Villanueva to Chicaque

To the list of useful facilities and services that Villanueva, Colombia does not have, add bus terminal (nor train terminal, for that matter). Instead, it has a stretch of 3 or 4 blocks on the busiest street in town where buses and shuttles park (double-parking often would be a more accurate description) to discharge or pick up passengers. Also along this stretch are a few ticket offices of various bus and shuttle companies. The first one we stopped in a few days ago to do some preliminary research said that, yes, they do have a route to Villavicencio, and we can catch the shuttle right in front. So that’s what we did on Saturday morning (March 5th), loading onto the van and waiting only about 15 minutes before it took off.

Adios Villanueva

Previous post: final week volunteering in Villanueva


Of course, Villavicencio was not our ultimate destination. It was just, as in our journey in the other direction, a halfway point in that numbing 6-plus hour ride between Villanueva and the major hub of Bogota. Once again, we stayed at the Airbnb in Villavicencio hosted by a lady named Flor Maria — who presented us with our food container we’d left behind 3 weeks earlier. We inquired about her son, who had been recovering from a gunshot wound at that time. She said he was fine now; but she herself was not quite up to speed, because she’d broken her ankle a couple of days earlier.

I spy with my little eye a Chestnut-eared Aracari

This time, we got in early enough to spend some time walking around Villavicencio, though there really wasn’t much to see. Our happiest discovery was a little smoothie place that we almost passed up because we assumed the smoothies would be loaded with sugar. As it turned out, they had no added sugar at all — just fruit in imaginative and tasty combinations. Just the thing for a warm day, and they were only about a buck each.

Crossing Bogota

The next morning, we caught a cab for 7000 pesos (about $1.75) to the bus terminal, where we caught a shuttle that took us the remaining 3 hours to Bogota. At least it was supposed to be 3 hours, but it ended up being at least 4. There was some kind of bicycle event on this Sunday that had traffic at a crawl for miles. Finally arriving at the terminal, we went to a tourist information office to get some tourist information about the confusing remainder of our path to our destination, and they were quite helpful.

The first step was to get to a station of the TransMilenio, the light right system. The station we needed was only about half a mile away, so we could have walked. But since it was beginning to rain, and since we were already a bit behind schedule, we opted for a cab. (The fare was about 5 dollars, which would have been decent in the U.S., but was really quite steep for Colombia.) Then, after some confusion about how to buy and use the tickets, and which track to get on — we initially went to the wrong one — we managed to catch the train headed to the suburb of Soacha.

The train was packed to the eyeballs, and we had to stand, clutching all of our bags, for at least half the trip. At one point, a seat was vacated in front of Dennis, but before he could sit down, a lady on the other side of the partition by the stepwell quickly slid her bag through the opening in the partition and onto the seat to stake it out for herself. A bit of a switch from the courtesy among passengers we so commonly observed in Mexico.

Arriving at Chicaque

We knew that in Soacha we were supposed to hop on a shuttle van that took us to Chicaque Natural Park ; it apparently runs only on weekends, about once an hour. It seems we’d just missed one, and needed to wait for the next one. But after we’d walked around the block and back, we saw a van parked, and the driver, waiting outside, called out to us. He had been alerted to our arrival and was on the lookout for us. So then he took us on the half-hour drive to the park.

When we arrived, the park was closing for the day, though the rustic restaurant and lodge at the entrance was still open. So we went inside for a bit to wait for our next driver to take us to our digs. That ride was in a little electric buggy, not much bigger than a golf cart. It took us down the hill, on a road that was not much more than a footpath. And down. And down, and down and down. On an angle so steep that we had to hold onto something to keep from tumbling into the driver’s lap. (In the three weeks to come, we’d become very well acquainted with this steep climb.)

Finally, we were deposited at our new home: an old red country house, with a well-equipped kitchen (including a microwave, a convection oven and a conventional oven), a fireplace, a piano, and other creature comforts. There was even, wonder of wonder, a washing machine — AND a dryer! It’s been rare to find the former on this tour, and unheard of to find the latter. But it was quite essential, given that the air there tended to be very damp, so just hanging the clothes to dry takes a long time. There was also a hot shower, sort of — the output wasn’t much more than a trickle, and the water heater was finicky as a pampered cat. But any hot water at all was a welcome change from our previous post. Anyway, the house was situated next to the little one-room schoolhouse where we’d be volunteering for the next 3 weeks.

Meanwhile, we had met our fellow volunteer Joel, a likeable young man from Finland who’d been there a few days already. He’d be sharing the house with us, but there was plenty of room. There’s a family who spend some of their time there — they have photos all over the place — but at the time they were away. They’d even left a TV and a collection of videos we had liberty to use if we felt inclined. But who needs that when your home is located in a cloud forest?

That night, we slept soundly, far away from noise pollution, light pollution, and air pollution, with the sounds of nature chirruping and tweeting and hooting us to sleep.

Birds (Green Ibis) seen in Villavicencio

March 5-6, 2022

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