El Niño

When we were living in Santa Marta the weather was extremely hot because it was summer there. There was a severe lack of rain and often when we walked past a river bed we noticed that there was hardly any water in it. Lots and lots of people were very worried about the drought because there was hardly enough water to drink. The wind there was wild nearly all the time so it made a kind of whooshing noise in our apartment and we could barely shut the door! Here is a video showing you the wind there:

Often people we knew and taxi drivers would blame the drought on a climate pattern called “El Niño”. El Niño is when the water in the Pacific Ocean near the equator gets hotter than usual and affects the atmosphere and weather around the world. El Niño is Spanish for ‘The Little Boy’.

Guatapé and other pueblos

By Brae:

We went to a very famous place in Colombia called Guatapé and it is special because of all the decorations around the houses. The bottom of the houses all around the town have painted sculptures of animals, farmers feeding animals, vehicles or local places.

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It is also famous for a dam that they built in the 1960s and it makes almost a third of Colombia’s electricity. When they built the dam it flooded all the valleys and lots of Guatapé and its surroundings so the landscape has lots of lakes. Some houses and towns ended up underwater and we heard that the only bit of the old village you can still see are the tops of the hills and the spike of the church tower sticking out of the water. We went on a boat around the lakes but we didn’t see it.

One very big hill, high above the water, is called ‘el Peñol’ but people also call it ‘la Piedra’ (the rock).guatape-14

It’s quite amazing looking because it sticks up so much higher than everything else and I guessed that it was flung out of a volcano and we found out that I was right! guatape-2-3We heard that you could climb it, because someone had built stairs in a gap in the rock, so we did.
We climbed up and I got there really quickly because I ran up but everyone else went really slowly. At the top there was an amazing view and we learned that there were six hundred and fifty steps and there was a tower at the top that was about fifty steps so I had run up about 700 steps altogether!

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guatape-9At the top we were about to go down when I saw a moth that looked like a leaf. It was really cool and we were quite surprised as it seemed very strange for a moth to be this high up.

Guatapé was one of our favourite-looking ‘pueblos’ (which means towns) but we went to quite a few other beautiful places too, like Ráquira which is famous for mud and pottery, Salento (where we played Tejo), Filandia and Villa de Leyva which has the largest cobbled square in all of South America.

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Riding home from el Peñol in a tuk-tuk

Colombian people

By Oren:

Even though we were in Colombia for three months, we still never got used to Colombian people being so kind and generous! Sometimes people came over to talk to us and ask where we were from and things like that. That might seem a bit normal to you but if you’d known someone for 5 or 10 minutes would you think it was normal if they then offered to do something incredibly kind and generous for you, as if you were one of their best friends or part of their family? It didn’t seem normal to us but in Colombia it happened all the time. Here are a few examples:

One time, when we were in Barranquilla, we were on our way out when a man walked out of the hairdresser next door and started to talk to me. After about 10 minutes, my mum got off the phone and he said to her (in Spanish): ‘What lovely boys you have. They are really good at speaking Spanish. It’s my birthday tomorrow, would you like to come to my party?’. When my mum said that was really kind he replied ‘mi casa es tu casa’ which means ‘my house is your house’ and he offered for us all to go and stay with him and his family. people-8When we said we were fine where we were staying, he told us that if we had any problem, we should come to him (he lived across the road from where we were staying) and knock on the door even if it was 2 o’ clock in the morning! Then he showed us around the neighbourhood. The next day we went to his party and we ate lots and danced with his daughters who were really nice too and met some of his friends (also really nice!) and when Brae got tired he said he should go inside to have a sleep so that my mum and dad could stay up late at the party!

Another time, we were trying to get home from Parque Tayrona and saw a bus pull up. We asked how much the tickets were but it turned out to be a private bus for some students from Boyacá. Even though we were just random people from the public, they said we could ride in their coach all the way to Rodadero where we lived (more than an hour away). people-7On the way, my mum was chatting to some of the students and because they studied geology she told them Brae was in Emerald class and he wanted to bring an emerald home from Colombia to show them (they don’t really have amethyst mines in Colombia, so I can’t bring one back). The girl suddenly rooted around in her bag and pulled out a stone, studded with little emeralds! We thought she was just letting Brae have a look but when we tried to give it back she said “no, keep it”!

