie and crazy Brit Ben overlanding in a TVR! There was another half dozen vans of various shapes and sizes as well.

    Yvette laid on meals and activities so it was a really nice change from life on the road. We finally got to play Teco, which involves lobbing metal discs at a hoop of metal embedded in clay, hoping to set off the wraps of gun powder. On Xmas eve the Europeans celebrate so we joined in with the big BBQ, but not the 4am partying in the town! Christmas day was a nice lazy and overindulgent affair, as it should be! We found an amazing English-made cranberry and brie pie - super expensive but unlike anything we've had since we've been on the road so well worth it. There was a full traditional roast later on, and we ended up playing card games. I even managed to make a pretty decent fudge, despite having to improvise on a few ingredients.

    On boxing day we arranged a TVR vs a horse race - a bizarre spectacle but a lot of fun. The following day everyone packed up and set off in their different directions, but hopefully we will bump into our new friends again soon.

    Of course we would rather be at home with friends and family but for a Xmas on the road it was as near to a traditional one as you are likely to find abroad.
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  • Day578

    We eventually made it to Guatape, where we met Bernadette & Regina a German couple who we later spent Xmas with.

    It's a damn big rock! Fantastic views from the top over the man made lakes.

  • Day569

    Just as we were climbing out of Rio Claro Elvis's brakes failed!! Actually that's a bit melodramatic, we did have a leak in one of the brake tubes but we still had a decent amount of braking power.

    We're really lucky on the timing as the day before we had descended around 2000m and then bombed it up the first decent highway I've seen here. I heard a bit of a bang, the ABS and brake lights came on the dash, and then the brakes were a little squishy but they weren't too bad.

    We decided to head to nearby Medellin as our friends had created a new iOverlander spot (THE app for travelers with vehicles) for a brake specialist for their Dodge. On the way we came to a sketching halt (OK, not quite!) as we recognised Pablo Escobar's famous Hacienda Napoles from the Narcos Netflix show.

    After crawling down the crazy steep road (in 1st gear for a lot of it) into the valley that contains the city as it seemingly pushes its edges further up the slopes, we then had to contend with Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. There's only really one main road and it follows the river through the city. It's formed of two roads in both directions, each with 3 lines (therefore 12 total), with few places to switch between them. As we were travelling at 5 mph we had sufficient time to work it out and it only took us and hour and a half.

    Frustratingly when we got there the guy said he didn't have a scanner for our vehicle, so we found the mechanics' area and got a recommendation (courtesy of iOverlander) who fixed the broken tube. They also sorted out the mildly irritating issue of having to have the hazard lights switch on for the indicators (blinkers to the yanks) to work, and the broken windscreen washer that comes off in heavy rain (hardly ideal!).

    We finished up around 6pm and were so glad we knew of a hostel (you can guess how) that we could park outside of not that far away, even if it did take us the best part of an hour to get there.

    We spent a 3 nights here enjoying the modern city and we even took in a big cup semi final game for Athletico National. The open stadium was amazing with the city lights stretching up outside of it and the fans were typical south american (i.e. Non-stop singing, drums & general pandemonium behind one goal). It was weird to see it go straight to penalties without extra time, but the home team blazered their first two wide and never recovered.
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  • Day568

    After Elvis ground his way out of the incredibly steep side of Medellìn's valley he then had to negotiate some amazingly twisty back roads that Wales or NZ would be jealous of. Smoking hot radiator and brakes we finally pull in to Al Bosque Glamping and are immediately calmed by the relaxed nature of this great camp ground. As the crow flies we're probably less than 10 miles from where we started but way higher up at 2000 masl so the air is cool and clean, plus there are views to die for.

    We stayed here a week and made good use of the two cable cars that run from the national park down into the city, connecting with the metro that runs the length of the city.

    Maya loved this place and was immediately one of her resident pack, eating with them and following people out on walks. We took advantage and left her a couple of times as its not really fair to her being pulled around on busy streets.

    We needed to leave as I'd stupidly only brought 2 months worth of insurance, thinking we might be in Ecuador by now, and knowing there were loads of places to buy it. There are, but as it happens not for foreigners so after a wasted day in horrible Rio Negro we returned to Al Bosque and I spent the next day traipsing around the city sorting it out.

    Still a great place to stay and really nice host, David.
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  • Day564

    I can't remember let alone pronounce the name of this nice little town that is made famous by its stunning salt cathedral.

    You start by walking down a tunnel oozing with salt and are soon 200m below the surface. This used to be an active salt mine, but as techniques progress they start mining the next layer down. They're currently mining level 4 down, using water which creates huge bottle shaped caverns. Previously they used long corridors and they spent 11 years converting this layer into a cathedral.

