Mountain High

We love our aquatic lifestyle, but when you’re in a country as diverse as Colombia, you have to explore inland. We knew we wanted to travel by air from Santa Marta to Bogota to meet up with local friends, but we wanted to explore more than just the big city. One night, while planning our trip, I casually said to Kimberly, “since Bogota is in the mountainous region of Colombia, why not go further into the Andes?” With that one idea, our trip to Bogota turned into a ten day excursion to the big city with a side trip to the Peruvian Andes and Machu Picchu. We were just too close to pass it up.

As we packed excitedly for our high-altitude adventure, we ran into our first problem: we no longer have cold weather clothes. We don’t really have “city clothes” either. We opened up compartments aboard ¡Pura Vida! that had not seen daylight since leaving New Orleans over three years ago, and dug out strange-looking objects. Closed-toe shoes, jeans, jackets, even socks! We did not have much, but figured we could make it last for the trip. With our minimalist wardrobe stuffed into one suitcase, we felt ready for our trip. We were wrong!
We arrived in Bogota and our jaws dropped. We knew the city was big, but had no idea just how massive and spread this city of ten million people really is. From the terrace of our small apartment in the mountain foothills, we could not see the edge of the city. At night, lights illuminated the sky as far as we could see, even with a zoom lens on the camera.

View from our terrace

We stayed in the historic neighborhood of Candelaria with charming architecture and a lively social scene. The area is so hilly that walking just a few blocks was a challenge for us sea-level creatures. Fortunately, Uber is available in Bogota, and extremely inexpensive.
We visited some of the major attractions like the stunning pre-Spanish gold museum, the unique underground salt cathedral, the sprawling local “mercado”, and just walked around town taking in all the urban scenery.

Priestess gold ornamentation
Stunning detail

 

Cool pottery
Earliest known game of Space Invaders
Well-preserved burial

Of course, we found our way to delectable local restaurants where we got our first tastes of Andean cuisine, and happened upon some trendy bars that crafted local twists on classic cocktails.

Gondola ride to Monserrate with Bogota in the background
Bizarre nativity scene at Monserrate
Inflatable sheep! Why not?
One of hundreds of fruit stalls at the massive Mercado Paloquemao
The egg section of the mercado
Our very friendly lunch chef. He makes killer fish stew!
Mmm…we love street food

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Before all this sightseeing, we had major wardrobe malfunctions. Both of our only “dressy” closed-toe shoes started disintegrating on day one. We’re talking soles separating and chunks of leather falling off. The closures on my semi-dressy jacket came off in my hand when I put it on. Apparently, you can’t store shoes and clothes in a hot compartment for years without damage. With our disintegrating shoes and shredded clothes, we looked so much like hobos that I was worried people would start giving us change in the streets. We needed an emergency shopping trip, so off to a huge mall we went. I hate malls in general, but malls right before Christmas are a special kind of hell. We dashed around as fast as we could to get what we needed and get out before the repetitive Christmas music permanently implanted itself in our heads. Sporting my new duds and stylish ankle boots, I was ready to hit the town again.

Tunnel to the salt cathedral
The salt cathedral is a massive underground complex
Did I mention it’s really big?
I’m a bit rusty on my religious indoctrination, but I don’t remember “Saint Miner”
Stunning carved art in the mines
Water mirror in the mines
There’s a spa in the cathedral mines!
Wanna strip in a cathedral and get rubbed with scented oils and salt by women wearing helmets? Hell yes!

One of the highlights of the trip to Bogota was having dinner with a classmate from the Inter-American Defense College, and his wife. We had not seen them since mid-2013, and it was wonderful catching up. I made good on my promise, back when we were in school together, that one day we would show up on his country’s shore by sailboat.

Mini class reunion

After our whirlwind Bogota visit, we were off to Cusco, Peru. The historic city is nestled over 11,000 feet (3,400 meters) up in the Andes with panoramic mountain vistas.

Cusco historic district
Cusco Cathedral
Street market
This street performer went all out with his outfit
The Cusco flag represents all the indigenous groups that united to form the great Quechua (Inca) empire

The high stone walls, red tiled roofs, street vendors, and locals walking around in brightly-colored traditional garb give Cusco a unique feel we have found nowhere else.

Woman knitting on her stoop
This lady made a colorful camera strap for me
Locals in traditional garb
Yes, that’s a lamb wearing a knitted cap
Selling knitted flowers
Kimberly made it her mission to feed all the strays in Cusco
Locals carry their infants swaddled on their backs

There were two very Peruvian things we had to try, a pisco sour cocktail, and roasted cuy (guinea pig). Well, we both tried the pisco, but only one of us tried the cuy. We then did a self-guided walking tour of town that kept us reminded of the altitude with every step. That thin air is no joke!

Enjoying our pisco drinks at the coffee museum and bar
Roasted cuy
Street churros – my kriptonite
Street chicharrones (aka cracklins) – I lost all willpower
Rows and rows of cheese vendors – I think Peru is trying to kill me…or fatten me up

We were up at four a.m. the next morning for our tour to Machu Picchu, We were so excited we awakened before our alarm went off. The trip involved a two-hour bus ride through the mountains, a three-hour scenic train ride, and another short bus ride to the entrance of the fabled citadel.

Choo choo
This train station dog wouldn’t leave our side
Luxury ride
Scenic train ride
Final bus ride from the small town at the bottom of the valley

It is as magical and awe-inspiring as we imagined. Part of the tour included a knowledgeable guide that taught us about the city, culture, language, and history of the area. He then let us roam free for the last couple of hours before we had to head back.

Impressive farming terraces
Requisite kissing pic
Main city gate
Llama dust bath
So many stairs
We named him “Shaggy the Mighty” because he kept striking this pose
We had some time for shopping at the colorful town of Aguas Calientes while waiting for our train
We finished the afternoon listening to a pan flute musician while enjoying some libations

Back in Cusco, we had one more day of sightseeing before returning to ¡Pura Vida! The entire vacation was fast and short, but we saw so much. We were also tired of the dry cold – yes, we’re wimps about cold weather – and were ready to return to our sweltering coastal living. We finished our trip with a fabulous local ceviche dish and a glass of wine overlooking the Plaza de Armas. We almost teared up taking it all in.

Cusco Plaza de Armas

Upon returning to Santa Marta, it was time to get boat chores and projects done. Our two-month stay in South America was ending soon. We had much to do to get ready for our multi-day sail to the San Blas islands in the Guna Yala autonomous region of Panama.

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