We have already told you about our taxi driver Javier (he drove one hour in the opposite direction to get a photo of shark oil for our blog -insert link to shark oil here), but we didn’t tell you that when we got back to Rodadero from Palomino my mum realised that she had forgotten a dress and he drove back and got it even though Palomino is an hour and a half away! We also told Javier that we were trying to find a Spanish teacher for my dad and he said he’d ask a friend of his who had retired after working as a professor at the university. Next thing we knew, this professor turned up at our house with his grandson to say that he wanted to apologise in person that he couldn’t teach us because he was a geography teacher, not a Spanish teacher. But he was so sorry not to help that he said he would be happy to give me and Brae free geography lessons and do anything else to help us feel at home in Santa Marta. He even went with my mum to help her set up a Colombian mobile phone!

If I wrote about all the amazing, generous Colombian people (for example, Maryline, Camilo and Jose, Laura and her family, all my mum’s friends from work, Guillermo, all the wonderful teachers and families from our school like Luis, Shamir and Alasha…) it would take a day to read this post, so I will have to leave lots of things out. But I can’t finish without telling you about Diana. Of all the people in Colombia who were nice to us, our friend Diana and her family were the most kind.

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We met Diana in London when we were very young, and she has felt like our Colombian family ever since. At the end of our time in Colombia we went to stay with Diana and her husband Ernesto in their apartment and they looked after us so well when we spent a week with them. They both cooked us amazing food and took us to great places. We also saw Diana’s brothers Luis Fernando and Iván every day and also their mum and cousin. people-4-2Luis Fernando took us to an amazing show at the theatre and to lots of nice restaurants and showed us around the city, Iván bought me and Brae Colombian football shirts and taught us all about the Colombian football team and Diana and her mum taught us how to make Colombian food.

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Her family has done so many nice things for us that we can’t write them all but I should tell you that Diana and her family seemed to have every second of our time in Bogotá planned with lovely things to do so my family and I would have the best and most memorable time. It was really sad to go and we didn’t want to leave her.people-6

 

 

Valle de Cocora

By Oren:

One of the things my mum and dad had been reading about when they were first planning our trip to Colombia was a walk in a place called the ‘valle de cocora’. They really wanted to do it but they didn’t know because they had read about gap year students who hadn’t been able to do it because the last bit is up a mountain, and it is a really long walk. Despite this they wanted to do it so much so Brae and I rose up to the challenge…

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Milk delivery, passing us as we waited for our guide

About half way through the walk there is a humming bird place called Acaime so we were looking forward to it. We had booked a guide but when we arrived he wasn’t there so we asked some people where he was and they said that he was drunk so he was very late. After we heard that we decided that it would be best to go on without him.

After we set off the view changed a lot and we were enjoying it because it was beautiful. We also passed over lots of rickety broken bridges along the path.

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After we had been walking for about two hours we reached Acaime and my feet were hurting a bit so that was a relief. We thought it would be an enclosed area where there were a few humming birds quite a long way away, but it was way better than that. The sanctuary was in an open space in the middle of the jungle where they had some feeders with nectar in. The nectar made so many different birds from the jungle come down to feed and you could stand just about a metre away from them! There were literally loads of shimmering humming birds flitting around like lightning on the feeders and on all the branches and flowers around us!!!

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After we had stayed for nearly an hour and a half we decided we should probably go but our minds were still full of colour and light.

After Acaime we had to re-trace our steps a little bit and we came to a mountain path which was the next part of the route. It was an extremely steep bit and we struggled. Brae didn’t though because he went as fast as a mountain goat, but because of my altitude sickness I went slowly. When we reached the top it was a relief because we were all tired by that point. We looked at the view over the valley but we couldn’t see much at first because of the clouds (we were so high we were right inside them). We had a big rest up there and then we set off again on the downhill part of the journey.

My dad had told us that on the walk down there were palm trees that were sixty metres tall, but we didn’t believe him. Sixty metres is about 30 tall men standing on top of each other! When we got to the bit where the palms were supposed to be we saw some that were thirty metres tall so we said to him: “Told you that they weren’t sixty metres tall”, but then we turned a corner and saw palms that really were around sixty metres tall! It was hard to see the tops of some of them because they were so high.

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You can see how small the cows look!

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I felt amazing that I did it and I felt that I could do anything now I have completed the walk, but I was exhausted. My mum and dad were really happy and proud of us.

