Colombia – the final frontier … for this trip

Sanctuary of Las Lajas- looks like a fairy castle from the road above

We said goodbye early in the morning to Ecuador. Right across the border we detoured to the east to check out the Sanctuary of Las Lajas (The Slabs) we read about on the internet. It is considered the second greatest marvel in Colombia, and well worth the detour. The church was built right into the rock slabs on a steep ravine some 130 feet above the Guaítara River. Unlike so many Catholic Churches that make you climb innumerable steps to get up to them, this one has you climbing down over a hundred steps and several steep paths to get to the church. The catch is you have to climb all that to get back home again after! We saw more than one panting little nun on her way into town!

Town Square in Pasto

Since it was still early in the day, we decided to quickly check out the town of Pasto and then continue north. It was a very pleasant town, being the seat of government for that province of Colombia. You can see some of the agriculture on the hills, and some of the colonial buildings on the main plaza. The street goes right under the brick arch you see in the background.

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Popayán

After spending the night in a nice little hotel on the ravine along the road, we arrived in Popayán around noon the next day. Also the seat of government in its province, it is a fairly large city with a beautiful historic center.

The White City

The city has been referred to as the White City for many years. I imagine you can figure out why, but despite what you see, it is losing that nickname because more and more buildings are being painted with murals and in many colors.

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This is one happy man 🙂

While walking, it began to rain. This gave Raul a good reason to get this umbrella that now doubles as a lethal weapon of defense – just in case.

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The following pictures of two bridges in town come with interesting stories.

The Bridge of Safekeeping

In the early 1700s, Don Jacinto Mosquera, a rich man in the town, watched a poor priest trying to cross the river to bring communion to a sick parishioner. He saw the priest debate with himself for fear of being washed away in the river.  Because of this, the Don took it upon himself to build this little bridge with his own money so that that would not happen again. He himself named it El Puente de la Custodia – the Bridge of Safekeeping.

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The Bridge of Humbling

This bridge is referred to as the Bridge of Humbling because in this place before it was built, in order to get across the ravine the people had to practically climb on their hands and knees to get up the steep sides – thus the humbling experience. Built in 1863, it continues to be a beautiful and solid bridge today.

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Protest for Peace

From Popayan, we headed to Cali. Along the way we were rerouted to give these people room to march for peace on one side of the highway between two towns. Just the day before they had faced guerillero action – including bombing and kidnapping of military and police. The people do not support the activity of the guerilleros and want it to end!

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Historic District – Cali

Santiago de Cali is the third largest city in Colombia – behind Bogotá and Medellín. We entered the city with a couple hostels on the list of possibilities. We soon found that, though many list their hostels as having parking, none of them do. Parking is on the street at your own risk (not recommended), or in a parking lot blocks away that charges by the day. We finally found a hotel near the historic district in the San Antonio neighborhood with parking. We were told it was extra for parking, but we were not going to look any further. We were within walking distance of the places we knew we wanted to see and close to public transportation for anything else. In the end, they didn’t charge us any extra 🙂

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Teatro Municipal Enrique Buenaventura

This Municipal Theater was a short distance from our hotel. The evening we got into town, while walking around, we came upon it full of young people and their families, performers on stilts and photographers. We stopped to ask what was going on and they told us that a local school was putting on a play. What a gorgeous place to do it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me and we had to return the next day to get this photo – not quite as exciting.

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Saint Francis religious Complex

The St. Francis Religious Complex, built between the 17th and 18th centuries, consists of the Church of St. Francis you see at the front, the moorish Tower of Mudéjar toward the back, the Convent of San Juaquin and the Chapel of the Immaculate – built right in the center of the original city. It’s well worth the visit.

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… us in some plaza??

I am not exactly sure who the statue is of, but we look good here, so I put it in 🙂

Actually, he is the famous Conquistador, Sebastian de Belalcázar – I googled it. He came to the Americas with Christopher Columbus on his third journey, remained to aid in the conquest of Peru, founded the cities of Quito, Pasto, Popayan, and Santiago de Cali. There is something significant in that he is looking down into the valley where the city is while pointing away from it – not sure what is is???

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Cristo Rey

On a nearby hill overlooking Cali is the statue of the Cristo Rey – Christ the King. Though not quite as dramatic (or visible) as Christ the Redeemer in Rio, it’s quite nice. Just because I wanted to know, I checked – Cristo Rey is nearly 102 feet tall with base included, while Christ the Redeemer is about 125 feet with base included. While they are pretty close in size, Christ the Redeemer in Rio can still bring tears to my eyes when I see it.

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The River Cat

The River Cat Park is down near the center of town along the river. It is a park dedicated to this cat and his 16 girlfriends.

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the dirty cat – kind of looks like Max 🙂

In the park are 16 identical cats representing the river cat’s girlfriends – each decorated up in a different way by various local artists.

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I went out for a walk around town … be back soon.

