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Betulia [English]

(La versión en español aquí.)

While the rest of Bucaramanga was stumbling home from a late night out at the bars I was making my way out of bed and to San Pio park at 3 in the morning on Sunday. I met my hiking group, Caminantes de Santander, and we boarded the buses for Betulia. Betulia is a town and municipality in our department of Santander, located 2.5 hours to the south of Bucaramanga near Zapatoca.

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A very Colombian problem – big bus unable to navigate the narrow streets of a colonial town.

We had breakfast at an outdoor restaurant with the company of baby chicks and roosters. Our meal was very typical – caldo (a soup with potatoes and eggs), yuca, arepa santandereana, bread and chocolate to drink.

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Afterwards we rondezvoud in the main park – one of the loveliest I’ve seen in Santander. All the radios in town were tuned in to the Mass service happening at the main church and the speakers in the park were broadcasting it as well. I wasn’t paying much attention, but I did catch the priest giving our hiking group a shout-out, and probably some sort of blessing as well.

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Our group leader Manuel brought a wood burned plaque with him that his wife made as a gift for the town of Betulia. The presentation of the plaque concluded with the anthems of both Santander and Betulia and then we were on our way.

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Group photo! Photo by Manuel Guacaneme Franco.

Our local guide Omaira Sarmiento took us up into the hills over Betulia.


Omaira with Betulia in the background. Photo by Manuel Guacaneme Franco.

The hike was magical, taking us through fields of ferns, “the land of seven colors” and then into an enchanted, misty forest.

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Photo by Manuel Guacaneme Franco.

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Our fearless leader Manuel.

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Photo by Manuel Guacaneme Franco.

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At one point we found ourselves a little turned around in a heavy fog, but a local farmer pointed us in the right direction.

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With a great deal of hunger we arrived to Hacienda El Florito, one of the former properties of Geo Van Lengerke. Lengerke came to Colombia in 1852 – supposedly he was fleeing from the law in Germay after having killed a man in a duel. He settled down in Santander where he developed the land, built roads and commercialized the area. He had a property of 46 square miles with several haciendas, one of the most famous being El Florito. Lengerke had many descendents, so it´s common to find blonde, blue-eyed Colombians in this part of Santander.


El Florito. Photo by Manuel Guacaneme Franco.

The family of the hacienda made us a delicious lunch.

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When some friends from Denver came to visit a few months ago they remarked that there´s not a lot of variety in Colombian cuisine, and I would say that the day´s meals were a shining example of this fact. After soup and yuca for breakfast, we also had soup and yuca for lunch. But instead of arepa and bread, lunch came with rice and a piece of plantain.

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The adorable children of the family that lives at El Florito ran around playing and serving us lemonade.

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We had a long hike back to Betulia so I took off quickly after lunch with another hiker. During our descent we passed a beautiful waterfall next to the road and lots of lovely views of the countryside.

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In the end, however, our hasty pace was for nothing because a truck came around to take us back to the buses and we were the last ones to get on board.

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At the buses there was a local woman selling fresh cocadas – a yummy dessert with cocount and arequipe – which I couldn´t resist. We made it back to Bucaramanga around 10:30 pm.

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