My first long weekend of the summer was coming up and I was sure to take advantage. I had missed the Canadian “May 2-4”, and needed to make up for it with something fantastic. San Gil and Barichara were just what I needed. Located about a 7 hour drive north of Bogotá, San Gil is known as the Colombian capital for extreme sports enthusiasts, where people can participate in everything from rafting and rappelling, to paragliding and caving. And Barichara has been named by several guide books and tourism specialists “the most beautiful colonial town in Colombia”. I couldn’t wait!
My weekend started with an over 8-hour journey to San Gil. I took a flight to nearby (not as near as I had thought) Bucaramanga and experienced the most stunning landing of my life. Set high in the mountains, the Bucaramanga landing strip boasts picture-perfect peaks and valleys on every side. I had been told that the highways out of Bogotá can be a nightmare on long weekends, so opted for the flight to save some time and frustration but the whole trip including bus transfer took just as, if not longer than the bus would have! I arrived to San Gil late in the afternoon and immediately went walking around the town. Having spent the last month in traffic crazed Bogotá of 9 million people, it was a nice change of pace to be in a town of no more than 50,000, where you are not covering your mouth and nose most of the time for the black smoke billowing out of the thousands of decades-old minibuses and cars.
I made friends at the hostel with a Brazilian guy and Irish girl, and we went out for dinner to a place serving a typical Colombian set menu. It still amazes me that you can get a 4 course meal including drink in Colombia for just over $5! That evening we hung out in the main square of town, with everyone else from San Gil for beers and good conversation. We were joined by my hostel roommies, some French folk, who as it turns out are staying in Bogotá for several months as well, and live only 6 blocks from me! We became friendly with some nearby boys (couldn’t have been more than 15) that were trying to convince us to chip in for some Aguardiente (translated to “firewater” for its up to 60% alcohol content). They must have recognized the old man that was cleaning up beer cans and cups, called out something to him that none of us understood (but we now know must not have been complimentary) and the elderly man chucked a glass bottle at our group, smashing it on the sidewalk where we were sitting! Needless to say, our group of foreigners was shocked, a little bit freaked out, and the other girl with me was bleeding slightly on her food. We decided it was time to head back to the hostel.
Rafting was on the agenda for the next morning. We managed to get a group of 7 from the hostel to go, it was a great activity to do together. I hadn’t been rafting since maybe 2003 or 2004 in Ottawa. It was a blast and we even flipped our raft, which I had never experienced before. There were a few seconds of panic there as I fell directly on someone else in my boat and we got tousled many times over before surfacing. I got whisked away by the current and found myself really far from my raft and my group. Fortunately, there was another group nearby and they pulled me up into their raft. Some of us were hoping to go paragliding that afternoon but when we returned to the hostel, found out that it had been canceled for the day due to a lack of wind. We decided instead then to head to the beautiful colonial town, Barichara, and got a group of 8 together for the trip. First on our list of to do’s was big-a** ant eating! The area is also known for its production of giant size ants for human consumption. They tasted salty, and a little bit of dirt and/or bacon, and were very crunchy. I am quite proud that I actually managed to do it: head, legs, big-a** and all! We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering the cobblestone streets of this quaint little village. That night we headed out to Club Havaná to dance salsa and reggaeton. What a perfect day!
Everyone was off to a slow start the next morning, so I opted for a visit to the local fruit market and a wander around town before attempting paragliding again that afternoon. Fortunately, the winds and weather were right for it and we headed off, again in a group of 8. I’m not sure if it was my air of confidence or what, but the guides ordered me up first and within 2 minutes of arriving at the site, I was off – 50, 100, 150 metres off the highest peak in the area! It was an amazing feeling floating high above the bird and trees, weightless. I felt quite nauseous after a few dips and turns, but managed to stay up for my 15 minutes. Amazing!
The next morning I attempted hydrospeeding before heading back to Bogotá. I had never even heard of hydrospeed, also known as riverboarding or white-water sledging in other parts of the world, before my weekend in San Gil. Basically, it involves going down a river, through the rapids and all, with a big foam board, and fins. It was really fun but more difficult than I expected. I certainly got my upper body workout that day from trying to control the board and pull myself up for an hour and a half. You can imagine that going through those same rapids where we flipped in the raft a few days earlier, were incredibly difficult to manage solo. But I survived with only a few scrapes and bruises from rocks and other hydrospeeders, and felt quite proud to have again, tried something new. There was just enough time to shower and have another delicious four course meal before heading out in the bus back to Bucaramanga, and back again to Bogotá. Adiós San Gil, muchisimas gracias por la hospitalidad!