Tejo

By Brae:

We went to a place in Colombia called Salento, in coffee region. In the town we heard of a place where you can play Tejo, which is the national sport of Colombia. We learnt about the game before we left England and really wanted to play it. We had tried to find somewhere in Santa Marta but we asked a taxi driver one time and he said the Tejo places in Santa Marta were really just for truck driver, not for children. The place that we heard of in Salento was called Betatown and it was OK for children too.

Tejo was invented more than 450 years ago by indigenous tribes. It used to be that you threw gold discs into a hole in the ground. After the Spanish arrived, they liked the game but they changed the rules a bit. They took the gold away and used iron instead, and they added gunpowder!

Now you play Tejo with a heavy disc of metal which you throw about six meters. You throw it into a box of clay with a metal ring buried inside and little triangles of gun powder touching the metal. You do not get any points if you miss the box of clay, you get one point if you land in the clay and you are closest to the metal ring, and you get three points if you hit the gunpowder and it explodes.

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We played in teams of two and slowly got better, in the end we all exploded the gun powder. The gun powder was very loud and with lots of smoke and fire. We enjoyed it so much that we went to play it again the next day. Here are some pictures and videos of us playing. You can hear the rain at the end, because it was a thunder storm.  It was the first rain we’d seen for nearly three months so it was quite cool.

Another transport update

By Oren:

As we’ve mentioned, transport here is very different from England and we are always trying out new ways of getting around. During our last few weeks in Colombia we have done a lot of travelling as we are trying to explore the country as much as possible before we leave. This means that we have lots of updates about modes of transport to tell you about!

transport2When we went to Parque Tayrona, one morning we went on an hour-long walk through the jungle to get breakfast.
We had discussed it the day before and we had decided that we would walk there and then ride on a horse back again! When we got to the horse stable we hired four horses and we set off. My mum had a female horse and her one had a foal who was only two months old. transport2-2Part of the journey it followed us and pranced around in front of my horse. Mine and Brae’s horses were very confident so they always kept on galloping off so we had to pull the reins to stop them. The track involved some really steep hills between huge boulders but the horses knew what to do because they had done it a lot so we felt safe.

From four legs to four wheels…

When we were in a region near Bogotá called Boyaca, we got to go on quad-bikes through the mountains. Before we went on them we asked if I was big enough to drive them and I was! transport2-3My mum tried it first to find out the controls and then I got to drive it. transport2-7I felt so amazed that I was driving I almost forgot to steer and my mum helped me until I got over the shock. We were sharing the adventure with our friend Diana, her husband Ernesto and her brother, Luis fernando. After a while my mum and I swapped with Diana and Ernesto into a buggy and I was allowed to drive that too.

One of the least well planned parts of our trip was our journey to a place called Guatapé. There is a slight pattern to our modes of transport on the way there (after the taxi bit)  – see if you can spot it. First we flew from Bogotá to Medellín but from Medellín airport we hadn’t decided where to go next or how to get there, so we asked a taxi driver how to get to Guatapé. He told us he would take us somewhere to get a bus there so this sounded good to us and we set off. The craziest thing was the place that he left us because he just pulled in on the side of the motorway in the hard shoulder and told us: “Here you go. If you see a bus with Guatapé written on the front wave your hand at it”! So, there we all were on the side of the motorway with all our suitcases and back packs. We waved wildly at the first bus that came by but sadly, it whooshed past. We had more luck with the next bus and it swerved into the hard shoulder and we got on. I had the nearest seat to the door and the driver forgot to shut it for a little bit so there I was next to an open door on the motorway! When we got to a little town quite a long way from Guatapé the bus driver told us to get off the bus because he wasn’t going any further. He pointed over at some old jeeps across the road and told us to take one of those instead! In the end we got into a jeep, put our luggage on the roof and then loads more people got in and it was such a squish that one of the people had to sit with his leg hanging over the side, but finally the jeep pulled into Guatapé. But our journey wasn’t over because we still had to get all our heavy luggage to our hotel, so the driver of the jeep called us a tuk tuk transport2-6(which is basically a motorbike with a carriage stuck on top of it). I couldn’t imagine how we would all fit in but, as we’re getting used to things in Colombia now (often you have 8 or 9 people in a small car) we just piled ourselves and our bags in a big heap until we arrived at our hostel! Did you notice the pattern? Our transport just kept getting smaller and smaller and we were pleased we’d arrived as otherwise we thought the next thing might have been a skateboard!

