Wednesday, March 04, 2020

How to reserve a ticket to Chingaza Parque from Bogota

Chingaza Nacional Parque is beautiful and only a 1.5 hour drive from Bogota. Information about how to gain entrance and hike in the park is conflicting even from official sources. With much effort and a bit of luck we managed to have an awesome trip there - and in this post I'd like to explain how you can too.

Getting in to Chingaza:

There are two entities interacting with tourists in the park:
  • Parques Nacional, they control reservations for entrance to the park, and also the entrance to the park. They have offices in Bogota where you can visit and get a free map of the park and marginally accurate information.
  • Corpochingaza runs the hostel/hotel in the park, and arranges for (expensive) guided hikes.
To get into the park, you need to have either a reservation with Parques Nacional or a reservation with Corpochingaza. If not - you will be turned away.

To create a reservation with Parques Nacional: create an account on this website, choose a random hiking trail "tourist attraction" with availability because according to folks at the gate you are allowed to hike on any trail.
The website states clearly that you need to make your reservation 15 days in advance, and I heard this repeated by Parques Nacional at the gate - but it is definitely possible to use the website to make a reservation fewer than 15 days in advance. You will receive information about how to pay with banco-colombia, but it seems possible to pay with cash at the gate.

To create an overnight reservation with Corpochingaza: there are various phone numbers floating around, but you seriously just want to send an email to with the following information:
  • Fechas (dates): Entrada (checkin) **/**/**. Salida (checkout) **/**/**
  • Nombre: full names of everyone in your party
  • Pasaporte: Passport numbers for everyone in your party
The Corpochingaza hostel/hotel is at Monte Redondo and they have shared dorms and two private rooms. To confirm your reservation - Corpochingaza will reply to your email with a vague bill and payment instructions with an impossibly short deadline. But there seemed to be no communication between Parque Nacional a the entrance, and Corpochingaza further inside the park. So despite not missing the deadline to pay and therefore not having a truly confirmed reservation - we told Parques Nacional at the gate that we had a reservation for the night with Corpochingaza and they let us in (after paying the entrance fee). It was possible to confirm the details with corpochingaza and pay cash on site. It turns out that there were zero other guests that Sunday night in February.
Dorms are $55.000 COP and private rooms are $150.000 per night.

Lagunas de Siecha. Photo credit: trekcolombia
One of the main attractions is the Lagunas de Siecha (shown above), three glacial lakes nestled in the mountains. To get there from Bogota you go to the Piedras Gordas gate and visitor center. I recommend you rent your own car instead of taking an organized bus tour, since you will want to get out and take pictures along the way. We rented from this AVIS location for about $100.000 COP/day. An economy car should get you there - I wouldn't recommend a mini because of the potholes.

Hiking in Chingaza:

There are only a few trails on the official Chingaza map, the ones labeled as "tourist attractions" on the reservation website - but there are numerous well marked trails surrounding the official ones. The park requires you to hire a guide from Corpochingaza for some of the longer trails - but the prices are exorbitant ($40usd/person) - and you apparently hire them by messaging the same gmail email address ( which given their slow and unclear responses makes me think it would be difficult to organize. They don't seem to police the trails though - and despite the website making it very clear that only 40 people can go on a trail per day - at the gate we were told that once inside the park we can go on any hikes that don't require a guide (and if not too late in the evening). But when we went it was super foggy - so they might be better about stopping folks from walking on the guide-only trails when you can actually see more than a dozen meters ahead.

