Fun Things To Do in San Gil, Colombia That Spur Creativity
Nothing has influenced my writing more than traveling.
I highly recommend writers to take holidays and explore new places. Practice new writing styles. I tried to channel my inner Bill Bryson when writing about San Gil, Colombia.
Without further ado, I will share some of the fun things in San Gil, Colombia that I did this summer.
San Gil is the adventure sports capital of Colombia. With a tight budget, a vast preparedness from binging Narcos, and a craving for adventure, my boyfriend and I set off with our close friend Joey to explore the town in the District of Santander.
After rafting, mountain biking, caving, paragliding, swimming, and some explosive (literally) games, we came back satisfied and happy despite 24 hours of airports and layovers. Though our travels did demand some fast-thinking and fast-paddling.
Spencer is 6’4”, and 240 pounds of muscle. We were assigned into groups with French and Dutch tourists for rafting. We were placed with a handful of green rafters, including a chiseled, blonde-haired, Dutch man named Daniel, who stood under five foot. Spencer and I were positioned at the front of the raft for Class V rapids—the highest class for rafting (VI exists, but only for seasoned kayakers). Positions on the raft, excepting the front, require that you wedge your foot under the seat in front of you. In the front, there are feet pockets to secure you inside. Spencer wears a US size 16 shoe. While my foot snuggly rested in the pocket, only 3 of his toes could squish inside.
As the only seasoned rafter, I assured the people on my raft that there would be no problems, and it would be great fun. Not five minutes into paddling down the river, we hit rapids, and Spencer’s foot slipped right out of the pocket. He flipped right over the edge of the raft. Floop! He managed to hold onto the raft. Just like in the training, I grabbed the sides of his life vest and yanked three times with all of my body weight, until I could pull him back inside the bucking raft. He refuses to share the video, but now that it’s written down, he’ll have to admit that I saved him. After two hours on the Suarez River, swimming in the jungle rain and playing on the rapids, our crewmember Daniel said, “At the beginning, when Spencer fell in, I thought—we’re done.”
If I could go back in time, I would have bought some cheap water shoes for our rafting day. I destroyed my tennis shoes, and they were hard to dry out.
I learned two years ago, while spiraling towards the earth after skydiving, that I am prone to motion sickness. But the exchange rate is so good in Colombia, that we could go paragliding over banana trees, tobacco farms, coffee, and greenery for less than $20. For that price, it called for mind over matter. Paragliding pilots sectioned us by weight for our flights, and despite several slim girls in the lineup, Joey was the first to strap on a seat and takeoff from the hill. I had imagined having to jump over a cliff, trusting the sails to carry me into the sky, but luckily we were on the top of a hill, and no cliff jumping was involved. I wore sandals.
My pilot was pleased that I spoke Spanish, and he asked if I wanted to do “acrobaticas.” I had decided at the offset that I would refrain from doing anything that would further upset my stomach, but Joey had twisted in the air so artfully. When he landed he proclaimed, “When he did the tricks, I felt weightless!” I decided to take the risk. It. Was. Incredible. The rush of air and swooping sensation above the trees, while the sun peeked out of tumbling clouds, and birds flew beneath my feet felt unreal. I told my pilot as much, forgetting to mention how big of a breakfast I had. Encouraged by my enthusiasm, he continued to do tricks—one, regrettably, called the dolphin. There was more swirling around. When we reached the ground I threw up quite a lot, and I remained queasy for the rest of the day.
TEJO & BOLLO
There were several local games in San Gil that we learned to play—tejo and bollo. Tejo requires putting a paper pouch filled with gunpowder on a metal ring, and then throwing metal pucks at it, cornhole-style, until it explodes. The first explosion was both frightening and exciting. The second game, bollo, involved taking a heavy metal ball and knocking over a line of pins—quite far away—while manic umpires collect the balls and throw them back in-between turns.
We met a lovely Dutch sibling pair, Denice and Alex, who told us that San Gil was popular in the Netherlands because there was a reality tv show that had just taken place there called “A Mole Among Us” or something to that effect—where a group adventures while a team member is sabotaging them.
Denice and I threw the bollo balls out of our lane multiple times. Once, she knocked over another pin in a neighboring lane, and we counted it. After sipping multiple Club Colombia Red beers, we didn’t mind being so bad at the local sports.
Caving involved a bit of rock-climbing, but wasn’t too strenuous. I don’t imagine an obese person could fit through some of the narrow cavities, but it otherwise didn’t require much skill. In the dark tunnels in the small town of Curití, there are plants that grow without photosynthesis. Fruit bats flew around our faces in the dark. And in a passage where we had to stoop, and Spencer had to do a spidery call, I taped him doing his best Gollum impression.
There was a part in the beautiful white caves, with glistening droplets of mineral water suspended on the growing stalactites, where trekkers had to completely submerge in the underwater river to reach the cavern on the other side. However, it was raining during our adventure, and our guide insisted it was too risky, and we returned.
Coming from the Central Coast of California, we are seasoned mountain bikers. Spencer knows all of the bike jargon, and I know enough to tell people that I adore my Specialized Enduro (though I’ve never said no to a YETI demo day). We actually have 12 bikes and no cars in our garage. Cross bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, bikes with socks, bikes with a fox. Jokes, but we have a bunch of Fox gear, and I like the rhyme.
We were going to bike down Chicamocha Canyon, one of the biggest canyons in the world. The bikes were old, and Joey’s had no suspension. We wore old-school padding that made us look like confused hockey players.
In Colombia, there aren’t any single tracks. What they do have are really sketchy roads—some dirt, which have weathered away in the jungle rains. Our guide Camillo, and old hippie from the area, told me my form was great and asked me how happy I was with Spencer.
It was easily the best day we had. We took breaks to eat exotic fruit and wild coffee beans growing on the side of the road. We visited a tobacco farm and met a local family. We passed pilgrims with donkeys. And at the very bottom of the canyon, we swam in the most refreshing river before eating our weight in sandwiches and Coke (the soda—our Colombian experience wasn’t too crazy).
In the end, Spencer said that when (not if) we return, he wanted to get one of those suitcases that you can pack your bike inside of. They’re called Ninja cases.
We had to be on the bus back to Bucaramonga at three in the afternoon, so we had one last morning to play in San Gil. We couldn’t muster a lot more in such a short time, but we had heard about natural swimming pools only a few miles outside of town, Pozo Azul. We went with a 21-year-old Dutch stuntman named Cris, who we had met rafting. Pozo Azul was beautiful. The little rocky pools reminded me of Fantasia. We walked up waterfalls, and we sat in pools drinking beer and swimming all morning. We were the only ones there, and it was a shame when we had to leave. Joey considered purposefully missing his flight to stay awhile longer.
The food, the company, and the magic of San Gil will undoubtedly make it remain at the top of my travel adventure list.
(Apart from what I’ve already listed)
Here are some necessities for a traveling writer
Travel Writing Lap Desk (Okay, totally not a necessity, but it’s so fun)
Passport Holder (If you’re as cluttered a writer as me, you need as much organization as you can get!)
INSECT REPELLANT! (This one is as effective as Deet, and doesn’t destroy your clothes)
Awkward, but if you’re going to be on your period at all, you need a cup. It saved me time and money and energy because it’s hard to find sanitary products in a lot of South American Countries. The Diva Cup.