Woke up to very cold weather, so it was nice to rug up in some warm clothes for a change ! Headed back up the dirt track, passing the Columbian Army again as we went, and also trees of pink flowers that looked like wild roses, except they were on quite big trees. Hadn’t noticed them the night before. Some lovely views back across the Lago Neusa as we drove back to the dam, and then started back down the hill – The Park (and others in the area) seems to be run by CAR – Which we later found out stands for Corporacion Autonoma Regional. Earlier several people had kept repeating “Car” (with very rolled r’s on the r !!) when we asked for directions, and we had wondered what they were talking about !! The views going down the hill were superb, and the little Fiat 500 was all done up with “eye shades” and a pretend ket in the boot to wind it up with ! It seemed to be in very good condition.
We dropped down into Zapaquira where we were going to visit the Catedral de Sal. This was born from an old salt mine, dug straight into the mountain outside the town, and date back to the Muisca period some 500 years ago, and still have vast reserves that will last another 500 years. Opened to the public in 1995, the actual cathedral is 75 metres long and 18 m high and can accommodate 9000 people. But the entire complex is enormous and has separate tunnels for the Stations of the Cross, and then extensive further tunnels for souvenir shops, coffee shops and so on, and the main section is some 180 – 200 meters underground. Since the guided tour was all in Spanish, we missed a lot of the detail, and unfortunately there were no brochures about the complex anywhere, so we missed out on a lot of the detail. But it certainly is an impressive place, and apparently one of the premier tourist attraction in Columbia, even though it is not on the normal tourist route. There are many tunnels from which the salt has been removed and now just the rock remains, and they have carved crosses and statues right into the rock faces – Really quite something to see, especially with the lighting effects they have installed. Amongst the souvenir shops was a fascinating exhibit about the mining and preparing of Emeralds – Columbia’s premier precious stone, and apparently they supply 80 – 90% of the world’s emeralds. After seeing the Cathedral and emerald displays, and having a Columbian coffee and doughnut 180 metres below the ground, we set off on a short tour included in our ticket was a short tour of Zapaquira in a bus, and that was a fun way to have a quick look at the town. On the way back we passed a bbq restaurant where they ran out to give free samples of their meat to the people on the bus, and it was SO good that we immediately planned to return once we had collected our car from the Cathedral car park.
By the way there is a photo of a very “interesting” lady that was taken from the bus while we were on the tour, and a little boy with an interesting expression on his face as he looks up at here. I want to assure you that I did NOT take that photo ! Janet did – Mainly because physical “enhancements” (of all sorts) seems to be extremely popular (and common) here in this part of South America, and it was just taken as an example (I am told !). But the expression on the little boy’s face was what made me keep the photo – I wonder what he was thinking ? !!
Once we got Troopie back from the car park, we went straight back to the bbq restaurant and when we arrived the recognised us from the bus, and we had a good time choosing the meats to be included in our “take away” platter. Unfortunately it was taken that we needed two servings and by the time they had finished piling the meat on our plates, we realised that one serving would have been more than enough ! Never mind – After a photo session round the car, when a couple of people of the street also jumped in at the last minute, we set off down the road, munching on our meat (with potatoes, avocado, and picante dips, plantain and taro) as we headed towards Bogota. A great lunch – No one would ever starve in this part of the world as there is great food on every corner.
Our plan was to drive straight through Bogota because we didn’t feel we wanted to stop there. We are learning that the country roads are so twisty and narrow, so thought that the main road through Bogota would be at least as quick, if not quicker. Silly us !!! Not only was the traffic pretty horrendous (like capital city and all that), but also there is a system of side roads to the main road that if you want to turn left (or right), then you have to get onto the side road well before your intended turning. And when your Garmin is as lost as you are most of the time, it is not always easy to be at the right carriageway (not lane) at the right time so you are ready to turn ! Anyway, the good things about Garmin is that is can bring you back to where you were when you make an error ! We eventually got through Bogota, but it took more than a couple of hours, which then put us behind our schedule so that we would probably not be able to reach our intended destination of Ibaque before dark, so we had to start thinking of alternatives. Then, shortly before Girardot, we were coming down a long (dual carriageway) hill when suddenly all the traffic stopped – which was quite hair raising in itself as all the trucks had hot brakes by this time, and suddenly they had to stop completely, in our case on a blind corner – I was watching the rear mirror very closely, I can assure you, and had an exit route into the bushes planned if necessary – Fortunately everyone stopped OK. But we were there for over an hour, and it was well dark by the time we started moving again – It was only the fact that we were on a fairly well lit dual carriageway that made it bearable (and safe) for me to drive a little further. A little further up the road we found a big 24 hour Terpel Petrol station with a big parking area out back, and pulled in to ask them if we could sleep there for the night. They also had an armed guard who agreed it would be no problem, so we pulled over into the corner, had our supper, and turned in to sleep like logs until about 7 am. A good little spot – Just a shame they didn’t have showers there !
Pics are here : https://picasaweb.google.com/117739775480775657932/0122ZipaqueiraToGirardot?authkey=Gv1sRgCMbbyb-IwZasdw#