We didn’t plan to drive too far that afternoon, just enough to make it to the town of Guadas as we slowly crept our way back up to the capital city of Bogota.
As much as I could have stayed another night, we needed to get to the capital. Our broken inverter and diesel cooker needed fixing. After confirming that the Wallas definitely didn’t work at any altitude and spending a lot of time testing and refitting the old components, I had got in contact with the service centre in England and spoke to a technician. He had told us that we needed a new thermo sensor, this didn’t come as much of a surprise after seeing what our current one looked like but getting one here wasn’t going to be quick or cheap.
Despite the fact that Bogota was our ultimate goal, we decided to break up the drive into manageable chunks. A stop of in the city of Guadas looked like it had a nice quiet river spot, I was told. As I drove in I became increasingly annoyed at the guy in the car behind, flapping his arms and honking at us. What on earth did he want? I pulled over and parked up so that we could go to the supermarket and then to my furthe annoyance saw he had followed us. Perhaps it was my lack of sleep but I wasn’t impressed by this idiot. It wasn’t too long before it tuned out that I was the idiot. The poor bloke just wanted to say hello and give us a head torch as a present. Once again, we experienced the kindness of strangers and I felt like a bit of an arsehole.
After a supermarket visit, we headed through the tiny cobbled streets to find the free parking. A big flat deserted spot by the river. It looked like it would do fine for a night and then the true reason for this stop became clear, there was a microbrewery. Who could say now to that happy beer face though?
When we returned to the van later we had several chatty Colombian families come and say hello. We were now parked next to a big long line of street food vendors but by late evening that had all packed up and gone again, leaving us with the place to ourselves for a surprisingly quiet night.
Now only one stop stood between us and the capital. We headed for the small town of San Francisco to stay in a park that boasted some excellent looking views, as well as llamas. After wild camping for a while and due to our current cooking situation, we thought a campground would be quite nice. We arrived there and met the owner who showed us to a spot we could stay at. It did indeed have a nice view and llamas too, but that was about it.
They had increased the price recently and the water in the showers and toilets was from the river. It was so dirty in fact that we both passed up the opportunity for a shower and we would definitely not be refilling our empty tanks either. The electricity was also too far away for us to connect to and there was no wifi or any phone signal really. We did enjoy our evening, cooking outside on our little fire, but really it wasn’t everything we wanted. Things were about to take a turn for the worse the next morning.
We decided that despite the fact it wasn’t ideal, we would stay another night. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, we needed a day to try and re-stick our headlining back on the roof and secondly it was Sunday. We didn’t want to arrive in the capital on the weekend as the shops we needed would be shut.
This plan was soon cut short by the arrival of an enormous military school. What started out as a handful of teenagers near the sink, turned into an entire platoon.
They marched around all over the campsite with their packs suspiciously full of camping equipment. One of the leaders came to speak to us. He clearly didn’t like us. He stared at the little pile of cans we had put aside for recycling, before pointedly remarking that Colombia was such a beautiful and clean country. Next his disapproving gaze swept over our fire pit and returned to look us up and down, before flicking back to the can pile.
“Well” He said. “You must live like kings here.”
Try as I might I can’t turn that into a friendly statement. But I just smiled and replied, no only tourists. All I got then was a lengthy ‘Hmmmmmmmm’. And he turned and left.
If we hadn’t felt unwelcome enough with hundreds of teenagers staring at us, this wasn’t helping. We had already started to pack away as they began to carry out training drills in the field next to us and another leader came over and asked if we minded that if they camped around us. No thank you. We were gone.
We still had the problem that we were quite close to the city, but it was Sunday. We decided to try our luck at some other other campsites marked on google. After a lengthy drive out down a terrible road to the middle of nowhere, we weren’t doing very well. We stopped at another place to be told that we could only come in if we rented a cabaña. On the plus side, we did find a very lovely looking plot of land that threw me right back into daydreaming about river ownership before the reality of somewhere to sleep came back.