Here is a quick description of the trails:

  • Sendero Lagunas de Siecha: This is a short, 3 hour hike to the 3 lakes. The trailhead is in the less convenient Siecha entrance.
  • Sendero Cuchilas de Siecha: This is a long 5 hour hike with a trailhead at the Piedras Gordas station. I highly recommend this hike - including a hike all the way around the largest lake, which follows the ridge and includes a few short bouts of serious climbing. Google maps doesn't have the trails marked, but the trail follows those marked in openstreetmap fairly closely. This trail is supposed to require a guide, but it is super easy to follow in the red zone, and a little trickier to follow in the blue zone (shown below)

  • Sendero Lagunas de Buitrago: This is a long - but not difficult 2 hour hike and it doesn't require a guide. It definitely connects to the Sendero Cuchilas de Siecha and I think making a big loop out of it would probably be really nice (though very long).
  • Sendero Laguna Seca: This is one hour hike in a pretty nice flat-ish area, very pretty but it is in kind of a valley so the views are not as sweeping.
  • Sendero Suasie: 1.5 hour hike for the short loop, and a longer loop with unknown distance. The longer loop is supposed to require a guide, but there isn't anyone there to stop you from going on the longer hike. The short hike is very well marked and goes through some spectacular low-lying rainforest.

More pictures:

Pictures below are from the Sendero Cuchilas de Siecha.

This was the best view we got of the lake! The sunny picture above is from another source (see the credit).

The views along the ridge must be spectacular outside fo the fog, but it was spectacular in a different way in the dense fog.

Below is a picture from the Sendero Laguna Seca.

Below is a picture from the Sendero Suasie.

The plants here are absolutely the coolest. The leaves on these Espeletia (commonly known as frailejonesare extremely soft and fuzzy, it feel almost like fur.

Below is a picture of the official map - as you can see there are no details of any of the trails outside the official ones - so downloading the openstreetmap to your phone before you lose reception is almost essential. I also recommend pre-loading the terrain map from google maps, which combined with the open street map makes navigation possible. Google's offline downloaded maps do not include terrain - so you'll need to open it up on your phone with wifi to preload it before you lose connection in the park.

In summary, getting into and around Chingaza takes just a bit of effort and some planning, but it is absolutely worth it for the surreal beauty and pleasant calm of getting out of the city. Below is a picture of that city from the road on the way back.

I'm happy to help anyone with questions about Chingaza or the process - just leave your question as comment!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Exploring Raw Cocoa Pods

So I'm in Colombia and came to a kind of food machinery trade show and the nice people at soltecal had all sorts of machinery for preparing chocolate - and they gave away one of the coco pods!

The inside was super wet and slimy, smelled fruity and the gooey part was super delicious and sweet.  The consistency was soft and a little fibrous and the flavor was very tropical.

The shell had a kind of sticky sap that came out in a web when you ripped apart the shell.

The seeds were super easy to scoop right out of the pods, and they tasted vaguely chocolaty, but still mostly tropical, kind of nutty and very bitter.
Fermenting is basically leaving the pods in a pile somewhere that they can drain, stirring sometimes ... will check back in ~8 days after fermentation is complete!

Note that I'm feeling a little left out here on the blog as far as cooking goes - so I'm going to take this post to inaugurate the Yoni Cooks tag, finally joining Aryeh Cooks and Eli Cooks.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Spotted in the air

I'm on my way to Bogota to try and level up my language abilities ... and Aryeh spotted my plane in the air! Fenomenal :)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Check the Jury pool

I was called up for Jury Duty and want to share my thoughts on the experience.

The judge in our orientation video was bragging about how fair the jury system is. The video mentioned a few times that it was so important for us to be there – waiting specifically inside the jury pool room. They had books for us to read, some cat puzzles, chess and trivial pursuit. Twenty odd strangers in the room at  8:30am – it was dead silent. After maybe four hours I took my headphones off and noticed that the room was still dead silent.

I spoke up and asked if anyone wanted to play chess ... more silence, now awkward ... finally a nice older man said "are you going to play with imposant and all that?" then agreed to a match. It was a delicate glass chess set, with a rook missing and a cracked bishop that couldn't stand up. Another juror gave us some paper and we improvised new pieces. Since the silence had broken, people all over the room began talking about their kids. My chess opponent blundered because it was difficult to see the paper pieces.

