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South American (mis)adventures

12 April, 2018

We asked Andrew to blog about our first few days in wonderful Colombia.

“Following a very pleasant post-concert dinner in NYC, the shock of our 5am alarm call was at least partly alleviated by the excitement of heading to South America for the first time. By lunchtime we had made it through immigration and to our hotel in the centre of Bogotá, the vast, mountain-encircled capital of Colombia.

“Keen to take advantage of a free half day, we headed out to explore. Some of us went to check out the colonial-era old town and cathedral.

  

“Others soldiered up the hill (2,600m of altitude certainly takes its toll!) to catch the cable car to the Monserrate Sanctuary, at a cool 3,152m above sea level.

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“Despite the hazy visibility, the views over the city were breathtaking.

“Our cameras sated, and the sky starting to look ominous, we headed back down the cable car to the city.

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“As we reached the bottom, an impressive thunderstorm broke, and streets quickly turned into rivers. Having foolishly eschewed a taxi, I contrived to slip over rather spectacularly, and arrived back at the hotel sore and bedraggled. At times like these the Stile Antico family swings into action, and my wonderful colleagues procured sweet tea, antiseptic and plasters in the blink of an eye. However, by the evening it was clear that some further investigation was necessary, and with some trepidation I explored the available options. I needn’t have worried: the hotel procured a doctor within the hour – all part of the service apparently – who trussed me up in an impressive pile of bandages and told me, with an abundance of caution, to seek an x-ray.

“The x-ray had to wait until Florencia, our destination the next morning, an hour’s flight south of Bogotá and the gateway to Amazonian Colombia. As soon as we stepped off the plane we were greeted by heat and humidity, and layers were hurriedly shed before we met our wonderful hosts Ricardo and a group of English-speaking students from the University of the Amazon.

“Soon we were at the heart of this chaotic, bustling town. Ricardo and Sebastian, one of the students, took me off for an x-ray. Thirty minutes later (and at the princely cost of £9!), it was established that a nasty cut and a bad case of wounded pride were all that was wrong with me, and we rejoined the others for an excursion.

   

“Our bus climbed up to the ‘Calera Amazonica’ in the jungle above Florencia, where we met spider monkeys and parrots, and a cow took a particular shine to Ben.

“Before heading down, we posed for photographs with our Colombian hosts and enjoyed some local food and drink – plantain fritters were a particular highlight!

“Our plans to go river-swimming the next morning were scuppered by heavy overnight rain, so instead we hired taxis to visit a ‘Maloca’ – a typical longhouse of the type built by the original inhabitants of this region. The taxi drivers weren’t deterred by some challenging road conditions!

“This particular Maloca was constructed as a way of of keeping alive some of the traditions and the language of the Huitoto community.

“As well as visiting the longhouse we were able to buy jewellery and accessories handmade from bamboo.

   

“We also enjoyed meeting the local family and pets!

  

“Keen to explore a little more, we ventured out on a track through the jungle to a local viewpoint.

“Along the way we passed these commuters!

“Then it was time to head to the University of the Amazon, venue for the evening’s performance.

“Thanks to the Colombian Banco de la República, our hosts on this tour, the tickets were free, and a large and enthusiastic audience greeted us for the concert. Their energy and obvious pleasure buoyed us through the evening, and made for one of the most relaxed and enjoyable performances that we can remember. Afterwards we were mobbed by students seeking autographs and selfies with us!

“Today we head onward to the Carribean island of San Andrés, taking with us very happy memories from Florencia. Particular thanks are due to our host Ricardo and to Sebastian, translator and tour guide extraordinaire!”