Now it’s from land to air, because from Medellín we flew to a city called Pereira in the coffee region. The airport in Medellin was closed the day we went there because of hazy weather so we only just got through. When we finally got to our gate we saw our plane and almost laughed.transport2-8 It was a tiny plane with only thirty seats! Luckily it was only a short journey and we didn’t feel cramped, although the take off and landing were a bit strange because the wind blew the plane around (this also kept with our pattern of going in smaller and smaller vehicles).

transport2-4Bogotá also had its own crazy transport. When we went to Montserrate to get chocolate and cheese, we rode up in a cable car and down in the funicular. Just look how steep it is!

I loved all these forms of transport because they were so adventurous and fun, but I will finish this post by telling you about a slightly calmer thing we did because after all that excitement I think it was time for a rest! Take a look at this picture of Brae floating down the river in a tyre again, watching the wildlife, in Rio Don Diego. Half way along the river Brae got hot so we used the umbrella the guide had given us and floated with that on. That day the transport was a bit more chilled – phew!

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Cartagena

By Oren:

One thing we did quite a few weeks ago, which we haven’t had time to write about yet, was go to Cartagena. My mum has always wanted to go to Cartagena ever since she first got a job to do with Colombia.

Cartagena is well known for being one of the most beautiful cities on earth, and when we went there we saw why. All the streets have lovely balconies with flowers on in little baskets and all the squares have amazing churches and brightly coloured buildings. The best thing to do in Cartagena is just to walk around a lot and that is what we did. Whenever we were on a street we thought it was the most beautiful, but then we’d turn a corner and find something even better!

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When we arrived we were really thirsty because of the long journey so we went to get a drink and watch the sunset from the city walls. Cartagena is also famous for being one of the hottest places in Colombia. Unusually, it was a bit breezy that evening and Brae said he was cold and he needed a jumper. When we told our friends in Bogotá that Brae was so cold in Cartagena that he wore a wooly jumper they couldn’t believe it and said he really must have got used to the heat in Santa Marta. I wonder how we will feel when we get back to Norfolk!

The only not so good thing about Cartagena is that there are loads of tourists. As it is so beautiful a lot of people from America and other countries come there so it was very crowded You can see how many people were there in the background when we took this photo on the city wall.

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Where we lived in Santa Marta, there weren’t very many tourists, and hardly any foreign children, so people were interested in us and wanted to know what we were doing there. That meant that everyone was coming to talk to us all the time and asking us questions, but in Cartagena everyone was used to all the tourists so they weren’t that friendly.

One other thing we did when we were in Cartagena as go to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. It was named after Felipe IV of Spain who was king when the castle was built in 1657. They built it to protect Cartagena from pirates and from other countries like England who were attacking it because they were trying to make siege on Cartagena. It is a huge fortress and it was never taken even though lots of people tried.

The coolest thing about the castle was the tunnels. They were designed to carry sound so that if an enemy was approaching they could hear them cartagena-12coming and be ready. You could go down the tunnels and I thought they were really cool and it was really fun exploring. We went down and down, often in the dark, until the tunnels started to have water in them. We found out that because the sea level is higher now than when the castle was built the lower tunnels have started to fill with water. We spent a long time exploring the tunnels, sometimes coming out in a completely different place from where we planned to be.

Even though we loved Cartagena and thought it was very beautiful, we all agreed when we got back to El Rodadero that we were all glad to be back there, where everyone is so friendly.

Medellín

By Brae:

This week, we went a place called Medellín and it is the second biggest city in Colombia. We went to do a tour around the middle of Medellín to learn about its history. Twenty years ago Medellín was known as the most violent city in the world. The man who gave us our tour said when he was little he had ten friends and eight of them got killed. It is hard to imagine thousands of murders every year in a city. There were so many murders that it wasn’t even in the news.

One of the violent things happened one night in 1995. There was a party in a square and one person brought a bag with explosives in and put it under a statue by a very famous artist and it exploded, killing lots of people including a seven year old girl and a ten year old boy. They were very young so I felt sad thinking about it. The person that made the statue was called Botero and he said he would make another one if they did not take the damaged one away because he said if they took it away it would come out of peoples memories. Now there are two bird statues. Here are some pictures of the old one and the new one.