… well 15 – check out the sign at the empty spot 🙂

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Raul, me, Scott and Mark

To top off our visit to Cali, without any manipulation to schedules or routes, we were able to spend the day with our future in-law, Scott, and his friend Mark – the man who will perform the marriage of our youngest daughter to Scott’s son, Torsten. They just happened to be in Colombia on a short mission trip. I had had the opportunity to meet Torsten and his whole family except Scott when last in California, but Raul hadn’t met any of them in person. We enjoyed a wonderful visit. Don’t we have a great God ♥

check out the hitch hiker 🙂

From Cali we headed back up into the mountains toward Bogotá.

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Bogotá – no small town!

Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, is a city of about 7,500,000 inhabitants – the biggest in Latin America. It is the third highest capital city after La Paz and Quito, at over 8,600 ft.

Once again we found Colombia to be parking-challenged and surrendered to the idea of the distant parking lot while staying in a crazy conglomeration of old houses-turned-hotel in the historic district with a great feeling and a greater staff.

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This is the Plaza Bolivar, where in 1985 the guerrilla movement M-19 took over the Justice building, resulting in 25 Supreme Court Justices and 12 guerrillas dead. Today it is calm and safe with local police making sure it stays that way.

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The Cathedral of Bogota

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… roof-top art 🙂

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No … not a man up there, just art.

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the piece the collection began with

Museo del Oro – Bogotá

my favorite piece

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a tiny thing – not much bigger than an inch

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Included within the Museum of Gold is an entire section with art by Colombian artist, Fernando Botero. Something I just found out is that he and I share the same birthday … with a few years in between.

This bronze sculpture kind of made Raul feel like he was in the hand of God  🙂

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Botero’s Mona Lisa at the age of 12

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There was a story we read that told of a time when this painting was displayed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art at the same time as Da’ vinci’s Mona Lisa was being exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Botero’s young son was quite upset when his teacher announced that the Mona Lisa was in the museum and he said he knew, because it was his dad who had painted it – and no one believed him 🙂

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Simon Bolivar’s lovely dining room

After the art museums we headed to the Simon Bolivar’s Country House Museum. It was so lovely – well maintained with beautiful gardens all around. I particularly liked this dining room. It is set apart from the house, all on its own with french doors on all four sides looking out to the gardens. It makes for a beautiful room in the lovely, cool climate of Bogotá.

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… at the top

From one of the higher points in Bogota we caught the funicular in order to climb nearly 2000 ft above the city to visit the Cerro de Monserrate – a beautiful spot popular on a natural, religious and gastronomical level. It has a beautiful cathedral overlooking the city below, a couple fancy restaurants that were not open yet when we were there, and some beautiful trails for hiking. At over 10,000 ft above sea level, it was a bit chilly and left us a little bit breathless for the hiking – I loved it!

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in the choir loft of the main chapel

Moving on, in the little town of Zipaquirá, not far north of Bogotá, you find Colombia’s first greatest marvel – the Salt Cathedral. Begun as a little stop-over place for the miners to ask for God’s protection as they entered to work, it slowly became a chapel, then a church they invited their families to, and finally an all-out cathedral carved into the very salt they mined. At the time we visited, the original cathedral was no longer accessible, but a few years after it closed for safety reasons, they began to carve out another to take its place in tunnels they no longer mine.

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the largest salt cross in the world

The cross behind the altar is the largest salt cross in the world at 14 feet tall and it’s also a great optical illusion. It is not hanging by anything or supported on the floor. It would weigh too much and the arms would break off. It is actually carved into the salt wall and lit in such a way to look like it is standing out from the wall.

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Baptism Room

This is the baptismal room. The fount that Raul is leaning on is carved out of salt, not granite.

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Water mirror

Apart from the various chapels and the main cathedral hall, there are many other rooms for various uses. There is a theater with a 3D show on how this was all built, another hall for a really fun light show, gift shops, wall carvings, a cafe at about 600 ft underground, and this 860 square foot mirror of saltwater.

It looks like a deep rocky pit with a railing around it, but it’s really a perfectly calm pool of very salty water about 8 inches deep that comes right up to the edge. What you see is the perfect reflection of the rocky ceiling above and the surrounding walls. Being right there it was hard to tell it was just a reflection. This is a good picture to click on and enlarge.

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Villa de Leyva

Another interesting and beautiful little colonial town near Bogota is Villa de Leyva. It was declared a National Monument on December 17, 1954 to preserve its architecture. Antonio Ricaurte, a Captain of Simon Bolivar’s army in the war of independence of Venezuela and Colombia, was born in here.

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Plaza Mayor

I heard from our German friends that the town set up a huge tv here for people to watch the Gold Cup games. They enjoyed watching Germany play I believe???

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This looks like a great dog park to me 🙂

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our new Venezuelan friend, Raul

While we were wandering around town looking for a place to stop we ran into the first Venezuelan campers on the trip. We had a lovely evening camping alongside them, sharing a really nice dinner and even better companionship 🙂

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the Bridge of Boyaca – a symbol of the independence of South America

Not far from Villa de Leyva is the Bridge of Boyacá, where the definitive battle that led to the independence of Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador from Spain.

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Bolivar Monument overlooking the Bridge of Boyaca

We enjoyed a very interesting lecture by a freelance historian while we were there.

