Day Two and Bogota is unseasonably cold – totally rugged up in jacket, scarf and gloves and collected with a fellow lecturer for this adventure to Cali and then Barranquilla. Arrived at Bogota airport which has been recently modernised and is comfortable, clean and easy to get around. Lots of shops – desperate for coffee (its good here) and then a party of seven of us took off for Cali.
Cali is much smaller – about 2 million inhabitants, compared to Bogota 8-10 million, I was warned that it would be hot and humid – 32C, but I love the heat, so no problem for me, but it means changing clothes – layers are the only way. Fabulous views from the aircraft (Avianca – very professional and good service) – I am learning to ask in Spanish for either coffee+milk+sugar or water when they come around with the cart. Colombia is a country with impressive mountains – my translator explained that there are three branches (or ranges) and impressive valleys and two main rivers, the Cuaca and the Magdalena – the Amazon touches the south of the country and flows on to Brazil.
The mountains are certainly massive (compared to our motley Australian Alps) and the flight between Bogota and Cali crossed mountains that were so high, they breached the cloud cover and seemed to be almost level with the plane – I trusted the pilots knew what they were doing! Around Cali is green, with impressive trees and sugar cane fields – reminded me of home in the Northern Rivers. The city is crowded and houses built so close together there is no room for parks, but high rise seems rare. I was told that this city was much impacted by the Colombian drug cartels, their gang wars and destruction of economic growth, poor publicity etc and had been depressed for years but is now starting to regain itself and there are masses of building works – roads, the airport building – everywhere. We were taken from one side of the city to the other – just like Sydney in peak hour for lunch and it seemed to take forever but great to meet and talk with gynaecologists, public health and family physicians about the issues of family planning, infections and other reproductive health issues.
The overnight and conference venue for us in Cali was a lovely country club with a golf course, tennis courts and views of the mountains. I managed a short walk around before presentation time and saw an animal I had never encountered before – I think they were mother and juvenile and from Dr Google, I think they were Capybara – the largest rodent in South America.
There are signs everywhere about the 20th July – Colombia’s Independence Day, on July 20, 1810, Colombian patriots stirred the population of Bogotá into street protests against Spanish rule. A national holiday with much celebration. Columbians are also crazy about football (soccer) and the national colours are proudly displayed.
On day three we moved on to Barranquilla – on the Atlantic coast. Colombia is unique in having both a Pacific and an Atlantic coastline (Caribbean Sea). Flying into the city you follow the Magdalena River, which becomes huge at its mouth and has made Barranquilla an important industrial centre as it has always been an important waterway and the entrance to the interior. Lunch was again with local physicians in a revolving restaurant high above the city and there was some time before the evening meeting to do a bit of shopping but not quite enough time to have a swim in the pool. No beach here, but I would love to visit Santa Marta and Cartegena which look fascinating from the tourist videos in the plane. Tomorrow we travel to Medellin and I hope a bit more time to rest between meetings!