24th to 27th May

Saturday 24 May

Today, Fabi will be our tour guide in Barrancabermeja.

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This city exists because and around the refinery. It is the biggest refinery of Colombia, able to process one third of the 750 000 barrels per day of crude oil that the country produces. It has been built 90 years ago in this very strategic location: on a river, so that the products can be exported by a port, with the water of the river that can be used for the chemical reactions and to cool the machines, near the oil fields, a perfect location (and a muddy river can hide some liquid waste emissions!). The refinery has some 1600 employees, but indirectly gives job to 10 000 or 15 000 people.

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We go to a cienega, a kind of swamp, where the water from the nearby Magdalena river resurges from the ground, to later evaporate. It is possible to bathe in a part of this “lake”. The water is dark, coloured by the iron oxide of the ground. And the combination of the Sun and dark-coloured water makes! hot water. The top layer is literally hot for our body, while 20cm deep, the water is maybe 25-30ºC.

After this “refreshing” moment, we go to another specialized restaurant in fish. Then we go to the sportive club situated inside the perimeter of the refinery: on the golf terrain, there are many iguanas. The iguana is the symbol of the city, and of the Colombian oil company Ecopetrol (that owns the refinery that gives work to the whole city). No need to say that it is sacred: the people are shocked when we ask them if there’s a place to eat iguana here.

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Sunday 25 May

We get up at 2 am. Fabi drives us to his hometown, in the department of Boyacas. We leave so early for many reasons: there is no traffic on the road till 6 or 7, the temperatures are not so hot, and also we should arrive in Duitama, Fabi’s hometown, before lunch. On the way, we pass by amazing landscapes, like the canyon of Chicamocha. We enjoy the trip to eat local food: rib soup, cheese, ants, bread, ! in total we have three breakfasts this morning.

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In Duitama, we meet Fabi’s mother, brother, sister, and a lot of his family. We go to eat altogether, typical food from the East of Colombia (comida llanera). In the afternoon, we go to visit some small villages, that have kept their traditional ambience: Tibasosa and Iza. Luckily, Iza has cakes for speciality so we have the dessert over there.

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In the evening, we spend a good time with Fabi’s family playing the werewolf (or killer) game.

Monday 26 May

We have a walk in the city and then leave for Villa de Leyva, where Pati, Fabi’s sister, lives, and will lodge us for the night.

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Villa de Leyva has a very well conserved historical centre. The streets are in cobblestone, and all the buildings are from the Spanish colony time. These houses of the rich people have now been converted to patios with restaurants, or handicraft shops, or even hotels with colonial style ambience. All the walls are dyed in white by the whitewash.

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We visit the Antonio Ricaurte museum, about the life of this libertador, and the Colombian air force. Antonio Ricaurte was born in Villa de Leyva in 1786, and fought along with Simon Bolivar for the independence of Colombia. In 1814, in the battle of San Mateo, he immolated himself next to the powder stocks, in order to change the course of the battle with his heroic suicide. He is inside all the Colombian heads, being elegantly mentioned in the national anthem: “Ricaurte en San Mateo (…) En átomos volando” (i.e.: Ricaurte in San Mateo, flying in atoms). For this reason, when the Colombian airforce was created, in 1919, and they looked for a saint patron, they just considered the lyrics of the national anthem and found Ricaurte. So the natal house of this hero is now a museum for both himself and the air force.

Pati lives with her husband and their three children in a farm outside of Villa de Leyva. They are very active in the local evangelist community, receiving missionaries from USA or other countries. We enjoy for dinner crepes with Nutella and many local fruits (strawberry, guanabana, granadilla, loquat).

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Tuesday 27 May

The farm where Pati’s family lives is huge, with a big area top lay. There are ping pong tables, a playground of basketball, a small pond, ! We discover a new game, popular among the scouts and other children divertissement groups: the Balón Soga. It consists of a pole, with a rope attached on the top and a ball at the end of the rope. Two people are opposed, with the goal of enrolling the rope around the pole, each one in one direction, only by touching the ball. Contrary to the appearances, it is very physical, you always have to place yourself perfectly with respect to the ball, it needs good reflexes, and it can be quite violent.

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We leave Villa de Leyva around 10h, for Barrancabermeja. We stop several times on the way, to try the local specialties, like some juice or pandeyuca. And most of the route, we are following huge trucks. I think Colombia is the worst traffic up to now in America: The roads are generally one lane in each direction, with interdiction of passing a car or a truck (but everyone does it as soon as possible), the tarmac is not so good (probably better than Bolivia, but the traffic is much denser here), more than half of the vehicles are huge trucks (called tractomulas here). Also, since the road is always turning, there is no visibility to pass.

We arrive at Barrancabermeja, it’s dark from a long time already. Instead of rushing to take the bus tonight, we decide to stay one night more in Barranca. And take the bus tomorrow.

Here you are for the video of these days… look at these wonderful little lizzards.