San Gil & Barichara

Colombia, Feature, Travelogue — By on January 12, 2010 at 10:55 am

It took us longer than expected to leave Bogotá: we got a lead on where to purchase the memory card reader we needed to share photos and, after having been told by an employee in one photography store that such a device didn’t exist anywhere in Colombia, we couldn’t resist the challenge of navigating Bogotá’s Transmilenio public transit system to hunt down an obscure piece of equipment in an out-of-the-way electronics mall. We succeeded, but by the time we returned to our hostel it was either too late or we were too tired to set off to San Gil, our next destination, one requiring a minimum of 6 hours of travel to reach. We spent Friday afternoon with the hostel’s proprietor, who introduced us to a traditional Colombian soup dish (Ajiaco – mine was sin pollo) and took us for ice cream.

The next morning (Saturday) we set off early to the Bogotá bus terminal, and bought tickets to San Gil (pronounced like San Heel). Off by 8:15 or so in the morning, it took an hour or so of driving through the city to break free from Bogotá’s sprawling 7 million-plus lives. Once free of the city, the landscape transformed into rolling hills blanketed by different shades of green and brown, with tiny villages scattering the landscape between each town. Over the course of the 7-hour journey, we descended over 1500 meters, arriving in sweltering San Gil in mid-afternoon to begin the search for a place to stay. The search was made equally challenging by the fact that San Gil, a town of only 35,000 people, likely has more hills than San Francisco, and the weekend on which we arrived was the last of a national holiday: many Colombian families had descended upon the popular town, known for its adventure sports and outdoor activities, for a final weekend hoorah before heading back to work. We found what quite possibly was the last available dormitory in the town, which quickly filled up with a German, a Dutch, and an Australian woman soon after we arrived, and set out to explore the town.

San Gil itself was a pleasant maze of steep cobblestones streets, impossibly narrow sidewalks, and brightly coloured colonial-style buildings. The real treat in the area, however, is the nearby town of Barichara, a 45-minute bus ride from San Gil. Tiny Barichara (the town consists of three churches, a town square, and about 4000 people) is aptly described in our guidebook as “the kind of town that Hollywood filmmakers dream about”: bougainvillea cascade from whitewashed balconies attached to bright jewel-toned buildings set against a blue sky and narrow stone streets. In a word: lovely.

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