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Chicamocha Canyon

If you were to google the grandest canyons in the world, Chicamocha Canyon would be on that list. Though very difficult to get the magesty of the place, my little camera does give you a little idea of the beauty. We stopped here at a park and took a cable car ride that goes from the top of one side, down nearly to the floor of the canyon, across the river and back up the other side. It was a lot of fun … and a bit scary on the way back, as it descended a lot faster than on the way there!

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there are at least 4 different kinds of crops here

The rest of the trip to Medellin was very lovely as well. Lots of green, lots of farming …

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fried bachacos – inch-long queen ants – eeek

… unusual food choices …

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(A word to the wise – just eat the behind, it’s crunchy and not bad. The front end, though equally crunchy, leaves spiky little things like legs and pinchers in between your teeth – eeeww.)

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can’t you just imagine chickens running around in there?

… and every now and then, one of these crazy buses.

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Medellin is a very beautiful and modern city. It is the only city in Colombia with a metro system – it is all above ground. It’s clean, efficient and economical. Included in the price of the ride, you can take a cable car about half the way up the side of the surrounding mountain – not so bad for those who had to either climb or take buses or taxis before to get home, or tourists who want a good view of the second largest city in Colombia.

me with the Cat – it’s only fitting 🙂

The only reasonably good pictures I got of us there are with some of Botero’s bronze statues in the Cultural Center of the city. So here are a couple 🙂

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Raul with the Dressed Woman – you can see a little of the overhead metro system behind him to the left.

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We enjoyed a few days in Medellin and then headed out toward El Peñol to visit a big rock we were told was worth the day trip – El Peñon de Guatapé.

El Peñol as seen from the top of the big rock.

The drive was really lovely and the area was beautiful – rivers and lakes everywhere, farming, clear, cool climate – we wanted to stay!

El Peñon de Guatapé – amazing to think it is one single rock – and we’re going up there!

The big rock ended up being an incredible monolith of a rock with 715 stairs from the base to the very top – I know – I counted! An elevator would be a lovely option here!

our guardians along the road

So … having survived the climb both up and back down, we continued on our way north toward Cartegena de Indias. Here I was able to get a quick snapshot of the National Police working together with the military to keep our travels safe. They are wonderful, dedicated young men and we pray for their safety.

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Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas Fortress

Cartegena is a large sprawling city, and since the historic walled section is down at the water, we had a time of it getting to it. The first sight of historic importance is this amazing fortress – the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas built in the 16th and 17th centuries. You might recognize it from the movie Romancing the Stone 🙂

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The fortress and the walled section of the city were listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in 1984. They are beautifully maintained and today serve as locations for social and cultural events offered by the Colombian government.

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Raul under the Colombian Flag at the Fort

I love awesome  flags … and this definitely qualifies 🙂

In the background to the right you can see the walled city, and to the left the upscale hotel area of Bocagrande and El Laguito – where we stayed – not the upscale hotel – just the area 🙂

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inside the walls

Cartegena was so very hot and humid, the way to visit the walled city was by night. Cool ocean breezes, music everywhere and the lovely buildings twinkling in the low lights made it almost magical.

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We saw so many beautiful places and things in Cartagena …

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… beautiful walks along the water …

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… busy, bustling businesses …

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… cool statues …

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… colorful architecture …

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The “Simon Bolivar” – Venezuelan Naval School Ship

… and imagine our surprise when we ran into a vessel from home – the “Simon Bolivar”. Built in Bilboa, Spain in 1979 and commissioned in 1980, she continues to serve as a Venezuelan Naval School Ship and participates in many of the tall ship events all over the world. We enjoyed a lovely tour of the ship given to us by one of the cadets.

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Moving on …

Cathedral of Santa Marta

… we continued across the coast of northern Colombia to Santa Marta – the oldest city in Colombia and the second oldest city in the Americas. The Cathedral in the photo is the oldest church in the Americas and has recently been restored. Pretty isn’t it?

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Santa Marta is designated a Cultural and Historic Tourist District by the Colombian Constitution of 1991 and is one of the main tourist destinations on the Caribbean coast.

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Simon Bolivar’s bedroom

Just outside of town is the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. This is where Simon Bolivar spent his last days, and subsequently died.

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Monument from Colombia to the Liberator

Within the compound are many interesting structures such as the one you see in the photo and guided tours are available giving a history of the area and Bolivar’s life while there.

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interesting structure

Well, all good things on this earth come to an end, and we are approaching the end of our trip through Colombia and through South America, as well.

Our last stop in Colombia was Riohacha, before heading into Venezuela through Maicao. The end was truly in sight now. This was a pretty little coastal town, but the road was calling, so after a nights rest, we headed out.

Colombia is an incredibly beautiful and productive country – definitely worth the visit, and hopefully more in the future. The ad we see in Venezuela is true: Colombia … the only real danger is that you won’t want to leave.

… so from here, with mixed emotions – sad to see this amazing trip coming to a close, and yet happy to see family and friends – we head back into Venezuela.

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