There was definitely something of Monty Python’s Black Knight in Admiral Blas de Lezo (1688-1741). In the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, whilst guarding what he perceives to be a strategically placed plank of wood leading over a stream, the Black Knight loses his arms and legs in a sword fight with King Arthur. ‘Come back and fight, you coward,’ the mutilated Black Knight calls after King Arthur, ‘it’s merely a flesh wound.’ Continue reading “THE BATTLE OF CARTAGENA DE INDIAS (1741)”→
Luckily for Sir Isaac Newton it was only an apple that fell on his head when he cooked up the idea of the Universal Law on Gravitation. Had he been sitting in a coconut grove things might have turned out considerably different, for the coconut has a quiet reputation as the silent killer. Our journey north has finally deposited us on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and if there’s one thing the Caribbean coast is never short of it’s a coconut tree. In fact, for the past few days we’ve been surrounded by plummeting coconuts, their constant thud leaving us with the distinct feeling of being under siege. Continue reading “URBAN LEGEND: DEATH BY COCONUT”→
It seems you don’t have to drive far in South America before you come across a sex motel (except in Patagonia, of course…where it’s far too windy for anything). Most of them are pretty obvious to spot: they have names like Cupid Motel, or Venus Motel, or Love Motel and the letters are painted in dripping pink or letter-box red. In Colombia, down in the steaming valleys, there are heaps of them. High walls surround a compound of garages, into which the couple drive their car. From the garage one gains direct access to a bedroom and bathroom en-suite. They are perfect for the illicit liaison, quite possibly the ultimate in drive-thru’ sex. Not all of these sex motels are so easy to identify, especially in the fading light, after a long day on the road, when you’re tired and getting grumpy and you’re fast running out of options. Continue reading “THE SEX MOTEL: A CLASSY BIVOUAC”→
This place blows you away when you walk into it. It’s a cathedral, in a salt mine, 180 metres beneath ground and it’s totally wacky. A cross between a theme park cum place of worship, it required some 250,000 tonnes of salt to be dug from the earth to make way for the 14 chapels, stairways, tunnels, galleries of themed scenes and shops. Whatever will we come up with next?
Founded in 1572, Villa de Leyva is one of those places you roll into, breathe a sigh of relief, hang up the car keys and pull out the hammock. You plan on staying only a couple of nights, and then…”Ooh! Now where did I put those car keys?”…and by the time you’ve found them suddenly a week has flashed by. Continue reading “VILLA DE LEYVA: HEROES AND ECCENTRICS”→
By the 1530s the boat-loads of gold being shipped from Peru by Francisco Pizarro triggered a new wave of conquistadores to invade the northern shores of South America. Fired by the legend of a native king who coated his body in gold dust and tossed handfuls of emeralds into various lakes, armies of men marched south in search of this El Dorado…this Gilded King. One such conquistador was Don Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, who was chosen by the governor of Santa Marta, Don Pedro de Lugo, to lead a party up the Magdelena River, all the way to its source. Continue reading “THE ROAD TO BOGOTA”→
Jose Velazques arrives just as the sun dips beyond the hills. He introduces his dog, a brown mongrel called Lucas Alberto Velazquez. Jose is shirtless and fizzing with nervous energy. He’s a campesino, he tells us, and he’s been working all day in the fields that slope down to the Rio Piedras. The hand that shakes mine is stained from the coffee beans he’s been picking.
‘You must come to my house,’ he insists, ‘to meet my mother.’
We are camping at the edge of the municipal football field, opposite the entrance to Finca Nohelia. An ageing mule tugs at the grass. Two boys kick a football. A raptor in a tree edging the field screeches its presence. We follow Jose the one hundred metres down the country lane to his mother’s cottage, where he shows us the vegetable patch, the two shrubs placed strategically to ward off evil spirits, some well-kept chickens in a bamboo enclosure, his banana tree, the bench he sits on in the evening to drink a beer, the rows of flowers lovingly tended by his mother and the contents of his tienda, a small shop, because we must be an hour’s walk from the town. His motorbike is parked in the tienda. He wants us to use it whenever we want.
Jose’s kindly-looking mother welcomes us into her home, standing aside whilst her son leads us from room to room, pointing out a photograph of his sisters, who have flown the family home and now live in Medellin. This openness and hospitality of the Colombian people is so typical that you are often left wondering how the country accommodated, and still does to a lesser degree, such violence and cruelty for so long. It does not seem possible.
Jose is looking for a bride, he says, and would be only too pleased if we sent him one from Europe. He laughs and darts on to another subject, though not through any embarrassment concerning his marital status, it’s just the way he is. As it starts to get dark we bid Jose and his mother goodnight.
‘Don’t forget my wife,’ he calls after us. ‘I have good lungs…and good teeth. And I’m a good worker.’
It takes a bit of commitment to reach Tierradentro, one of Colombia’s most important archaeological sites, though it’s definitely worth it. The legend on our map calls the track we’re on a “Secondary Road (partially surfaced)” and the heavy rains, and the trucks hauling agricultural produce, have left it pockmarked, greasy and in need of the occasional bridge. Today is a Sunday and the bulk of the traffic constitutes motorcycles making their way from the market in El Plato, which is handy, as it is principally a single-track road weaving through a rural splendour. Continue reading “LOST CIVILISATIONS”→
What does it mean when your friends recommend you drive the most dangerous road in Colombia? Find some new friends? Yes, quite possibly. The Devil’s Trampoline, also known as “adios mi vida” (goodbye my life) is supposedly a ‘must do journey…if a little hairy’. No kidding there!! You could be forgiven for thinking that the Devil’s Trampoline is a wacky fairground ride…except it’s not, it’s a busy road traversed daily by lorries, buses, pick-ups, cars and motorbikes. Continue reading “IS THIS COLOMBIA’S MOST DANGEROUS ROAD?”→