Saturday, 24 October 2009

A Midweek Weekend Away Part 1 - La Carretera Fantasma

We decided to have a couple of days off last week. We were in desperate need of getting away from it and resting. When you are dreaming of chutneys it’s time to escape for a bit. So we decided to head to the former colonial capital of Antioquia. A day of sitting around a swimming pool was in mind.

We’d been there before which was about 10 years ago. Then there was only one route. A three hour journey up, up, up, up, up the mountain and then down, down, down, down the other side.

The people who lived on this route, made some money every weekend selling drinks, food to the weary travellers who were passing by.

Several years ago, the Government of Antioquia decided to build a 4.6km tunnel through the mountain. This cut the journey time to down to just over an hour. This has made a big difference to everyone’s lives. Some good, some bad.

The people of Santa Fe and the pueblos around, and also the travellers who goto the zone for the weekend are benefiting from the tunnel for the obvious reasons.

The people, who have lost everything, are the people who live on the old route. Lost everything they did.

We decided to go the old route to Santa Fe. Mainly as we have a car, and we can stop anywhere. The views on this route are truly spectacular. You have undisturbed views of the valley below. This I remember looking out of the bus window in awe at the beauty of the landscape.

As we started out accent up this winding road. We noticed very early on the lack of traffic. No buses, no cars, no nothing. Not even really any people. It was a weird beginning.

As we proceeded upwards, the road got steadily worse. It is apparent that since the tunnel has been built, no one has been to repair the road. Most of the way it was kinda like being off road. God I’d wished we’d brought that 4x4. Our little Twingo was not enjoying this journey. At one point, half the road had fallen down the mountainside. Some nice chaps had put a few stones around the edge to warn us of the perilous drop. Scary.

There used to be many shops, restaurants, and bars selling lots of lovely stuff for us weekend trippers to refresh ourselves on this journey. Unfortunately, now all those places are now well and truly closed. It was like being in a horror film. We saw so many dilapidated buildings, and others in desperate state of repair. So glad the car never broke down, as I could imagine mad, desperate locals would jump out from the bushes and strip the car bare and leave us with a mad desperate rush to reach civilisation before sunset. Thankfully it never happened.

The lack of people was also evident. It’s as if a lot of people just got up and left. Don’t blame them really. Maybe everyone just moved to the tunnel area. As I imagine a healthy supply of food establishments were there.

When we reached the top and hit the toll. Amazing that there is one there. We asked them how many cars they had had this day so far. We were the 2nd car to pass through. Noone comes this way anymore. They must spend more in wages than they actually make in toll fees. The three staff looked desperately bored.

The route down was just as depressing as the road up. Thankfully the landscape was still amazing. We stopped a few times to marvel at the countryside. So beautiful. It amazes me that places that have had civil conflict have some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. Kashmir springs to mind.

Finally we started to hit civilisation and things went back to normality a little. A few stalls selling fruits, which the zone is known for. Then we joined the road from the tunnel, and hotels sprang up everywhere. All with pools. A hotel in this region without a pool is a dead deal.

We were pretty hungry and thirsty by now, but as we were nearly in Santa Fe we decided to get a bite in the town itself.

We saw a lot of “For Sale” signs on the route. I wonder how many people have deserted their fincas on the old route, or whether they still go there.

If you are looking for a small house in the style of the area, and are desiring serious peace and quiet, then this area is for you.

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