    There are 14 stations of the cross carved into the long rectangular caverns. Each cross is many metres high so you can imagine (or just look at the photos!) how impressive they are when lit up. Then you hit the main cathedral on a balcony looking out over 3 massive caverns.

    As you delve to the far end there's a super tacky light show and lots of tourist tat, which did make it feel a little less reverent although a lot more Colombian.
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  • Day563

    We left the San Gil area & headed off the beaten track on a windy, occasionally paved road to a great little spot that some earlier overlanders had discovered. A short walk from the road is a river that runs over smooth rock bed but has sudden & deep round holes - a bit like Swiss Cheese! Maya discovered this the hard way by happily trotting along in the very shallow water until suddenly there was no hard ground beneath her & she had an unexpected swim!

    We spent a fun afternoon here and found a lovely camp spot at a local swimming hole, although we did have to drive through a river crossing to get there. The next morning we visited the nearby town of Guadeloupe, which had a nice hustle & bustle about it along with some incredible BBQ (basically half a cow on a fire) that the chef took great pride in letting us taste - we of course bought some for our lunch.

    We continued on to the colonial town of Villa de Leyva, an incredible town of white-washed houses, cobbled streets and the biggest town square in Latin America. The scenery here is stunning, with glorious rolling fields and the high peaks create a lovely microclimate.

    This was also to be where Phil would start a new decade!

    On his birthday after an early round of Bucks Fizz we rode our bikes to look at the worlds most complete example of a kronosaurus (marine dinosaur). At 110 million years old it made Phil feel less ancient and I managed to find him another big fish as he’s become accustomed to on his birthday! We cycled on to see the calendar of the Muisca people who were the inhabitants here before the Spanish came along and massacred them. The calendar consisted of precisely placed phalic stones arranged so that the first light of the day would cast a shadow over other stones so they could follow the equinoxes for planting and harvesting. We had a wonderfully enthusiastic guide that really gave us an insight into the Muisca society and science behind the calendar. We finished off the ride with the obligatory tea & cakes.

    The previous evening we had a lovely meal in a fancy restaurant, where the owner tickled the ivories in the background, but I'd spotted a fondue restaurant and didn't see why I couldn't have two birthday meals. Unfortunately when we arrived ravenous after our long ride and wanting to ease the aches with a massive cheese overdose, they were shut despite earlier telling us they would be open.

    The drive out of town up through a high pass was even more spectacular, with landscape reminiscent of the states albeit it on a smaller scale.
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  • Day557

    After our parapenting adventures we headed down from the top of the canyon to a town called San Gil. Spent a very relaxing night in a campsite by the river and were so relaxed we drive off without Maya the next day! No harm she didn't even notice we'd gone when we went back!

    Drove up to the beautiful colonial town of Bariachara - really stunning and such a lovely atmosphere. There was a free camping spot which just felt so safe & friendly we had no worries about parking up for the night. Starting almost from this very point there is a very old pathway to another a neighbouring town, Guane so we walked the old stone path that wound along the valley side and had a nice lunch. We enjoyed the hike it so much that instead of getting the bus back we ended up walking - Maya was delighted.Read more

  • Day555

    Most people will have never heard of Canyon De Chiamocha - think Grand Canyon but maybe just a tad less grand. Even so, driving up onto the one of the two massive ridges that run the length of the country gave us incredible views and more importantly we were finally away from the oppressive heat of the Colombian Caribbean coast.

    We camped at some cabanas right on the lip of the canyon in a lovely little spot with views to die for and gorgeous sunsets. We met Jose & Marc, 2 French dudes on bikes, who we bumped into a few times as we all headed south.

    Soon after we set up camp and got a brew on there was suddenly a dark shadow above us. Barely 20m up there was a tandem parapenter swooshing overhead. The next day we walked 5 minutes down the road to the take off point and watched Jose & Marcus take to the skies. I had a slightly dodgy stomach and we were enjoying the high altitude climate so we deferred a day.

    Fortunately it was another beautiful morning, and we soon found ourselves running down a very very steep mountain before gently gliding away into the canyon. It was way more smooth and comfortable than I was expecting, and only mildly disconcerting that when you looked down you saw nothing but feet and valley floor! We cruised out to the middle of the canyon and caught a thermal off a small ridge. It was pretty small so the man in charge threw us into a tight spiral, and all of a sudden the smooth ride was over! We topped out at around 2,000m along with a couple of turkey vultures hitching the same lift.

    We banked high above Elvis and rode the thermal along the main ridge to the national park buildings. Now we had plenty of height I asked for some tricks in the way down and nearly regretted it! He quickly threw us into tight figure of eight and the centrifugal force pushed us 45° to the side. Earlier I saw a solo glider do a repeated full somersaults over his chute, so I was a little nervous about what might come next but fortunately we just did a few more spins before touching down to a pretty soft landing.

    It was a great early birthday present so thanks to family back home for making it happen.
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