The two hour bus ride to Gautape was undeniably uncomfortable. The bus swayed as the aggressive driver swerved motos and taxis as he traversed his way up the mountains and out of site from Medellin.
The guy sitting next to me undoubtably smelled like old tobacco and fresh wet dog. In exchange for his odor he decided to act as resident DJ by constantly asking the driver to either turn the music up or change the radio channel.
Although the mid-morning sun beamed down into the bus and painted my face a bright red, I embraced the warmth and kept myself amused with the antics on the overcrowded bus.
A day bus ride here in Colombia is incredibly different from those I took in Argentina. Here the mountains are lush greens and deep browns and small villages pop-up through the deep brush like bulbs on a christmas tree.
I was excited to take my first excursion out from my new home base in Medellin and Gautape proved to be the perfect place.
The major attraction is actually just before you reach the little waterfront town of Guatape. You first pass a small traditional town called El Penol where the hustle and bustle of a sunny sunday makes for great people watching from the bus windows. Once on the outtskirts of town you can see clearly the giant rock (La Piedra) in which everyone comes to see.
La Piedra (or El Peñón de Guatapé) has an elevation of over 7,000 feet over sea level and it isn’t until you start climbing the 600 plus steps that you begin to feel its altitude. To successfully conquer the rock you have to make it past the horseback ride hecklers, the parking lot tourist shops, the mango and empanada stands, 2 monasteries, and the struggling Colombian tourists sitting in the middle of the stairs as you pass by. After all that, once you think you reached the top, you have another 6 flights of winding stairs to knock-out inside an old castle/lighthouse looking building that sits atop of the massive mound like one of Dolly Parton’s nipples.
The view undeniably amazing and the smell is much fresher than on the bus. You can see a million different lakes, waterways, beautiful beachfront homes and faraway villages. It’s like looking down on the Thousand Islands in Upstate New York.
After soaking it all in I came down and negotiated a car ride over to the actual town of Guatape for some lunch.
Gautape sits on the edge of a reservoir created by the Colombian goverment for a hydro-electric dam, built in the late 1960s to supply water to Medellin. Medellin actually bought the town and flooded the entire thing and then built a surrounding village for its people. Pretty wild.
It’s a beautiful waterfront spot with colorful houses and cool Colombian tourist weekender crowd. I ate my way across town from street vendor to street vendor and then passed out in the grass next to the water to watch boats cruise by and people zip-lining over the water until it was time to catch my return bus to Medellin.
The bus ride home wasn’t much better than my ride in but after the day I just had it didn’t phase me at all. Vale la pena.