Thursday, 20 November 2014

Fine and Pandi

You don’t tend to base yourself in Bogotá for its weather. OK, on sunny days it can be pretty nice, but such occasions are balanced out by chilly nights. The great thing, though, is that if you are looking for hotter climes all you have to do is take a short trip in basically any direction out of the metropolis to find them.
Pandi, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Pandi, Cundinamarca: It beats the madness of Bogotá, at least for a time.
However, there’s not much point in having such ‘hotspots’ on your doorstep if you don’t utilise them. That’s how things had been for me lately, cooped up in the city, letting work and Bogotá’s, nay La Perseverancia’s, social life dictate the course of events.

In fact, it got to the stage where I needed a gentle push to break the routine. Somewhat paradoxically, that ‘push’ came in the form of work; well, work of sorts.

What I had to do was be an English speaking guide for a group of students of the language from a university in the south of Bogotá. They were having a day out, via the fledgling tour agency Colombia Limite, and to keep things ‘English’, the lady in charge felt it would be a good idea to have a native speaker on hand.

The fact that the majority of the group were at beginner level and thus couldn’t understand most of what I said (who does?) didn’t matter. It’s the thought of making an effort to have the day educational that counts, right?

Our destination? The unheralded town of Pandi and its surrounds in the Sumapaz province, 103km south of Bogotá.
The rather impressive gualanday tree in full flower ...
Pretty in purple: The gualanday tree. (Photo from clorofilaandcompany.)

Now in a country that has quite spectacular natural beauty around every corner, each little town and village has to fight hard to get a piece of the tourist action. So considering that to reach Pandi requires a 30 minute drive on somewhat of a dirt track road off the main highway about two hours outside of the capital means that it could easily be forgotten by many. The belief may be that other, more accessible places offer pretty much the same.

Yet, that it is a bit ‘off the beaten track’ can be a pull factor – such secluded places generally do it for me, at least for a time.

Plus, it does have its own treats. As the welcome sign to the town proudly boasts (positioned miles outside at that), it’s the home of cambulo and gualanday. What, you haven’t heard of them? They’re trees of course, special trees, apparently.

Unfortunately, on the day I visited nobody was able to tell me which one was which – a reason to go back I guess. While both are pretty spectacular when in flower, from what I was told gualandays seem the most helpful for humans. A secretion their leaves produce is good for relieving sore throats and aching bones; better than a hot whiskey you might say.

El Puente Natural (The Natural Bridge), Pandi, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
'Devil Construction Ltd.'
The trees aside, another little ‘gem’ is The Natural Bridge, El Puente Natural, a gentle 20-minute downhill stroll from the village. Legend has it that the devil created it after losing a bet for the soul of an indigenous mortal. In frustration he kicked out at the narrow gorge walls, the force of his actions forming a natural arch over the river, which lies over 100 metres below.

Whatever about that story, the bridge has a much more haunting recent past, being the alleged dumping ground for dead and dying bodies throughout Colombia’s internal conflict of the last 60 plus years. The ‘devil’ did not go quietly into the night after his 'construction project', so it appears.

Thankfully, a sense of tranquillity in the quite stunning scenery is the main vibe you get about the place today.

So you could do worse than go along with that feeling and take advantage of the serenity. In that regard, further on from the bridge is a residence that offers accommodation/camping facilities for those looking to overnight it in the wilderness.*

The chilly nights and madness of the metropolis can wait.
*Colombia Limite looks after the accommodation and can also arrange activities such as rappelling and treks. You can contact the company via Facebook.

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