Villa de Leyva

There are mountains and everything is very green on the way to Villa de Leyva

The bus ride from Bogotá to Villa De Leyva was beautiful! There are at least 2 bus stations in Bogotá and we got the bus at the north station. The 18 passenger van was full except for the two passenger seats next to the driver when we got on so we had a wonderful view of the mountains for the 2 ½ hour trip.

View of the plaza

Founded in 1572, Villa de Leyva is a town of about 9500 people. It has the second largest plaza in the Americas (the largest is in Mexico), 120 meters on each side, which was paved hundreds of years ago with “cobble stones”. You and I would just call them rocks so it is uneven walking in the plaza and some of the streets. They have done a wonderful job of building lots of brick sidewalks in many areas and some of the newer roads are brick as well. The area is known for its colonial buildings.

We went on a wonderful horse back ride one day with 5 other tourists. You may remember we did a few lessons in Costa Rica. We wanted to see how we would do and besides it was less than $60 for the two of us for a 4 hour tour.

We did great! We even trotted a lot of the time. (Did you know that different horses have different gaits so some are more comfortable than others to ride? These were very comfortable!) The horses were whistle trained and the leader would whistle to tell them to go faster or to stop or move to the side. It was amazing to experience.

On the ride we went to an area called the Observatorio Astronómico Muisca or also called Observatorio Sol. The Muisca were the indigenous people of the area and they created a way to keep the calendar using stones, akin to Stonehenge but much smaller stones.

We also went to a fossil museum that while quite small, it has the most complete Kronosaurus, a Cretaceous-period relative of the crocodile ever found (this mountainous area was once under the ocean). There were many other fossils as well.

The last stop was at a small, turquoise colored lake called Pozos Azules (Blue Wells). The color of the water comes from the minerals in the surrounding rocks.

Around Bogotá

Monserrate Monastery (image from Wikipedia)

As far as sight seeing, we went to Monserrate Monastery and church which is high up on the mountain. You take a tram type vehicle called a funicular which goes up at about a 45 degree angle. The views are beautiful. The altitude is about 10,341 feet.

View from the funicular.

We also went to the Botanical Gardens which is in the Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park. This park is bigger than Central Park in New York City!

We went to the Botero Museum one day. Fernando Botero is a well known artist from Colombia. His works typically are of oversized people and animals . At the museum we saw his paintings and some statues as well as work by other artists including Balthus, Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Sonia Delaunay, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. I believe that Botero donated all of the artwork in the museum.

Typical looking Botero characters.

We walked a lot, even from the apartment to a mall, about 1 ½ hours one way (took a cab back…LOL). Surprisingly the place we went to the most was that mall, almost every other day to pick up some things or just eat. We both got good vests to wear since our cold weather clothing is pretty limited.

We had Thanksgiving Dinner in the mall. Instead of a regular food court, they have Restaurante de Andres which had various stations for meats, poultry, drinks, desserts, etc. The food was made to order and was reasonably priced and very good. Our Thanksgiving Dinner was chicken, potatoes, salad, and a baked plantain with cheese for dessert.

We enjoyed our time in the city even if we aren’t big city people. Here are a few pictures we took while we were there.

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The town has crept up the sides of the mountain. Here you can see a section of condos or apartments which are brightly painted.

Bogotá is the largest city in Colombia with over 8 million people. Traffic is a problem as is typical in most large cities although they have an extensive bus system and lanes just for bus/taxi/ and maybe carpools. 10 lanes of traffic can creep along or move quickly depending on the time of day. Personal vehicles are restricted to the days which they can be used in the city (just as is done in San Jose Costa Rica).

Left to right: Andres, Gina, Lindie, Dan, Esperanza, Alvarita. Front Pureza and 2 of the 3 cats. Note view in the background.

