A Travellerspoint blog

January 2012

Sunrise, school uniforms, and stopped on a mountain road

getting the bus from Bogota to Medellin

semi-overcast 79 °F
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We woke up at 5:30 yesterday morning and were out waiting for the bus in front of Organizmo by 6. The sun was rising behind the mountains and the mist was heavy on the fields. We were leaving a beautiful place but we were excited to see more of Colombia out the bus window and get on with our travels. We flagged down the Bogota/Terminal bus and were on our way. Monday was the first day of school after summer vacation for kids in Colombia and plaid skirts and colored sweaters were everywhere. There was a Bolivariano (highly recommended to us) bus to Medellin leaving at 8:20. We thought we would have enough extra time to buy a cheap cell phone and snacks for the around 10 hour ride. We underestimated Bogota traffic at rush hour on a monday morning. P1000421.jpg
Normally only a little more than an hour, we rode that bus nearly three through stop and go traffic to its final stop at the bus station. We thought the next Bolivariano bus was not until 11:30 but when we got to the window the woman told us the next bus was in diez minutos. I ran to grab some food while Amy got the tickets. A couple of arepas (pancake like corn or flour cakes sometimes with cheese inside), a salami and cheese sandwich or something like that, and a random roll that I picked went along with our other provisions onto the bus. Luckily we had brought a generous amount of water and other fruit and granola bars.
The bus was nice! (Interesting security measure: an employee walked down the aisle after everyone was seated with a video camera to document faces) It was not crowded and we relaxed as we watched the development of Bogota fade into the hills.
Our route took us down from the mountain chain where the capitol lies (the Cordillera Oriental), across the Magdalena River valley, and back up into another piece of the Andes, the Cordillera Occidental.
Fields of what looked to be a red grain, quinoa I believe.
Crossing over the Rio Magdalena
Nearing sundown on a winding mountain road we thought we were getting close, maybe only a couple hours away, when the bus came to a halt. The bus had stopped a couple times earlier for a few minutes on a piece of one way road where work was being done or something but after a few minutes the engine was turned off and we knew this delay was a little different. All we could see from the bus was a line of vehicles ahead of us curving around the mountainside. After about half an hour a few vehicles passed heading the other direction but we realized they were just trucks and buses from further ahead in line who had given up to seek an alternate route. I have no idea how large a detour they had to go to get around or even if they were trying to do that, they may just have been going back, going home, assuming this road would not be passable for a while...After three hours a police car drove past, up the line of cars. I think there was an accident and in our remote location this was the first responder. Later an ambulance, other emergency vehicles...by this time I was trying to sleep so I wasn't paying as much attention. It rained for a while and I was glad that at least we had the bus to wait in. The onboard entertainment was still working with the bus off and I half watched Casino Royale in dubbed Spanish. Daniel Craig would have gotten to the bottom of this roadside snafu in less than an hour I am sure. Just after midnight the bus cranked up and I thought we were back in business. Then I realized we would be getting into Medellin at 2 or 3 am. We had arranged to stay at a girls appartment on Couch Surfers (more on this amazing network later) but had managed to email her with the kindle from our sticky spot on the side of a mountain in Colombia to say we probably wouldnt be getting in until late. She replied with concern and said to call when we got in, she would be going to sleep around 12. The bus stopped again and turned off, false alarm, just moving up I guess. Sometime around 3 or 4 am we finally began to move again and kept rolling. Amy and I had been concious of rationing our water and were down to just PowerBars and fruit leathers in our pack, we wondered how the rest of the passengers were as content with seemingly no water. In the United States it would have been a bus of very angry people but somehow everyone on board accepted this massive delay with a shrug. One of the few locals living in the area came to sell coffee to passengers at one point and it sounded almost like a party out the door of bus for a little while with laughter and friendly banter as the drivers and passengers passed the time. Anyway, we finally got off in Medellin about 7 am. This was our first glimpse of the city this morning as I groggily tried to put my stuff back in my pack and enter a new urban area. P1000446.jpg
21 hours total on the bus for what was supposed to be a 10 hour trip...yikes.

