After our visit to Parque del Cafe outside Montenegro, we make our way to our Finca hotel, a 150 year old house on a coffee plantation. After taking a wrong turn, down a single lane track for 3 kms, a kindly couple accept to call the owner of the finca for us to give us directions. The couple offer to take us there and the owner came towards us – all so helpful!!! Once again, the kindness of people, who we will never be able to repay in any way, touches us deeply.
We are the only guests at the finca. Neither the owner Jo nor the caretaker Suzy speak a word of English. But it doesn’t stop them chatting away. I manage to get the jist of what they say but it is a struggle for me. I really should have taken some Spanish lessons…. Jo tells me of the things we should do in the area and visit. I think she is shocked and horrified that we could spend 2 nights here and not go anywhere when I tell her we just want to stay at the finca and relax.
Over our time at the finca, Suzy would come to us with freshly squeezed fruit juices and then chat away. We spend a wonderful time sitting on the porch, watching the birds, the amazing hummingbirds darting from one flower to another, stopping in mid flight and darting off again. The garden is gorgeous. So peaceful. We walk a few kms to the closest roadside restaurant and have a great grilled trout for lunch. The clouds build up during day, culminating in an almighty storm. The noise of the rain on the big tropical tree leaves near our room and the roof is deafening. We enjoying nature unfolding from our porch rocking chairs. After a game of scrabble on the porch, our 3 course dinner is served by Suzy in the large empty dining room.
We have a long day ahead to get to Bogota as we have a few mountain passes to get over so we get up at 5.30am and we are on our way just after 7am. Yet again, what a ride. I keep Streak’s fuel tank above half full and thankfully don’t have any problem. Our first 3 hours are sssslllloooowww. 3 hours to do 70kms. Why so slow?! Slow trucks up mountain passes on a very windy road with limited overtaking opportunity.
But once again, what stunning scenery. And lots and lots of heavily armed military. Always giving us the thumbs up sign. I notice the car behind me at one time kept hooting as we passed each soldier. We arrive at our hotel in Bogota by 4pm after a nine hour day. Before we can drive our bikes into the car park, we have to wait for the explosive inspection!
Our first day in Bogota and we opt against taking 3 buses plus a longish walk to get to our first sightseeing destination and choose the luxury of a cab to be driven there. When we get to a large city, we don’t use the bikes but walk, or take public transport or taxis. We ride enough as it is without visiting sites in our riding gear!! Not riding means we can look around, observe local life, see what business are selling – riding in these parts of the world, our concentration is pretty intense, on the road, traffic and all sorts of sudden unexpected hazards.
As we drive towards Zipaquira, each soldier gives every car passing by the thumbs up and our taxi driver hoots at each soldier along the road. Like the car behind me yesterday. I think it might be a sign of appreciation to the military providing the average Colombian peace and safety. The threat is obviously real and still current.
What are we doing in Zipaquira? Salt deposits in Zipaquirá were formed 250 million years ago, and were raised above sea level during the late Tertiary period, when the Andes were formed. Halite, the natural form of salt, has been mined since the 5th century BC and the pre-Columbian Muisca culture traded salt, emeralds and coal for raw cotton. Miners had carved a sanctuary, as a place for their daily prayers asking for protection to the saints before starting to work. The first Salt Cathedral was inaugurated in 1954 and dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary, Patron saint of miners but as the church but structural problems, the authorities to shut it in 1990 for safety concerns. A new Cathedral was inaugurated in 1995. Its various corridors and sanctuaries were achieved by making small but significant additions to the caves left behind by previous mining operations. This is what we have come to see. But I hadn’t realised the extent of the underground tunnels open to visitors and the number of chapels!! It was truly stunning. Being claustrophobic, it was a bit of a challenge but worth it!!!
I didn’t know this: very crudely, halide deposits are mined by drilling wells into the salt layer, bringing hot water which dissolves the salt into a brine, the brine is saturated with dissolved salt, pumped out, evaporated and the remainder salt crystalises and is harvested. This is what we call “rock salt”!
I had read that Bogota had a substantial network for cyclists and on the way to the Salt Cathedral yesterday, we saw cycling corridors along the main arterials. Proper corridors, separated from the main road by a low concrete wall. Not like the painted bicycle lanes we have in Australia which suddenly disappear or gradually get squeezed down to a ridiculously narrow lane that wouldn’t give cyclists any protection from passing cars or busses. Sunday morning, half the street outside our hotel is blocked off for cyclists, runners, walkers. Vendors have set up little stalls selling water, freshly squeezed fruit juices, snacks. There is even a tyre repair stand.
Our Sunday afternoon in Bogota:
Even though I thought I would happily skip visiting Bogota, preferring to stay away from large cities, and the mad traffic riding through these entails, I am so glad we did!! We have both loved every minute we’ve spent in Colombia.
Monday 4th May, we start making our slow way to Medellin where we intend airfreighting our bikes to Panama from. We hope to get to Panama on Friday, so until then, hasta luego!!