We stayed with a lovely family with two professional parents and an adult son who is in year 5 of medical school. There were also one pit bull and 3 cats. The apartment was on the top floor (17th) of an apartment building and it had 2 levels: a total of 4 bedrooms and 3 baths. It was interesting that this apartment was the penthouse although it didn’t have an oven, only gas burners. Not fancy but beautiful views. The cost to them is $600 per month, including fees for the security, grounds keeping, parking, etc.

They were wonderful, taking us to a place to get my laptop looked at, a store to buy a Bluetooth keyboard since they couldn’t fix the malfunctioning keys on my laptop (Bogotá has an entire mall devoted to electronics!!!), and fed us several times.

Center top apartment is where we stayed.

I had some breathing trouble with the cats so I stayed in our bedroom more than I would have liked. We enjoyed talking in Spanish with the family who had limited English.

Since we left, the son moved with his girlfriend Gina (also a medical student) to begin his residency in another town. They took his dog and her hers and left her cat so there are no dogs and 4 cats in the house now. That’s way too many cats for me so we won’t go back there if we are in Bogotá again.

Pureza and 2 of the 3 cats waiting for the adults to come home from work/school.

We felt safe in the places we were in Bogotá although we did have an issue with a taxi claiming it could only take a debit card. Long story and hopefully my dispute of the charges which showed up on my bank account will be removed within a few days of posting this entry.

Being in the mountains,, the weather in Bogotá was drastically different from Cartagena. The city is at 8,661 feet and was delightfully cool.

Living in Bogotá and Colombia in general is cheap. I could walk to the local produce store and get a heavy bag of fruits and veggies for $3. I paid $0.50 for a head of hydroponic lettuce. Cabs are cheap too (except for that one I mentioned above), usually running $2-4 per trip.

Stuck in the Elevator

View of our 17th floor apartment

Have you ever imagined being stuck in an elevator? Not much fun but at least we weren’t alone. On the way  down from the 17th floor, Dan, Alvarito, and I suddenly felt a very, very strong jolt and a loud noise!

OH NO! We were stuck between floors, about 5 stories high.

You have to imagine this elevator. It is very tiny even though it says it holds a maximum of 9 people, that would be packing them almost like sardines. It is a little over 4′ wide and less than 4′ deep.

My first thought is that we have enough air. I don’t like small spAaces so I was nervous. Alvarito was able to open the doors but we were between floors, 3-4′ above the floor of the 5th level. Being able to look out helped me relax. I wanted to climb out but they both felt it was too dangerous if we slipped we’d fall down the shaft.

Alvarito pressed the alarm and called the office. In less than 30 minutes we were out. They had to manually lower the car in the shaft. My neck hurt for the rest of the day but was fine in the morning. I thought about getting it checked but because they didn’t check me when we got out of the elevator, they wouldn’t have taken responsibility. Besides, they would have restricted who I could see and I felt that at most I would need a chiropractic adjustment.

By the time we returned later that day, the elevator was working fine but we never took that one again. The building has 2 elevators, one for even numbered floors and one for odd numbered floors. From then on, we went to the 16th floor and walked up a flight of stairs or if we were in the apartment, we walked down one flight and got the elevator.

South America, Here We Come

Main entrance to Old Town Cartagena at night.

First stop, Cartagena Colombia!

We can’t tell you much about Cartagena because it was so hot/humid we didn’t spend much time outside. We arrived on the first day of a 4 day holiday commemorating the independence of Cartagena from Spain.

Dan and Lindie out on the street during festivities.

This is a big, no make that a huge, deal in this town. Partying in the streets, and you wouldn’t believe all of the firecrackers that people threw. It didn’t seem safe because they were thrown around people and under cars but I didn’t hear/see any actual problems. We spent a short time when we met up with our former shipmates the first evening around the crowds but spent the rest of the time either in our air conditioned room or away from the crowds.

Cartagena is a good sized city of around one million people. It boasts an historic old town. We didn’t see much of it although it would have been nice to if the heat/humidity hadn’t made us hermits.  We felt safe where we were (except for the firecrackers) but I wouldn’t advise you to use the street money changers, Dan had one pull a slight of hand on him which cost us about a hundred dollars.

