November has never been a favourite period for me in London. Thats the one time when the city truly lives up to its wet and foggy image. Instead I’ll be headed to the southern hemisphere where summer is approaching and spend my next seven weeks in Colombia – a country I only heard good things about despite its violent past.
See and believe, and in order not to make a mistake, touch.
Planning a trip in Colombia isn’t straightforward chiefly due to transportation (no trains, just bus/plane, road conditions?) and language barriers as well as residual security concerns in some areas. Not to forget some slack your plans want to have for hot tips you pick up from travellers you meet in Colombia.
1) South Colombia: i’ll be meeting up with Cathrin – the german girl from cologne who i briefly studied Spanish with in london and who has been travelling in central & south america for a few weeks now. Lets see what Cali holds, Popayan, Tierradentro and Neiva. Transport down here is really not great.
2) Medellin: Three weeks of language course are waiting … so back to school for me. I have also located a close-by Muay Thai gym (lets see if I get a few more classes done than in Russia) as well as a cool outdoor tour provider. The language school itself offers loads of trips in and around Medellin. So it won’t get boring in the city of Pablo Escobar.
3) Northern Colombia: Plenty to do here. I plan to visit the lost city near Santa Marta, the Guajira Peninsula near Venezuela and beautiful Cartagena & its Caribbean beaches. Kite surfing sounds interesting too! Let’s see.
4) East Colombia / Andes: One of the most scenic national parks in Colombia is El Cocuy with several 5000m peaks. Sounds great to me! Afterwards I should also have a little time to see Bogota – the capital.
Most likely I will skip the West coast, chiefly due to its isolation. The time spent to get there I prefer to keep for other things. But who knows, maybe someone changes my mind.
We finished off our 1,300km roundtrip in style before saying goodbye to Spain. Roman bath in Alange, game of thrones castle in Trujillo and amazing Toledo didn’t make it easier to climb into our Ryanair seats bound for London.
Alange – do it like the Roman’s: the village is only a 15km drive from merida and located on the hills and shores of a large reservoir. We skipped the town though and headed straight for the roman thermal bath (balneario de alange). The complex is much larger than the one we visited in Banos de Montemayor, also part of a hotel (open to external guests) and mostly used by older generations. We booked the roman circuit (eur25/head) though not quite sure what we signed up for given language barrier. The circuit includes 15min in an inhalation room (air & moisture), 30min thermal bath and 20min hot mud pack. Very relaxing! Before heading towards Toledo, we stopped at the reservoir to take in some beautiful views.
Trujillo – winter is coming! Couldn’t resist to stop here after i found out that the castle towering over the city was used as backdrop for game of thrones as it served as template for casterly rock in season 7. Indeed one could think to be right in alleys of kings landing when trying to find where the car was parked exactly ;o) beautiful. You can actually drive all the way up to the castle through the old town. Just com with a small car rather than a SUV – it is tight for these roads were made for people & horses only.
Toledo – the imperial city: By now we had already left Extremadura and were in the autonomous region of castile-la mancha. We didn’t have / pllan much time to see the city and rather added it to the itinerary to be close to the airport for our journey home. Still, we both were stunned at how Toledo welcomed us on this fine evening.
Toledo, which has been declared world heritage, is essentially built on a hill (or several?) and thus stands out already. Add a few landmark buildings like a cathedral, a huge convent and loads of stone walls and it stands out even more. Also the inner fabrics of Toledo are intriguing with strong influences of christian, jewish and muslim history and a long tradition for bladed weapon production. There is a lot more, but i leave that to wikipledia.
Our hotel was located on a hill opposite with beautiful panoramic views over Toledo. Hard to imagine a better place to take this all in.
Badajoz – Moor’s world: Badajoz is located moments away from the Portuguese border and also boasts some impressive fortress structures in the old town. With some 150,000 inhabitants not too small either. It was here where i felt the historic islamic influence was most visible. The Moors conquered the city in the 8th century and made it a moorish kingdom (Taifa of Badajoz) until it was reconquered and then disputed between Spanish & Portuguese. We took a stroll around the old city wall (in 30+ degrees) and had lunch on a beautiful square before moving on. By now ordering food in spanish was effortless (practice & duolingo training). The newer parts of town looked less appealing.
Merida – lugula! Verbera! Missus! ‘Kill him! Beat him! Pardon him!’ the public would shout in Merida’s amphitheatre according to scriptures. It must have been a popular place in a city that was originally built for honourably retired soldiers – guess you cant switch off from fighting straight away. The arena and nearby temple form the heart of the roman ruins in Merida though there is a lot more around the city such as old bridges and a well preserved aqueduct. There is also an impressive bull fighting arena, but it only opens once a year in September we were told. Nightlife is centered around plaza d’espagna and worth a visit (glass of red for Eur1 anyone?).
Having spent the past two days hiking, we took it easy the next day, slept in, had a long breakfast and enjoyed the indoor pool & wellness area (which we had to ourselves). Admittedly, for EUR75/night this 5-star spa hotel, Hospes Palacio de Arenales & Spa, was great value be it a little outside the city center.
Caceres – hunting for jamon: For the afternoon a visit to the villages surrounding Caceres was on the menu to see the jamon-producing places a little more closer up. Or so it was advertised on the regions website. While we saw many cute villages, cattle farms (bulls for fighting come from here) and pretty landscapes … we didn’t find any jamon places. Not even village outlets where we could have bought some ‘fresh from the factory’ jamon.
Well, we were more lucky in Caceres itself later in the day while we marvelled at yet another architectural jewel. Some 100,000 people live here in this city with history back to the times of christ and the first roman settlements. The walled old city is unesco world heritage and has been host to several film shootings – game of thrones included ;o)
We ended up trying two type of jamons – iberico bellota & iberico cebo campo. By some margin bellota won that duel be it taste, tenderness or look. As you would expect – bellota loses on price ;o)
We left it to 11am before we eventually checked out from the hervas bungalows and hit the road without much of a plan. Not very German, I know. Turns out that you don’t really need much planning in a region full with beautiful spots. We decided to follow some public signposts for an old tower near hervas (can’t even recall the name) and enjoyed the beautiful forest that surrounds it as well as the view from its top. Game of thrones style (in fact, quite a few scenes were filmed in Extremadura).
Once we finished the tower visit we continued towards our next destination – Caceres. On the way there we encountered signposts for Monfrague national park. I had the park on my list of things to see, so why not right now. It was again a beautiful day (we had yet to see a single cloud in the sky since arrival) and hungry for a bit more outdoor activity. So off we went … what a great park it tourney out to be! Roman bridges, preying brids all over the sky, blue/green rivers carving their way through rock and stone. Hard to describe – gotta see it! Extremadura.
After a long day out we finally made it to our hotel. 5 star for a change and with in and outdoor swimming pools – much to the delight of Alex! We had arrived in Caceres. Yet another beautiful town as we would see later …