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medellin-6I think you will be able to guess which one is old and which one is new. Botero came from Medellín and we saw his statues everywhere in the squares around the city. He is one of the most famous artists of South America.

Now Medellín is very different from the dangerous times and there are nice museums and parks and squares everywhere. We went to Parque Explora which is a science one and something very strange happened to Oren there!

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Also we went up a mountain in a cable car and if we looked down we could see the entire of Medellín. Medellín is in a valley between two mountains and on both mountains there are houses clinging onto the steep slopes and the houses on the mountains look poor.

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medellin-13  It used to take hours for the people who lived on the mountain to get to the city but now they have cable cars they can get down and back up quicker and they’re not really tired when they go down and up.medellin-8

 

 

 

 

In the cable car we saw a sign that said in Spanish ‘don’t jump or make sudden movements in the cable car’. It had a translation in English but we’ve noticed that often the translations in English are different and quite funny. You can see how they translated it in this photo. The other photo is a cool balcony we saw in the middle of the slum. Can you see the cow head?

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medellin-14As well as the new cable cars there is a metro train. The people of Medellín are very proud of the metro and you can see this as it is very clean with no graffiti but the rest of Medellin has lots of graffiti. Some of the graffiti is messy but some is very nice, here is a picture of a monkey you can see from our window.

At the end of the tour our guide said that Colombians try not to always think about the bad history. He gave an example to say that if someone was sinking in a swamp and they had all the horrible swamp stuff nearly drowning them and then they found a branch and grabbed hold of it and pulled themmedellin-5selves out and then they would celebrate because they nearly died but they didn’t. He said it was like this for Colombians. They had a terrible time in their past but they have survived so they are really happy people. He also thanked us for coming to Colombia and hoped we could tell people that it is now a very nice place in Colombia and it was a long time ago that it was a bad place. I agree that people should come to Colombia because it is a brilliant country.

 

Weird stuff update 4: Chocolate, cheese and cow hoof

By Brae:

In Bogotá we went up a mountain to a place called Monserrate with amazing views over the whole city.

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First I should tell you that Bogotá is already in the mountains. It’s in the Andes mountains and the city is 2,620 meters above sea level. That is nearly eight and a half London Shard skyscrapers on top of each other! Because it is so high, some people like Oren get altitude sickness just walking around. There isn’t as much oxygen in the air so high up and your heart beats faster. We’re lucky that no one else in the family gets it but Oren has had it which is a shame, but he still wanted to go up to the top of Monserrate which is 3, 152m. At the top we went to a cafe and had hot chocolate and cheese.You might think it was a bit weird but it is a thing that Colombians like so we wanted to try it. We broke up the cheese and put it in the hot chocolate and left it to get soft then we ate the chocolatey cheese with a spoon. It was a bit strange but we liked it. My dad did not really like it because he does not like sweet and savoury combinations.

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During our week in Bogotá we also went into a really nice town called Villa de Leyva and we saw a man who had some strange sticky white stuff and he was turning it round on a stick. choccheesehoofOur friend Luis Fernando told us it was made from sugar cane (panela) and cow hoof! At first we didn’t really like the sound of it but then our dad told us that lots of sweets in England are made with gelatine that comes from the skin and bones of pigs and cows (like jelly babies, haribo and marshmallows)! We decided to try some and at first we liked it but the more we had it the less we liked it.

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Weird stuff update 3: Signs

By Brae:anteater-2

Here are some unusual signs we have seen.

We saw this sign on the side of the road warning of ant eaters. In Tayronaka, I spotted an anteater walking through the bushes just beside me. He was about the same size as a big cat or small dog with a very long nose. It was cool to see it but we didn’t get a photo.

Caiman 2When we were in Tayrona we saw another strange sign saying not to feed the caimans. My dad thought was a bit obvious not to put your hand in its mouth!

We spoke to a lady who was selling cakes that she cooked in a little hut by the lake where lots of wild caimans lived. She said the caimans in the lake were 3.5-4m long (that’s twice the size of a human grown up!). She said she saw a dog go down to have a drink from the lake but then a caiman came and swallowed it whole! We kept a good distance away from the edge on our way past.
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You can find more weird stuff here.