Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lago de Tota

J, Paula & Jeremy
Just when I thought we had already partaken in the highlight of our time here in the Sun Valley with our grandiose trek into Paramo Oceta-we got a fantastic invitation. Jeremy and Paula, a great couple and our newest friends from the UK invited us for a day around the Lago de Tota in the luxury of their campervan! We are lucky! Our own wheels (aka- not on a bus), great conversation, Colombia's biggest lake, a white sand beach at 3015m and probably an empanada or two. It had all the makings of a memorable day! Jeremy & Paula started their amazing travel adventure 18 months ago when they bought their converted Volkswagon camper-van in California. Since then they've traveled overland through Mexico, Central America, and now into South America! Over the next 18 months they are going to make their way further south, eventually winding up in the southern tip of Argentina! Mind-bogglingly fantastic, right?

Scary-faced Jesus
We headed out to the lake, Lago de Tota, after breakfast the next morning. It was so great not to be flying around the back of a bus and to be able to stop at which ever lookout or scenic view point we wanted, all while getting to hear about Jeremy and Paula's adventures on their trip thus far. Pure privilege! The paved road ended abruptly and we started bouncing around on the rough dirt. 'This is what half our life is, bouncing around in this van,' Jeremy tells us. That explains why the sole of his shoe needed to be duct-taped back into its place three times yesterday on the hike. After months like his- the sole could just bounce right off! Despite it being cloudy the views over the lake and its islands were great. We stopped off in a few small towns around the lake. The centerpiece Catholic church of each town's main square is always a sight to behold. In the town of Tota, the outside of the church is painted in orange and white to look like marble! In another town the huge church is topped with a super-sized, coloured statute of Jesus standing in a boat which is way to small for him, riding on a wave right over the edge of the church! The candid expression on his face is the best part of the whole sherazz. Either he's just realized that the boat he'e standing in is way too small for him or... he's a crack addict displaying serious withdrawl symptoms. This statue is just downright scary. Inside that same church is a classic picture of Jesus with his right hand held up in blessing. Only in his hand is a cellphone. 'I want to talk to you today, so turn off your phone!' the sign reads in Spanish!

K, Paula, Jeremy & dessert!
By far my favourite town that we stopped in was Iza-the town known for its desserts! What a wonderful thing to be known for! As soon as we were out of the van ladies were waving spoonfuls of tasty deliciousness in our direction from behind their tables laden with dessert options. Mostly they were variations of some sort of cake soaked in some sort of delicious flavour topped with some sort of creamy compliment. There was caramel, berries, lime, oranges, dates, passion-fruit... we tried just enough of them to be sure of our choices. Once the big decision was made the smiley lady piled a plate full of as many flavours as we wanted, we paid about $1.50 and then took our desserts into the shaded square to devour them. Fantastic!

Other than being Colombia's largest lake Lago de Tota's other claim to fame is it's 'Playa Blanca'- another irresistibly named white sand beach.  Although seeing as this white sand is at 3015m and very, very far from the ocean- it really is quite impressive. Standing down on the stretch of white sand you felt like you could have very well been at the seaside. In November. Between the clouds, the breeze and the frigid water it felt vastly different than the last 'Playa Blanca' we were on in Colombia. Then again, there were some crazies who were running into the lake with nothing on but swimming trunks... Nevertheless, it was still a great stop, and quite the phenomenon for our lake itinerary.
Playa Blanca at 3015m!
As we were winding our way back down a secondary dirt road we stopped and picked up some friendly-looking local guys looking for a ride back into town. This is quite a common practice in areas where there is very little traffic and people. One man was a lawyer and the other his friend and they were quite delighted and probably a bit surprised to be picked up by a campervan full of foreigners. But Jeremy and Paula are nice like that. The guys were really friendly and chatted the whole time. The road wound up and down over the hills before we descended into the next small town where the men needed to be dropped off. Right as we were coming down the hill into the main square two interesting things happened at the same time. #1-Jeremy noticed that there were two odd pipe looking things protruding about a foot high from the road directly in front of us that may or may not be wide enough apart for our van to fit through, and #2- the brakes failed. For real. Thankfully, Jeremy is an expert and managed to yank the emergency brake just before we got to the pesky protruding pipes. Paula hopped out and helped navigate the van snuggly between the obstacles and, because of gently slopping road, and gravity, we safely rolled right down into the main square and right into a parking spot. Really impressive.