Dan, Lindie, and the Capitan.

Nearby is Santa Marta, also on the ocean, which is supposed to be a destination place that we missed as well. Doubt we will get back this way again but if we do, we will see both the old town and |Santa Marta.

We had originally planned to go by bus to Bogota but it was going to be so long that we flew. It was a little under $100 per person, including checking two bags and taking the rest onto the plane. The plane was a jet and very comfortable; it was a short ride of about 90 minutes. We ran into some of our shipmates at the airport but that is the last we have seen any of them.

Selfie on the airplane


On the boat I had an extensive talk with one of the passengers about her smoking. Susie is a medical doctor in England in her mid twenties. She is a delightful, intelligent, and insightful woman. She has a fear of dementia and feels that dying from the effects of smoking is a better way to go then to live longer with dementia.

Hmm, I’d never thought about it from that perspective. I tried to understand what she gets out of smoking and I know that you current and former smokers can understand the way the nicotine relaxes you and relieves stress far better than I will ever be able to.

After that discussion I felt very self-conscious when anything related to being the oldest person on the boat (other than Dan and I, the oldest person, including the captain was 31) came up (slow/more cautious than others moving about, trouble getting in or out of the dingy, climbing into the boat, etc.). I know she wasn’t referring directly to getting older but her concern about losing the ability mentally but it did make me more aware of the impact of aging on my body. And I am sure that the reason that I usually only pick up the last word in a sentence of fast Spanish is because my mind is a bit slower to process what I hear.

I don’t like that I can see myself slowing down but I do accept it. I do what I can to minimize that by staying active. I’m glad we are traveling now because I can see that it would be harder in a few years. Even now, if I stand too long or walk too far without breaks that my right leg complains quite loudly. I have decided to use a wheelchair when available when we are in places with a lot of standing like a museum. I did that at the Botera Museum in Bogotá. Didn’t like being in the chair and it was hard on my hands so Dan pushed me but it did allow me to view the exhibits without bothering my leg.

Like they say, aging beats the alternative (dying) so I’m glad to have that option.

Traveling From Panama to Colombia Via Sailboat

A panga boat like this one took us from land out to our sailboat.

There is no road between Panama and Colombia, only thick jungle and unsavory characters (so I’m told). So the options are to go by boat or plane between the countries. Plane is faster and cheaper but we decided to splurge and take a catamaran (type of sailboat) and enjoy a few of the over 300 San Blas Islands.

The trip to the sailboat started early, we were picked up by the shuttle close to 5 A.M. After a number of stops, we drove through jungle area and finally reached an area where we paid a small tax to the indigenous people to be taken by panga (small covered boat with outboard motor) to the catamaran.

Locals use various boats to transport people and goods in this area.

That trip was about 40 minutes  or so to reach the sailboat which was anchored near one of the over 300 islands in the area called “San Blas”. The islands range in size from something you can walk around the outer perimeter in 5 minutes to something large enough for a number of houses. The ones we went to were all either uninhabited or inhabited by the Kuna natives.

The water around the islands is beautiful and some had nice fish that were visible when snorkeling. Unfortunately there was no water treatment so the coral in the area had been damaged a fair amount from waste and anchors.

On the inhabited islands, the locals sold beer and sodas and some crafts. We bought a beautiful mola for $20 from the woman who made it. It took her about 2 weeks of working off and on to cut out and sew the design on by hand. We paid $20 for ours and will frame it when we eventually return to Durango. They sell for much more in the stores.

Some islands had a lot of coconut trees, others didn’t. I was walking between two trees one afternoon and a coconut fell about 3 feet from me as I passed. Whew, that was too close for comfort!

There were 13 passengers and 3 crew on the boat. The oldest person other than us…including the captain, was 31. While we didn’t care for the smoking that several of them did, everyone was extremely nice and there were no problems between any of the passengers. The people were from England, Scotland, Australia, and Germany. We were the only Americans on the ship. There was one crew member with good English but Dan and I had an hour long conversation with the captain, entirely in Spanish, one night. While we didn’t understand 100% of it, we did get much of it…about Colombian life, drugs, safety, etc. Our Spanish improves every day.