Posted by tltisme 18:41 Archived in Colombia Tagged traffic bus Comments (0)


A design school for sustainable habitats and so much more. organizmo.org

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First of all, every farm, finca, or rancho I have seen has a similar impressive gate to let the outside world know it is for real. Behind this gate is a surreal place more real than the rest.


Ana Maria Gutierrez and Itamar Sela are a young couple who have accomplished and experienced much in their thirty odd years of life. Born on opposite sides of the world (Itamar in Israel and Ana in Colombia) they met while traveling in India and went on to navigate the globe together. Ana studied architecture for three years at the prestigious Universidad de los Andes in Bogota and finished her degree at Parsons with a scholarship before doing post-graduate work at NYU. Meanwhile, Itamar completed the New York Botanical Gardens Landscape Design program and began work with a large city landscaping business. During this period Ana and Itamar married, partly to allow Itamar to remain in the country as his visa expired. A little over three years ago their daughter Illanna was born and the family left the city for Ana's parents old farmland outside of Bogota. While only 45 minutes by bus from the crowded metropolis, this valley of small pueblos and fertile farmland is pleasantly rural, quiet, and beautiful.
Here Itamar and Ana have begun their dream to create a place for education and experimentation with any and all techniques for sustainable building, growing, and living. In the past two years Organizmo has hosted architects, engineers, and builders who have led workshops on different construction methods. The results are a hay bale house,P1000331.jpg two indestructable earth domes,P1000169.jpg a wattle and daub bathroom complete with dry toilets and beautiful (but tedious to build) beer bottle shower.P1000192.jpg Ana and Itamar with the able help of their employees and students have added green roofs to these buildings (except the domes),P1000324.jpg built their own plastic bottle and plastered mud house (complete with its own green roof),P1000271.jpg and open air green roofed cob kitchen.P1000200.jpg This weekend the Climate Champions (recipients of a worldwide British program awarding individuals with exemplary environmental work) of Colombia have been provided a workshop here (Ana Maria was awarded the title of Climate Champion last year when she submitted the work of Organizmo) on plastering with lime and mud, composting, green roofs, green walls, building with adobe, and planting an herb garden.

Amy and I have been here for nearly two weeks now. We have eaten lots of delicious fruits and vegetables, had lime plaster eat our hands, worked a lot with mud, gotten sick, and walked many kilometers. It has been hard work and we are ready to see what comes next in our adventure but it has been inspiring to see what has been done and what will continue to grow here.
The greenhouse with adjacent hay bale construction green roofed bedroom/bathroom where Ana, Itamar, Illanna, and Asia (pronounced ah-see-uh in spanish) live, eat, and play.
An amazing all purpose space. Kitchen with adjacent herb green wall (brilliant!), low dining room table on crushed stone, raised wooden deck living room with overhead lounge area, large concrete wash area mostly used for children's play and bathing, grass sitting/yoga area and plants growing in the ground and pots everywhere!
Almost forgot the hammock area/sandbox playroom
The brightest rainbow I have ever seen occurred here the day before my birthday!
Amy and I hiked Jueca which overlooks this valley but that is for another post...

Posted by tltisme 18:29 Archived in Colombia Tagged building sustainable Comments (0)

Seeing the sights

being a tourist in Bogota

semi-overcast 69 °F
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On our first day in Bogota Amy had an appointment at the U.S. Embassy to get more pages put in her passport. I always thought filling up your passport was an awesome thing and I was supremely impressed but in fact it cost her eighty dollars for the friendly Embassy workers to simply tape in 24 more pages for customs officials to stamp. Claire took us to the Embassy and showed us around as she had worked there this past summer and was evidently missed. I took a picture of the front gate as we were leaving but the guard politely told me no pictures so I showed him that I had deleted it...Amy reminded me that it probably isn't a good idea to take any pictures of government buildings. I made sure to ask Claire if taking pictures of the residence would be a breach of security but she assured me it was fine.