After a lot of messing around, we found Campo Alegre. It was the same price as the other place, but had showers with clean water, a pool and electricity. It was also not full of cadets. Finally we could settle down.
Leaving the van here, we went for a walk into town. They had a pretty cool museum where everything was made from old tyres but you could only come in with an appointment. We thought we might look at the German restaurant, but he too was closed. In the end we pottered around the town before completely a loop back up to the campsite, musing over the potential land plots for sale. It was after all as I had come to call it, perfectly located at ‘my happy altitude’.
With the weekend over, it was time to cover the last hour to the city. As ever with large cities, we spent infinitely more time trying to get around the city itself than getting to it. We had arranged for someone to look at the inverter, but after driving to the shop that was marked on google we realised to was the wrong place. After a bit, he agreed to meet us and so we paid to park up next to a big shopping centre and went to Decathlon.
One of the problems of being European is that as a whole, we are bigger than the locals. Shoes here for men only seem to go up to size 43 and that’s just not enough for Lee’s fat feet. At least Decathlon, being a European store had a few more options. With some new walking boots sorted we got a message that our inverter repair chap was outside. We met him on his motorbike and walked around the building to grab the inverter out of Ruby. We stood on the kerb outside the shopping centre as he proceeded to take it apart on the floor. After a few minutes he told us that three out of 4 of our resistors (I think) was broken. He whipped it all back in his bag and told us it would cost a tenner to repair and take three days. That wasn’t a problem, as although we didn’t plan to stay long here before heading north, we’d be coming back on our way to the border.
It seemed like things were going pretty well and we decided to head to a secured 24hr parking lot for the night as we didn’t really have time to get out of the city. That should have been easy. We went to walk back into the car park which we had only been in a matter of minutes before, but it turned out they had closed the gate. Walking around to the other door, the security guard wanted our parking ticket. I told him it was in the car. He wouldn’t let us in and said we had to walk down another two doors so the other guard would let us in. So we did. The other guard reluctantly agreed to let us in, but only one was allowed to the camper. I had to hang out awkwardly at the gate for committing the monstrosity of leaving the ticket in the van. After walking all the way back around, collecting Ruby and coming back we were finally allowed to pay, which you had to do on the barrier anyway and leave. What a hassle for no reason. I suppose at least it was very secure parking, the security guards here take their job beyond seriously.
The 24hr car park was nothing special, but close and convenient. It was pretty cheap to stay for the night and relatively quiet considering we were in the heart of the capital. The cats weren’t too impressed though. Due to a supposedly aggressive dog and the higgledy piggledy buildings shacks all around, we decided it best not to let them out. Normally used to their freedom at night, Aimee in particularly was a complete pain in the arse.
Seeing as we were here in the city, we decided the following morning that maybe we should see a few of the local attractions. We were incredibly close to a big park, cemetery and cable car this side of the city. With the closest being the cemetery, that seemed to have some impressive tombs worth seeing, we headed there. It turns out that it was in a rather horrible area and with no car parking nearby and we really weren’t happy leaving Ruby on the street amongst the beggars and prostitutes. We drove on to Parque Bolivar. This was a beautiful colonial part of the city but again, it was impossible to park. When we did find anywhere, it was full. When we found somewhere that wasn’t full, it was still pretty full. They said we could park, if we left the keys. With the cats in the car amongst other things, we weren’t happy to do that. We’d already seen Lizzie try to do a runner and the garage the other week and god knows how it would go with a stranger opening the doors. After a fruitless hunt for parking, it started to rain and we decided that this wasn’t the time to go and take the cable to Monseurrate anyway, it’s not like we would have a view.
Instead, we decided maybe we would take the bikes from the secured car park, leaving Ruby safely there and do all this when we returned in a week or so. Right now it was time to head north to the forests and lagunas that awaited there. It’s funny how the best laid plans never ever work isn’t it?
Your travel writing just keeps getting better! I love to read your stories of life on the road. You breathe life into the mundane, like the car park ticket experience. I encourage you to do a book when you wrap this trip up.
Thank you! I love that you’re still reading them after all this time 🙂