2016, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Colombia Day 11 – February 20, 2016

This morning we headed to the northern bus terminal, one stop farther on the metro than the northern gondola. We were able to find our bus counter rather easily and our bus. We were early, which was good, and sat on the bus for a bit before it took off.

It’s a 2 hour so drive to Guatape:

The main road was full of construction, and not as scenic as the drive from the airport. (Though, on the way back, the view was obviously better.) Once we got off the main road, the construction stopped (for the most part) but the road got far windier and the drive became rather rough. Lots of ranches and farms.

The buses stop periodically for people who are just looking for a lift, sometimes for only a few kilimotres. It also stopped in Santa Ana but fortunately Jenn had her phone for us to know we weren’t there yet.

We could see La Piedra aka El Penon from pretty far away. It’s located in the middle of a reservoir which was formed by damming a river. Apparently a town was submerged and notice may not have been given to the residents before this happened…

When we saw it towering above us we got off the bus.


As you can see La Piedra or El Penol is a 600 foot tall rock. After we got off we became unsure whether or not this was the right stop, as nobody else got off.

We walked down the one side road (the only side road) until it dead-ended, maybe 15 minutes or so, though we did get to walk by some of the holiday homes on the reservoir.


So we walked back to the main road and tried to find someone who spoke English. No luck at first, but we walked by some Australians and Jenn had the brilliant idea of asking them while I tried to get a Colombian to find me an English speaker. (Guess who was more successful?)

Turns out that the path to La Piedra (or El Penol or whatever you want to call it) was right next to the road we walked down. I mean, literally next to it. It looked like a cliff, but it was a dirt track up around the right side of the rock. We followed it and about 20 minutes later we were on the main road up to the rock.

We still had to walk up that road, as the stairs up the side of it start on the lowest side, which is only 400+ feet high (or something like that). The whole thing took a while, but it was the scenic route, and we saw more of the base of it and had a bit of a warm up for the climb ahead.

The entrance fee was 15,000 pesos each, I think, which is a little less than CA$6.


The climb is about 659 steps to the top of the rock, and 740 steps total to the top of the tower they built on top of it. The first official climb was in 1954 (in the rain!) and sometime after that some enterprising person built the steps. There are two sets: one up, one down. That’s the first intelligent thing they did. The second is that there are “Abort!” passageways between the up and down stairs. Halfway up is an EMT station in case you have a health problem. And, of course, on top are cafes with food, drinks and beer, and knickknacks and souvenirs. Very well thought out.

So it took us maybe 20 minutes to get to the top. The adjunct pale lager I had at the top might have been the best I ever had.


I guess we were holding or maybe we had finished them already…

The view is incredible and there’s a rather large area to walk around, sit under umbrellas, or do whatever.


I took some pictures of the view with my shitty camera:




After that, we walked up to the top of the tower that they built on top of the rock.


After wandering through the gift shops (or, perhaps more correctly, the multiple stories of one gift shop), we headed back down.

At the bottom are tuk tuks and their drivers are just lurking to grab some tired tourists and overcharge them (relatively speaking) for a drive into town. (The walk is probably 45 minutes or more.) So we paid double what we probably were supposed to (CAD$5 instead of CAD$2.50) and got whisked away to downtown Guatape.

Guatape is a resort town but it’s important to remember it’s a Colombian resort town on a man-made lake in the  mountains. It’s maybe not quite as picturesque as “resort town” might lead you to believe, at least the waterfront isn’t.


But the town itself is quite pretty, full of colourful paint and decoration on the houses, which is apparently common for parts of this region.


It was also the site of my one regret of the trip: I saw a mug with the Botero Mona Lisa on it. Instead of impulse buying it, I wavered and decided I would find another just like it somewhere else, when I had more cash (I was running short) and I didn’t have to carry on a two hour bus ride. However, I would never see another Botero mug for the rest of the trip. Alas.

For lunch, we picked an empty place along the street facing the waterfront. The view was nice but the food was overcooked. Fortunately, my trout (the local specialty) was fresh enough I didn’t care. But it was one of the lesser meals of the trip, I think.

After wandering around a bit, we booked our tickets back to Medellin (you have to book ahead in order to avoid standing or sitting in jump seats) and before we knew it we were head back along that extremely windy road.

This was our last day in Colombia without a flight and I think we were both very happy to have spent it in the country. It was only our second trip out of the cities, but it was a great one and I think it was a nice way to finish. Also, if there was one benefit to my sickness: the day I was sick was really, really hot. Today wasn’t. I think we survived the climb a lot better given the partially overcast skies than had it been brilliant sunny and hot, as it had the day I was sick.

We finally got back to our hotel via bus and metro at about 6PM. We had left at 8 in the morning. It had been a long day and we were both looking for some kind of treat. Jenn had been eyeing the street food around the corner from our hotel so we went to see what it was all about. There were two carts: one with 30 or 40 people around it, eating, waiting to eat or waiting to order, and one with maybe 8 people doing the same. Because we were hungry and because both of us are, I think, more inclined to go with the less busy option, we chose the cart with no line. As far as we could tell, the food was otherwise the same.

What was it? The craziest hot dog I’ve ever eaten. Picture a hot dog. Now add

  • coleslaw,
  • tortilla chips in the shape of pretzel sticks (at least we assume they were tortilla chips),
  • bacon or chicharon,
  • chopped up hot dogs cooked with the bacon,
  • cheese,
  • various sauces (in Colombia they have a sauce that appears to a be a mayo-ketchup hybrid, for example),
  • and a pickled egg from some kind of small bird on a tooth pick.

It was pretty tasty. And filling. It was also 6 or 7,000 pesos (under CAD$3). It was just what we were looking for.

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