Barichara, Santander, February 11th, 2018
It would be a great idea to start the morning with a coffee, but where. The El Bodegon de Toñita is apparently the place to enjoy a good local coffee, and is located on the plaza, adjacent the cathedral. Even though I appear after 10 am, the cafe still hasn’t opened (because it isn’t really a cafe, because Colombia doesn’t really have real cafes). I wait until all the tables and chairs are set up on the terrace, at which point the staff deigns to make me a coffee. And it’s just terrible anyway. And while I do need a coffee to wake up, it’s pretty much the worst thing you could be doing to prepare for a long hike in the heat.
The excursion to Guane proves to be both very pleasing and not particularly difficult. I encounter no one on the trail other than a young Dutch couple that inexplicably seem to find it particularly challenging. The path consists of what was once an even road built of paving stones, many of which are now just upturned and contorted. Nonetheless, the walk is relatively easy, particularly at a slow pace. And I am happy to take it slowly, largely due to my desire to not miss any photographic image, given the arresting combination of the green-brown hills, the rock walls lining the path, unique tree canopies, and brilliant white clouds hanging in the sky above.
The path initially descends steeply into the valley, then proceeds on an undulating basis up and down, but with no steep inclines. Some degree of shade is offered by the low tree canopy in the advancing heat, although I take my shirt off as precautionary measure and make a point of drinking water regularly.
One reason the walk is not that debilitating is that I take my shirt off before I get overheated. Of course, it won’t be particularly appropriate if there are people around, largely because Colombians in these parts aren’t the kind of people who just randomly rip their clothes off in public. But I get overheated quite easily, and stripping down is the only way to go … the flip side is that I will probably got sunburned, yet again.
The heat builds substantially as I continue on the trail to Guane, due to the time of day as well as lower elevation. The trail drops into the Suarez valley, which runs north-south to the west of Barichara, but once in the valley, the trail continues further north, gradually rising and falling. Further down to the west runs the undulating Suárez, which joins the Chicamocha river not far to the north, at the junction turning into the Sogamoso river running north, then northwest into the Magdalena on the border of Santander and Antioquia provinces, not far north of Barrancabermeja.
I see the occasional fincas for sale. In fact, walking around the lower part of Barichara, it seems much of the land around town is for sale. Are locals wanting to cash in while the going is good? Have circumstances changes to drive away traditional owners, such as increased taxes? Or are there security-related issues?
It doesn’t seem as if I have been walking that long before the stone path approaches a cluster of houses that turns out to be Guane. The town of Guane is another classic small affair with a few blocks radiating out from the modest plaza, all in sagging adobe and terracotta tile roofs. Around the immediate periphery of town, a handful of artisanry shops, focusing on fique weaving, as well as a few eateries with a typical almuerzo. The restaurant I chose to eat a block from the plaza is acceptable, but no better than that.
And yet Guane feels magical following the walk from Barichara. Best of all at the moment are the fresh juice popsicles of watermelon, passion fruit, and some fruit similar to passion fruit. There is a surprising number of tourists visiting town, mostly local. I am under the impression that the foreigners would have hiked from Barichara, while the locals would have driven.
I have been making the same mistake at least once a day in Barichara – attempting to return to the hospedaje I am staying in by taking a calle south from the plaza other than 7. Beyond the first one or two blocks, the calles are no longer joined, and so even walking down 6, I quickly end up walking through the darkness into a dead end in bush, and can only make out the outline of the posh Hotel Hicasua, which bizarrely enough, lies across from the hospedaje Don de Lorenzo I am staying in. On top of everything, Colombians – for whatever reason – consistently give the wrong instructions. The banal challenges of travel …
Concerned as to how to get to Jordan tomorrow, I ask the owner of the hospedaje I am staying in, who in turn asks an older ruddy man inside the tienda downstairs, whose Spanish tends to be characterized with the slur of the salt of the earth types I meet here, probably assisted by at least some alcohol. From what I can make out, it’s a long route, much easier by vehicle, but if I choose to walk, there is a trail that parallels the road. I have to pass by Villanueva, and I can count easily on a six hour hike. If I really want to find out more about this journey, I should speak to the people at the Hotel Alto del Viento on the road to Villanueva.
