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2/28/15 Horseback Riding in La Calera




8:00 am – Lisa, Aggeliki, Justine & Kate – Horseback Riding in La Calera with Andreas Umana                 5:07 pm – Kate and Greg arrive in Bogota from Chicago

It’s Saturday morning, the first morning for four of us, begins early. We are up, dressed and at breakfast by 7:15am ready to meet with Andres Umana of Andes Ecotours. Andres was referred to us by a Professor at Universidad de Los Andes, when we had explained we wanted to research sustainability and tourism in Colombia. Andres studied the socio-environment and ecological profile of the Bogota area. There was clearly no-one better to lead us through our first discovery of the Andes Mountains. We meet him about 10 blocks away from our hotel and he spots us immediately as we clearly look a bit like fish out of water. We pile into his car and he starts leading us out of the city to La Calera. La Calera is a neighboring town not far from Bogota, it is quickly becoming encompassed into Bogota as the bustling metropolis grows rapidly. Bogotanos are starting to move further out of the city center to capture a bit of nature while still maintaining a somewhat city life. Andres explains this all to us as we head up through the hills. Bogota is clearly an athletic city, we see numerous cyclists riding up the mountains on the same road we are driving through as well as several runners. We noticed the cyclists and runners on our way into the city from the airport the day before, but it was just beginning to resonate as we experience how steep the hills are and how un-phased the cyclists are. Bogota sits about 8660 ft above sea-level and the Andes sit just to the East of the city. As we drive up Andres shares all kinds of information with us and we listen intently while also taking in the sights and the fact that we are driving up through the Andes. The weather is slightly crisp and its a cloudy day which detracts nothing from our excitement.

As we drive Andres talks to us about a number of things relating to Bogota and Colombia. He informs us of the various natural ecosystems in Bogota, the paramo, tropics, cloud forests, the atlas and others. We stop in the town of La Calera for our first taste of arepas. Andres orders these for us to accompany the sugarcane tea with cheese, a common drink in the area. It is light and sweet and the cheese at the bottom of the cup is your ‘treat at the end,’ as Andres puts it. Colombia is one of the largest producers of sugarcane after India in the world.

But wait, let’s go back to the arepas for a minute. This was the start of our love affair with arepas. When we sat down and Andres ordered for us, the shopkeeper pulled out plastic plates and cups for us, but quickly Andres asked him to give us real plates and cups. Most locals believe that tourists prefer plastic, that it is more urban, or sophisticated than real tableware, (we’ll come back to this), then came the tea, then the arepas! An arepa is a flatbread made of ground corn or maize most often stuffed with cheese, or queso, as was the case here, and alot of it! Every region in Colombia has a unique kind of arepa, some are fluffier, some are flatter and crisper etc. We were intent to try whatever we could get our mitts on! These particular arepas were made in a wood burning stove (see image below).


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We share our other plans for our visit in Bogota, our visit to the urban renewal project planned for the next day, which spurs discussion of the South versus the North in Bogota. “The northerners,” Andreas explains, “treat the south like an abyss, they don’t go near it unless they have to pass through it on their way out of town, as if it does not exist.” The South of Bogota is where many of the displaced communities live, and many of those in poverty, living in slums. Andres lived in the south during his time in the military, so he knows first-hand what it is like. “But the people are not what the elite think them to be,” he continues to tell us that it is not as ‘scary’ as the northerners think it is, that the people are doing their best, like everyone else. This feels somehow reminiscent, in some small way of Chicago, and the disparity between the northside and southside, the comparison however, is quite different.

We discuss for some time about the apprehensions our families had prior to us coming to Colombia, and the security measures we put into place for the peace of mind of the University. It’s true, Andres says that the Colombia is safe, it is a beautiful and wonderful place to visit. As we delve deeper into the changes it has been experiencing, Andreas at one point looks over to us and says, ‘it has only been six years,’ referring to when there was a shift in violence to some semblance of peace, at least in Bogota. Which leaves me to think, how long has it been since September 11, it’s been fourteen years, and we still carry that memory with us. With decades of violence, the memory of that past is not so distant for many Colombians. This comment leaves us silent, the first pause in conversation since we met. It is time to get moving, so we gather our things, thank the shopkeeper and continue on.

The mood quickly livens up again as we head just a short car ride from the arepa stand to where the horses are waiting for us. By the time we stop, we are nearly bouncing out of our seats with anticipation, as we see nothing but green and trees and hills for as far as we can see. We’ve arrived at Jorge’s house, Jorge’s family was displaced to where they live now to make way for the dam that was being built in the area. He supports his entire family with his horseback riding tours. Once we’ve all mounted we follow Jorge through the path, which eventually just gives way to the hillside and fields and ridges through which we ride. The sights are breathtaking, and I can’t help but attempt to take photos while riding, and Andres is taking selfies with us in the background. The memory of the bitter cold -2 degree winter we left behind us felt an impossible time and place away from where we were. Our ride lasts a few hours with a small break in between where we leave our horses and take a short hike up to the top of the hill to take in the views. The ride back to Jorge’s house was a thrill as the horses were excited to get home they were in full gallop mode, at least until we slowed them down. Once we all returned, Jorge invited into his house for lunch that his mother made. Traditional Colombian chicken soup with potatoes, and corn, served with avocados, cilantro and rice on the side and a glass of fresh guava juice. It was official, we were in love. In love with Colombia, the Andes, the people, the food, and the generosity.

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