Writer’s note: This is part two of a two-part story. Click here to read part one.
SAN GIL, Santander — The two-lane road winds through the Cordillera Oriental mountain range and climbs toward what has to be one of the most beautiful places in Santander.
It’s called Parque Nacional Chicamocha, a national park two hours south of Bucaramanga, one hour north of San Gil.
My friend Sergio told me I would love the canyon of Rio Chicamocha, and he was right.
Dave and I crossed the canyon by cable car, what they call a teleferico, dipping down near the river before rising toward the other side, then doing it again to get back to where we started. It’s 38,000 pesos, $19.
I got some great pictures of the sun sinking behind the mountains, then we got on the bus and headed toward San Gil.
We stayed at the Macondo Guesthouse, a nice hostel where rooms range from 15,000 pesos (about $7.50) for a dorm to 30,000 pesos (about $15) for a single room.
I just wish my laptop could have picked up the wi-fi there. Since that wasn’t working, I spent very little time there.
I learned quickly that San Gil is quite festive on Saturday night. Natives and visitors head to the plaza and often bring their own booze. There’s good, cheap street food everywhere and people playing music.
Dave and I met other backpackers there, some from Belgium, others from the States. I met some friendly San Gil natives at the park too.
They recommended that we go to a strip plaza just outside the city that houses several clubs.
We ended up at El Trapiche. It was fun, a typical Colombian club with the smoke and lasers and lots of reggaeton. I liked the plaza better.
What I liked best, though, were the daytime activities.
On Sunday, we went to Barichara, a town about 45 minutes northwest of San Gil that is known for its cobblestone streets and beautiful architecture, a Spanish colonial influence even prettier than Cartagena’s.
We walked around, gazed at the Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, went to the Parque para las Artes, where local sculptors display their work and the view of the mountains makes you stop and stare.
This town is supposedly known for its fried ants as well, a popular local dish. I decided to pass. Maybe next time.
When we got back, I stopped by the El Dorado, a hostel with a comfortable courtyard that’s near the plaza.
When we were at the plaza Saturday night, a guy named Zach from Maine invited me to stop by to watch the Ravens/Patriots game.
I made it in time for the second half, and I’m still in disbelief that the Pats won after Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds left. I jumped and cheered. It definitely got the attention of some of the hostel guests.
Then on Monday, we went to Pozo Azul, a cluster of tidal pools filled with the fresh water from a gentle spring. It’s just outside San Gil and it was perfect, on that sunny day. The water was cool, but not cold.
I chose this over whitewater rafting because two new friends — Elizabeth from San Francisco, and Kati from Austria — were going there, and it’s free. I suppose I could have rode the Class 3 rapids for 25,000 pesos but the video I saw showed a raft mostly floating down a river, hardly turbulent, hardly worth the cost.
The Class 5 rapids on the Rio Suarez looked like they would have been fun, but I had an exhausted budget by my last two days; 125,000 pesos was too expensive. Like the ants, next time.
Because there is going to be a next time.