Friday, July 24, 2009

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Guane we go.

Another day in the adventure capital of Colombia. As much fun as our first foray into white water rafting had been, Adrian and I wanted to try something different today. It felt like ages since we’d walked anywhere (okay it was only a week but it felt like a long time). So today we were going to stretch our legs and do the charming hike from pretty Barichara to sleepy Guane. The Camino Real trail was supposedly 180-years old but had been restored about 15 years ago by an obsessive German. Now normally, Adrian and I are not hikers but the Lonely Planet description mentioned that the walk was downhill and since everything in San Gil was uphill, it seemed like a better option than walking around town.

Being creatures of habit we headed back to the same place for breakfast which included the tastiest fruit smoothies. Then we headed to the local bus station. Of course we got about 5 blocks when I realized I’d sent us in the wrong direction. Whoops. We retraced our steps and got to the terminal, which was more of a gated empty lot, but all the buses were clearly labelled. We hopped on the bus to Barichara and shortly afterwards the bus took off. Looking around I noticed that everyone seemed to have tickets in their hands, except us. I asked the man sitting across the aisle if we needed tickets. He told us no we could pay the driver when we got off. He even got up and asked the driver how much it was to Barichara. He got off just outside of the city but turned to us and told us it was another 20 minutes to Barichara and reminded us of the cost. So much for scary Colombia – I hope this niceness continues.

The bus took us along the top of the canyon providing us with beautiful views of the hills and mountains around Barichara. We got off the bus in the main square. Barichara lived up to the promise of the guidebooks (finally). It was a really pretty colonial town. We took a quick look around and then set off to find the path to Guane.

Back at the hostel, I had taken a picture of the very thorough instructions on how to get to Guane. So we looked at them on the camera screen and then went to find the path. We walked past the church and up the road to the chapel of Santa Barbara. We found the statue garden and walked along the edge of the canyon until we hit the clearly marked path (photo above). Just as the guidebook said, it was downhill, at least 1km down the side of the canyon over very rocky uneven ground and without shade. We’d brought some water but it was clearly not going to be enough so we made sure we didn’t drink it all right at the beginning. Going down was tougher than I thought and if it hadn’t have been so steep to get back up, I have to admit I probably would have chickened out. But instead we kept walking.

The path was loosely cobbled with huge rocks making footing not the greatest. I knew my knees would be screaming tomorrow. Whenever we found a small patch of shade we leaned against the old stone walls to rest. I could feel the sun bouncing off the stones and hitting my skin. Of course I hadn’t put on any sunscreen and I was worried. But I remembered I had an SPF 45 Chapstick in my bag. I dug it out and applied it to my face. It was totally greasy and waxy but I figured that was better than a face full of blisters. It was easily 36 degrees but there was a strong wind and no humidity which made it bearable.

The walk wasn’t particularly exciting – we passed dusty secluded farms and lots of cows. And after a while even the view became a bit boring. After 2 hours of walking we found one farmhouse selling cold drinks. The gate was closed but up on the hill, a woman motioned us to come on up. We walked up to the home and she offered us two ice cold pops. We quickly downed those and then bought another two frozen waters for the rest of the journey. The woman told us it was only about another 30 minutes to Guane. She and her husband grew tobacco and raised chickens, many of which were running in and out of the house. They were easily in their 70s, or at least looked that old. But after 11 kids and dozens of grandkids it’s possible they were just exhausted. Adrian joked that they probably had a Land Rover and swimming pool just out of sight of the tourists thanks a booming business selling cold drinks to unprepared hikers like ourselves. Refreshed we finally said goodbye and headed back to the path for the last stretch.

My legs were turning into jelly and of course there were now plenty of uphill patches we had to climb. Although I still think downhill can be worse. But knowing that we were in the final stretch helped me get through it. And soon we were at the edge of the village. YAY! Guana was just as sleepy as promised. A small whitewashed town with cobbled streets. We sat down in the shady square happy to be off our feet. We were soon joined by two other hikers, a Turkish girl and an American guy who were staying across the street from our hostel. They went off in search of some viewpoint while we stayed on the bench. There was a small museum off to the side which was soon overwhelmed by two bus loads of Colombian tourists. We watched the tourists run around the square and realized that tourists are the same no matter where they are from. But watching them, reminded us that Guane was famous for a local drink called Sabayon and the small shops were giving out free samples. That was enough to get Adrian back on his feet.

Inside the nearest shop we ran into the two other hikers sampling the wares, having given up on trekking to the lookout. Sabayon was a bit like Bailey’s but even sweeter. It came in about 7 different flavours and Adrian made a point to sample all of them before buying a bottle of the least-sweet whiskey-flavoured one. Adrian also picked up some Arequipe, which was a local version of caramel. The woman in the shop let us know that the bus back to San Gil didn’t come until 6 which gave us another hour to rest our tired feet, and Adrian to sample some more Sabayon. By now the bus tourists had left but the museum no appeared to be closed. No worries, it’s not like we had the energy to walk around the one room any way.

As the church bells rang six, the bus arrived and the four of us piled on for the ride into town. By the time we got back, the sun had set but feeling had returned to our legs so we ventured back to El Mana for dinner. This time we were starving and gobbled down all the courses before hobbling back up the hill to the hostel to collapse.

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