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San Gil, nestled in the midst of the Santander Province, is the adventure sports capital of Columbia. White Water Rafting, skydiving, parasailing, caving and hiking are all common activities in the beautiful green hills that surround the town. The nearby Chicamocha National Park is home to the Chicamocha Canyon which stretches for miles through the heart of the province. The area is also home to the regional delicacy of fried big-ass ants. (Hormigas Culonas).

The town itself has a friendly laid back vibe and the hilly streets and old red roofs lend it a cosy old world feel. The bustling twin food markets were among the best we found in South America and we spent our one night in town (a Saturday) having a few beers in the main plaza, surrounded by families and friendly locals. There are a couple of bottle shops on the plaza and instead of going out to expensive bars, the town social life revolves around takeaway drinks consumed in the plaza amongst family and friends. This was yet one more pleasant feature of the entire country but was particularly prominent in San Gil. Instead of loud teenage boguns running amok as one might expect from such an arrangement in Australia, there was merely a contented large group from all sectors of society laughing and chatting while they drunk the bubbly, tasteless American style “beer.”

We had planned to go hang-gliding in Rio (Jacinta’s Christmas present actually) but were a little worried about being unable to do so due to the wind conditions. As a back up plan then, we neatly justified going parasailing over the large Canyon in the National Park.  I had an excellent instructor who took me very high, spiralling up and up on the thermals. The exhilaration was unlike anything I had experienced- definitely very different to skydiving- and I loved every minute of it (good thing, cause it lasted about an hour!). Unfortunately Jacinta was suffering from a vague fevery sickness at the time and so I think the one hour of endless spirals at a great height seemed more like three. Sadly, it wasn’t the ideal Christmas present in the circumstances!!  The Police gave my instructor a severe talking to for swooping too low over the national park complex and delayed us for a couple of hours with senseless bureaucracy. Apparently a couple of people had died parasailing in the past year by running into power-lines in the area.

The small colonial town of Barichara was definitely worth a visit and was only a short 45- minute bus trip from San Gil. We arrived in time for a delicious late lunch and then spent a couple of hours wandering the quiet stone streets. The elegant, peacefully uniform rows of whitewash buildings with dark green trims and red roofs inspired a slightly obsessive session of twilight street photography. Happily, at least a few of the many shots of empty streets with identical buildings managed to capture the magic.

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