Amy tells me that Bogota is the museum capital of Latin America and we certainly visited some good ones:
Simon Bolivar's house and gardens. The 'Liberator' of Colombia from the Spanish Empire. He was also instrumental in the independence of Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela.
The Fernando Botero Museum. He is the most famous contemporary Colombian artist, his work is everywhere. The museum also boasted work from some big names: Picasso, Renoir, Dali, and others.
History of Colombian football exhibit in the National Museum. Andres Escobar scored an own goal while playing the United States in the 1994 World Cup. Colombia went on to lose the game 2 to 1. It is widely believed that he was murdered due to his own goal, which supposedly would have caused gambling losses to several powerful drug lords. Andrés was nicknamed "The Gentleman of Football" and is remembered fondly and mourned by Colombian's to this day.
Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) I have many more pictures from this, tons of shiny artifacts! This was the only museum we went to that had English and Spanish information. Actually that is not true, I saw a few English translation cards for certain exhibits in the National Museum. My Spanish vocabulary is growing everyday and I can understand most simple conversation but I still have a long way to go when it comes to forming my own sentences. As I write this Amy and I are at Organizmo, an amazing place which I will share more of next post. Our fellow WWOOFer here, Mateo (a very generous and funny guy who also finished university last spring), is from Belgium and is studying Spanish across from me. He has been in Colombia for five weeks and speaks quite well enough to get around and converse. My inspiration...though his first language is french which probably helps and he is studying now while I write...

Posted by tltisme 17:31 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Thank you taxpayers

sunny 71 °F
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Our first housing on this trip has been fantastic. We will not be staying in anything close to this again on this trip and perhaps never again in my life. It has been quite a treat. Amy and I have resided in our own wing of the Ambassador's residence, with office, bedroom, and bath it has been superbly comfortable. It took me a little reflection to figure out why the dynamic here is different than say an Islesboro summer 'cottage' with cooks and maids. The McKinley's do not hire or pay for the security (gated compound with constant perimeter patrol and some heavy weaponry at the gate), cooks, cleaners, gardeners, or house manager. Instead this is the residence provided to the Ambassador and his family by the United States in order to keep them safe, supported, and comfortable. The house and services are benefits to the demanding job for Mr. McKinley and an attempt to help ground the family in their relatively short time in a foreign place. Though Amy and I have been lucky to experience some of the perks of being the child of a diplomat we have also talked to Claire and her brother about the difficulties of moving from country to country throughout their lives. The McKinley's transient nature may not have allowed for many long term friends but it has given them amazing perspective and experience of the world (as well as proficiency in multiple languages). They have been very hospitable to us and we have learned much about Colombia and its capital (along with many recommendations for Peru and Bolivia).

Claire told us to call the kitchen and order whatever we wanted for breakfast (in Spanish of course). It was brought right to our room...amazing.

Beautiful and well maintained gardens and grounds. I got to kick a ball around the tennis court and get a little work out in. The altitude hits you very, very quickly.

Posted by tltisme 18:59 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)


Ambassador's Residence, Bogota, Colombia

semi-overcast 66 °F
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It is very nice here! Too nice to explain right now, I will have to upload some pictures, and have more time to write. The trip down went smoothly, a slight scare when Delta warned us we may be denied entry without proof of onward travel but Colombian customs officials weren't concerned. Bogota is big! Like 9 million people big and quite modern. At 8600 feet though its not hot, highs around 70 and lows around 50 most of the time and rains often and sporadically we hear. Just a few random drizzles on us so far. Being a guest at the Ambassador's house is amazing, like a guest at the nicest vacation resort I can imagine, except friendlier and more real somehow. Fundamentally it is a families home, currently the McKinley's for a three year post (standard length for ambassadors) and my friend Claire has been here for her Christmas vacation from Mary Washington. Claire and her family have been very kind and hospitable to us and it is great to orient ourselves here and see what we can of Bogota with a friend to guide us before we venture out into the country.

Posted by tltisme 21:38 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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