Life on the boat was wake up, eat breakfast, swim or take the dingy to the island where you could snorkel, walk around, or just relax. Lunch was served about 1 or so while we went to the next island. The food was delicious, plentiful, and they did an amazing job of working with various allergies or food limitations among the passengers. We had delicious lfresh lobster one night. We had octopus another night (my least favorite meal) and the other meals were more basic. One passenger couldn’t eat shellfish so he got a nice steak that night! All this from a tiny, tiny, tiny galley.

Some islands were very close, others far apart. Notice how low to the water this one in the foreground is. This was common and these will quickly disappear as the ocean rises due to climate change.

I had been concerned about feeling claustrophobic on the boat but our room was fine and they were able to provide power for my CPAP at night. We each brought a backpack with clothes, etc. (everything else was stowed for the trip) but we didn’t really change clothes since we were in bathing suites the entire time.

We arrived in Cartagena Columbia after 3 days of island hopping and then 36 hours of open seas. I was worried about the open seas but the weather was good so it wasn’t choppy and a little Dramamine worked great.

Our sailboat in the port of Cartagena.

Here are a few other pictures from the trip.

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Panama Canal

Of course we went to the canal to watch ships go through the locks. It is a very popular tourist destination and was moderately crowded with people taking pictures and watching. There is a museum which is excellent that explains the entire process from its inception to the controversial expansion that opened in 2016 for the bigger boats.

The canal is big money from the standpoint of the income going through it each day as well as the tourism and banking associated with it. The cost of going through the canal is typically $400,000 to $600,000 or more for the newer, larger ships. The money has to have been received and cleared the bank before the vessel is allowed to get in line to go through the locks. It takes 8-10 hours for the entire not quite 50 mile long trip. You might check out this website that has information which is probably fairly accurate even today.

Fun fact, the lowest tolls to date were paid by Richard Halliburton, who swam the Panama Canal in 1928. Halliburton paid only 36 cents.

Here are three animations that Google created from our pictures:

  • Men working on a ship as it goes through the canal
  • Ships going through the canal. The cruise ship in the background is using the new larger canal. Note the vehicles on tracks that guide the ship through the canal; up to 8 vehicles are used per ship
  • Dan guiding a ship though the canal. The museum was well done and had this simulation

The dirt that was removed to make the canal was used to fill and expand the shoreline. There is a long, safe, paved area along the shore for walking, riding, and even sports. Of course there are restaurants as well.

Panama City iis a modern, vibrant city and is relatively safe. We had no issues while we were there. We heard mixed things about the water so we were careful not to drink tap water (we have a device to treat tapwater which we used when possible, otherwise we got bottled water).

Guided Tour of Panama City

People getting ready for a parade in downtown Panama City. Band members and men in costumes. Guide, Luis, in the foreground.

On the second we went on a guided tour with Luis. It was the first of (at least) 4 days of celebration of separation from Colombia in 1903. (The canal construction was restarted shortly after the separation.) There were lots of festivities and closures of businesses and tourist places as a result.

We didn’t actually go to any of the parades however we walked around the area where many participants were getting ready to march. There were lots of students in their school uniforms, marching bands in their uniforms and women dressed up in beautiful costumes. Men had much more simple traditional outfits with the shirts outside their pants.

View of the city, Pacific Ocean and the Bridge of the Americas

On the tour we went to the highest point in the city, Ancon Hill (named after the first ship to go through the Panama Canal when it opened in 1914). We parked and walked uphill in the heat and humidity but fortunately there was a lot of shade on the way.

Bahá’í temple is built with 9 points and the star in the foreground has 9 points.

We went to a Bahá’í temple high on another hill. It was a simple but inspiring design and felt very serene there. It is one of only a small handful of temples. It was very serene and sacred feeling.

Various images from Panama City.

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