After a few days of bumbling my way around the block at Angelica and Hernando’s apartment, I received a call from Adriana (Hernando and Nancy’s sister). She lives with her husband and daughter in a small town on the outskirts of Bogotá called Stone Bridge. She informed me that she was making a work trip to Piscilago (a water park/zoo in the valley) tomorrow and asked if I would like to tag along. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to go on a road trip. It is, after all, one of the main reasons I am in Colombia. The only obstacle? Getting there while leaving the apartment after 8.
The initial plan was for me to catch a regional bus out to Stone Bridge and Adri would meet me where the bus stops. However, at this point in time and late at night Angelica didn’t particularly have faith in my ability to get there via the bus so she decided for me that we would go by car (probably the right decision I might add). We jumped in the car and started making our way out. After about 10-15 minutes I was introduced to something that I can only describe as ubiquitous in Colombia, the peaje (toll station). I am not particularly sure as to how they decide how often they are placed along highways but it seems to be as you exit each municipality. Regardless, each of them ranges from about 9,000 to about 15,000 COP, which is about $4.50 – AUD 7.50. When you take into consideration how many of them there are it adds a considerable amount to travel costs.
When we arrived at the small gated community that Adri’s house is part of and we were greeted by scenery reminiscent of the game silent hill or the Stephen King book/movie, The Mist. An eerie fog lingered around an evergreen encased field with a small dirt road piercing the centre towards the gate. Through the gate and around a few corners found us at the house and we were promptly greeted by two of the three dogs in residence, Lulu and Peppa (a golden retriever and an I have no idea). Inside I met Manuel and the third dog Merlina a British bulldog. I learned later that Manuel didn’t know that I was arriving, but you wouldn’t have known it given the greeting I received. After a quick chat, we all retired to get some rest for the big trip the next day, except for Angelica who had to drive back to Bogotá (she is an absolute legend).
In the morning we set off through a gauntlet of peajes. Literally like six or seven of them for a two-hour drive. Each of them cost somewhere between 8000 and 14000 COP (4 – 7 AUD), so the cost really adds up. Descending the winding and meandering road down the mountain saw the climate change within 30 – 60 minutes from a fresh 12 degrees to a humid 30. Shortly after we arrived at Piscilago and we met up with Francis, the park manager. The rapport he had with his staff was terrific, and he really seemed, to me, to be a guy most people would enjoy working with.
For the next few hours, I had free reign of the park while Adri conducted some professional development with the staff. The park consisted of a zoo section and a waterslide section (similar to wet and wild on the Gold Coast in Australia). The two things that surprised me walking through the zoo. Firstly, there were sections of bird cages where you get to actually go inside with the birds which were really cool because you could get up close and really see the beauty of the birds. Secondly, there were a few Australian birds (budgerigars and cockatiels) listed as exotic species, which gave me a good giggle.
After the zoo, I had a crack at a few of the slides (where the lines weren’t too long). I later learned that I was there on a really quiet day. Only about 1800 people in the park compared to the 15000 or so that they routinely get through the gates on the weekend (miss me with that). After a few times through I met up with Adri and we had lunch and began the reverse peaje gauntlet.
Back at Adri and Manuel’s place I had the pleasure of meeting Hernando, Nancy and Adri’s uncle, Carlos. He was a wonderful and slightly eccentric man who I got along with like a house on fire. As a Colombian diplomat, he had recently found out that he was being posted to Puerto Rico and was storing some furniture at Adri’s. He had also served as the diplomat to Australia, twice. We all ate a couple enormous pizzas for dinner (around 45cm in diameter) which were fantastic. All the while Carlos was drilling me with Spanish, which, sadly, I was/still am in need of.
The next day was Adri’s birthday, and Hernando and Angelica joined us for the celebrations. Here I got to taste my first empanada (they are amazing, money to be made in Australia with these bad boys) and for dessert, a chocolate cake called tres leches (three milks). I guiltily went back for a second piece of that one.
During the whole time, I have spent with these guys they have really made me feel part of the family and incredibly welcome. Which, for the somewhat of a complete stranger that I am to them, is quite amazing and a testament to the generosity of Colombian people. We left earlyish because the next day Hernando, Angelica and I were going for a trip higher up another mountain to La Finca.