Friday, January 11, 2013

Family Road Trip (Lago de Tota)

On the Sunday before New Year's Day, we loaded two cars full of family, including two dogs, and drove three-plus hours to the Lago de Tota:

The Lago de Tota (Tota Lake) is a large (20-plus square miles), natural lake about 120 miles (~200 km) north of Bogota. It's supposedly "the second largest navigable lake in South America after Lake Titicaca" in Peru, which I visited just about three years ago, as well as "the largest freshwater lake in Colombia". Side note: why is it that every tourist attraction is the "largest X" or the "most famous Y" in the world? Anyway, like Lake Titicaca, Tota is at very high altitude, just a hair under 10,000 feet (9,892 if you're wondering)!

Getting to the lake is, let's say, somewhat challenging. Not only do you have to fight the normally, let's say, aggressive drivers on the way (if you've driven in Latin America, you already know), but you need to know what random turns to make in a couple of small villages to follow the route. The final part of the trip involves climbing (in the car) a mountain where the day we went there was some sort of organized bicycle ride with hundreds of riders crowding the sometimes single lane road. Once we passed the riders, the road changes from paved to dirt/gravel and then changes back and then changes again. It's certainly "interesting" driving.

The lake is not nearly as awesome as Lake Titicaca with its Uros man-made floating islands, but its sandy beach is a great place to hang out and barbecue or picnic. The weather was somewhat cool but because of being in the tropics, the sun is, as always, blazing hot. I took the chance to finally get some sun on my Pillsbury-Dough-Boy-colored corpse, especially since my skin hasn't seen the sun since before we moved to Germany last year). I left my shirt off for less than 25 minutes, which was enough to be tomato red that night and loose a layer of skin over the next week or so.

Getting a photo of Diana's entire family is like trying to get a school of fish to all face forward at the same time. So, in spite of this challenge, we managed to get almost everyone in attendance to be in a photo. From left, Diana's dad, sister-in-law, nephew, niece, brother, sister, mom, niece, brother, and that white flash in the right-hand corner is me (I believe that Diana took this photo):

Against my better judgement, I agreed to go with about half the group on a boat ride around the lake. I'm not afraid of boats or anything but every time I'm on one (like this time, for example), I wish I was somewhere else. Add to that, the air temperature is probably 60F (15C) and the water's even colder. In other words, I froze my ass off!

After our boat tour, we ate lunch at the seafood restaurant that's on the beach. The location and the fish were good, the service less so. Thanks to Diana's brother for picking up the tab!

"Self portrait" as the food was arriving:

After lunch we loaded up again and started the trip back towards Bogota stopping near the little town of Paipa to check out the unusual but awesome war memorial there:

During the war of Colombian independence, a battle took place in the Pantano de Vargas (Vargas Swamp - seriously!). The battle wasn't going too great for Bolivar's men but an opportunistic charge by a lancer division changed the course in favor of the revolutionaries. The memorial shows the lancers, some of which were naked, on horseback charging the enemy. Why naked? Oh, it was raining cats and dogs that day apparently and not having clothing gave the lancers an advantage over the heavily uniformed British forces, which to this day is credited for part of their success. Who says success can't be obtained while naked?

Another family shot at the Monumento de los Lanceros del Pantano de Vargas. Diana's brother, niece, me, nephew, brother, sister-in-law, and niece:

Our final stop of the day was in the small colonial town of Raquira. Raquira means "city of pots" in the native Muisca language of the area. It's especially known for its pottery, baskets, other handicrafts, and as a cool town to check out.

I've been there a couple of times already because it's only about 15 minutes away from Chiquinquira, where Diana's folks have their farm. We ate dinner at a traditional-Colombian-food restaurant on the main plaza, which was still decorated with Christmas lights:

The family outing was fun and there weren't even any spats (that I saw or heard). We arrived home about 15 hours after we left and I was relieved to not be driving anymore. Total driving time for the day was something like eight of those hours, which was just way too much "Colombian driving" to take. On the other hand, it was a great chance to hang out with a bunch of Diana's family for the day, which made all the driving worth while. Now, to go put some more aloe on my pink skin!

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