Lago de Tota
The smell of burning brakes made the problem pretty obvious, and it was one Jeremy and Paula had experienced before. They knew that with the extra weight of the extra people, and all the fresh trout they just bought at the side of the road (kidding) and all the ups and downs that the brakes just needed a break themselves. The little square was certainly not a bad place for a break and there were even peanut butter and crackers on offer! After a full day of exploring we came back to the hostel for a nice evening of relaxing and wine. We consider ourselves super lucky to have met Jeremy and Paula and be a miniscule part of their epic journey.

Punta Larga Winery
Speaking of wine- Sogamoso here is said to be the home of the world's highest winery in altitude. Wanting to confirm this claim for ourselves we  headed out to the PuntaLarga Winery to do some research. Actually the day started off quite irritatingly, with our lack of Spanish issue rearing its ugly head- again. We went to the bus stop and caught the bus in the direction of Duitama, the closest big town, on the road to which the winery was said to be located. The bus driver was trying to explain something to us- none of which we actually understood- despite the fact that we pretended to. We thought he was saying that he didn't actually go right up to the winery- that he would drop us off at the bottom of the hill and we would have to walk ourselves up to the winery itself. Turns out that wasn't what he was saying at all. We've learned this lesson many times and still never learn. If there is lots of extra dialogue from a bus driver or taxi driver or anyone- say thank you and try the next bus or taxi. More talking = less likely for something to go smoothly. If you get on a bus and tell the driver where you want to be let off and he nods- perfect. If there is a big (one sided) discussion- aka- this time. Get off the bus! Sigh. Turns out, what the bus driver was trying to tell us was that there were two roads to Duitama. The first one went via the winery and we would be there in about 15min. The other road did not go via the winery and we would have to take the bus all the way up to Duitama where you would then have to change buses and come all the way back down the other, parallel road to be dropped at the winery. And all that would take about an hour. We had a 50/50 shot of flagging the right bus. All of this is clear in hindsight, of course. That morning- clear as mud. Guess what bus we were on. Over an hour later after being all the way into the city, following around some police officers who were trying to be helpful but really had no idea what bus we should be taking and then causing a tiff between said policemen and the Popsicle lady - we finally ended up at the winery. 

Jesus wants you to turn off your cell
On the spectacular patio overlooking his 2800m vineyard and the gorgeous surrounding hillside sat the owner and his brother, enjoying a late morning glass of vino. 'This is the highest vineyard in the world,' the owner, Marcel, tells us. 'There is a winery in Argentina that claims to be higher- it's at 3100m- but I am closer to the equator- so I am higher!' Regardless of the dispute- the wine is tastey. He pours us a generous glass of red and then his white, so that we can taste both. Its awesome sitting out on the patio in the warm sun, drinking wine and chatting with the proprietor. The vineyard itself is small. Marcel says he has about 35 growers further south that he also uses for some of his wines. The wine made soley from the grapes up at this altitude is expensive, but rightly so. Marcel tells us that he is also thinking about making his own unique version of icewine. He wants to bring his grapes and the press up into the mountains and press the grapes up the frozen mountain air. We buy a bottle of red, not grown at this altitude, to share with our new friends. Mission accomplished.

Me and my shot of arequipe
Irritating ATM fact: Today we tried to take money from an ATM. We tried approximately 5 banks and none worked, so we went to the only ATM that we knew would work- the one with the ridiculous service fee. We go through the whole process, accept the service fee, blah, blah, blah. And the bank machine spits out the equivalent of $5. It charges us $4 to do so. We had asked for $200. We go inside the bank to complain. Apparently the ATM was actually out of money- they just didn't say it. Jerks. The bank manager, who I think is a bit scared of J's rare rage points us to a Bancolombia- the national bank. And the only bank that works for us every time, despite the Lonely Planet saying that its the only bank that that doesn't work with foreign cards. Go figure.

Still staying at Finca San Pedro... it's just too good to leave!

ps. Today I ate a shot glass full of just carmel (arequipe!) I bought it at the market and it came topped with exactly 2 raisins and a little plastic spoon. I love that this is not only acceptable behavior, but encouraged! Keep up the good sweets Colombia!


Gina said...

heh, when I moved to Germany, my bank card wouldn't work here even though it had worked in the Netherlands and in Switzerland. I finally got a German bank account and another month later I finally got paid... that was a bit of a stressful time :)

Sounds like you're having an awesome time over there. I hope you have not been using your cell phones in church. I heard Jesus doesn't like that.

Parentals said...

"sweet treats' are definetely an ongoing theme!!! Maybe you could write a book " the best sweets from around the world"!!

Mom and Dad Mooney said...

Luv the sound of the white beaches! The pictures at the end of each post are great.

Sergio Alejandro Diaz said...

Boya is a beutifull place