Considering that most places I visit don’t accept credit cards, that I will be spending three days in the bush, and then heading to the Parque Nacional de Cocuy immediately afterwards, I should stock up on cash. And I believe there are cajeros in town that will accept international cards.
I haven’t looked at what I will take into the Parque Nacional del Chicamocha, but hopefully I can reasonably pack everything into my day pack. Since I also have to leave early – as it will be baking hot by late morning – I have to prepare everything early in the morning. Hopefully the selection process won’t be too much of an ordeal. The good news is also that my shoes have not been acting up in the last few days of extensive walking, so I am hoping my treks in the Parque Nacional del Chicamocha won’t be too challenging on that front. As an aside, I am also hoping that there is food and drinking water in Jordan. If there is not, I will have a big problem …
Scenes from the quiet traditional towns such as Barichara. Even with the amount of money here, the fact that the town has become an unmitigated resort destination, there are still signs everywhere of its Colombian identity. Ruddy, unkempt visages, baggy, maladroit, battered clothing. Middle-aged men, slightly stooped over, wearing baggy jeans and plaid shirt, faces braced in concentration, crowned with their straw hats, wearing slight scowls. Old men, hunched over, almost always with canes, walking almost undiscernably but inevitably making progress. Middle aged-women carefully guiding their crone mothers down some steep incline. Vallenato blasting from every tienda, without exception.
As dead as the town is during the day, the evening comes to life with glimpses of families and friends gathered on couches and chatting, the walls covered in modest heirlooms, high ceilings and dim lighting. Restaurants closed all day are now open, inviting, brightly lit, a few tables occupied, the day’s offering (the same as every other day, and virtually the same everywhere else) scrawled on chalkboards. Stores with walls stacked high with alcoholic beverages and a few tables draw the individual in for a drink or many. It just feels magical to walk through the undulating and dimly-lit cobblestone streets in the warm evening air, the late afternoon winds having finally died down.
It’s time for a coffee. Of course, that is a somewhat ridiculous concept, as there are no real cafes in town. So I climb up towards the plaza, and beyond, circle the blocks around the plaza, but no place beckons. What I took to be a chocolate place of some sort – and hence potentially a cafe – is actually a hotel named ‘Chocolaterie’, which looks nice, but is nothing but a hotel. The receptionist recommends that I go to Igua Nauno, the best advice I have been given all day. Their coffee is excellent, never mind having the most beautiful setting in town.
Walking by the Igua Nauno is the Spaniard I saw on the bus earlier on coming from Guane. I encourage him to go in, praising the establishment to no end, but it may not be what he is looking for. He is from Santander, and much of what he sees reminds him of where he comes from. He tells me the mountains in Asturias and Cantabria are almost as high as the Pyrenees, but much more rugged. He loves mountain climbing and will be heading to the Parque Nacional del Chicamocha to do climbing. He had wanted to go north to Santa Marta, but apparently the ELN guerilla group has blown up the bridge running out of Bucaramanga north. He would have to take a detour over Medellin and then proceed to Santa Marta via Cartagena.
For reasons I find difficult to articulate, the Caribbean coast holds no appeal for me at this time. I may still consider going north to Bucaramanga, and then head west to Medellin, rather than returning to Bogota via Tunja.
We proceed to the grassy area below the mirador to see if the late afternoon will portend any potentially interesting photos. It is still debatable as to what the evening could offer, although the lighting could change at a moment’s notice. The serenity of the deep blue landscape before me is interrupted by the loud cheering from the girl’s soccer game playing on the community field across the way.
The coffee has definitely had its effect, but also hijacked my evening, what with the raving and ranting with Alex until well after nightfall. I really should have dropped by the hotel en route to Villanueva in order to get a better sense of the route to Jordan, and even more importantly, the way back. Admittedly, I have to pass by the hotel anyway tomorrow morning, as it is on the road to Villanueva. Then as much as the return trip may represent a substantial challenge, I would be best off finding out more in Jordan, and for now at least keeping my fingers crossed.
Given how late it now is, forget about buying vegetables and making a salad, never mind cooking a meal in the hotel. Just find something relatively palatable and inexpensive in a local restaurant en route to the hospedaje.
One last night in my hotel. I should be a bit panicked, considering what I intend on taking on tomorrow, but I am taking it in stride at the moment. As long as I get a solid entry into my journal, don’t drink too much, and get a good night’s rest, I should be fine …