A judge came in to make an announcement – wearing those fancy robes like they do. The lawyers had settled the case without going to trial, but she didn't want us to feel like we came in for nothing. She told us that the lawyers only settled because of the hanging threat we posed. The thought that all of us random jurors could stop pooling down in the basement and become empaneled to pass judgement struck fear in both sides of the legal entanglement. Our "common sense" would have the final word, no matter what evidence – in fact no matter what the law states. Our jury pool was a stochastic killing ax held high by the judge; and I was struck by the plainness with which it was explained.

They wanted us to feel that our role was meaningful. But like a piece in that broken chess set, I played a pawn in the Massachusetts Court System.

[Juror orientation video]

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Eagle at Tranquility Base now has an AirBNB review

It has been a couple days and the Lunar Lander is still up on AirBnb.

And now - my friend Daniel has left an official review! (This is the second time Daniel has been featured on the blog!)

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Eagle at Tranquility Base now on AirBnb

Happy 50th anniversary of the first Apollo Moon Landing! It has been fun watching the whole mission in pseudo-real time on this website:

To celebrate I posted the Apollo 11 Lunar Module on AirBnb here (recommended you go quick because rooms are filling up and the mission could be cancelled at any moment):

"Local activities include walking around, driving around, rock hounding and golfing."
Thanks fellow bloggers Aryeh and Eli for contributions!

For posterity - here are some screenshots:

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Meeting Richard Stallman

I ran into Richard Stallman recently, the founder of the GNU Project! We were attending a future of transportation public meeting and he was advocating for transportation free from tracking by government / corporations. I asked him for a photo and he said it would be OK as long as I turned off the location settings so the image of him wouldn't be tracked. So I turned off location settings and put the phone in airplane mode too. Richard Stallman closed his eyes so that they couldn't scan his retina - or he blinked, not sure.

Anyway, Google was way too smart - and when I looked up the photo I noticed that it had "estimated" the location to be exactly where it was taken. So I manually changed the location to the city where I live ... according to my facebook ... the lovely island of St. Helena. The person blocked out in "people" is me (unlabeled) and not Richard - which is a good sign tracking-wise.

Below is the little manifesto that he was handing out, I have huge respect for the man and what he is working towards.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

How to improve the NYC skyline

Recently I've been working on an artistic visualization of data project so my mom showed me this incredible video advertisement meant to be played on Samsung TV's to show off how 4K they are.

Towards the end they show a shot of a beautiful city skyline at sunset... beautiful except that something felt wrong with the main building - what kind of architect wouldn't put a spire on top of a building like that?

Checking Google Earth we can see the photo was probably taken from the top of Rockefeller center in NYC. A very instagram famous spot which you can recognize immediately in the still from the Samsung movie.

Borrowing a photo from jenonajetplane and we can do the split frame and see everything they changed. This one is taken from a slightly lower angle - probably the instagram window as apposed to the rooftop view.

The Bank of America Tower lost its antenna along with the savagely mutilated Empire State Building and freedom tower off in the distance. The Jersey City skyline remains unchanged including 30 Hudson St. but the Statue of Liberty is gone. Finally, the sun should be setting much further to the right (West).

Now that we've established that these Samsung animators are simply taking instagram famous locations and adding super-saturated colors ... I'd really like to go visit those flying forestbacked turtles.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Realistic paper snowflake design

realistic paper snowflake

It is that time of year when people make absolutely horrible paper cutout snowflakes in shapes that couldn't possibly exist. Sometimes even with 8-fold symmetry instead of 6.

I was tasked with creating some snowflakes for our office holiday party in a laser cutter and decided to go for real looking snowflakes instead of the fake garbage.

Luckily, someone on the internet already had this idea and published an instructables article about making 6-fold symmetry snowflakes --- including two that they painstakingly cut out to match actual photographs of real snowflakes.

So I took the photos of their paper snowflakes and turned them into vectors files that could be used in a laser cutter.

They turned out so well that they inspired another user of the same makerspace to use the files and create some for their own company holiday party decorations... which I found out only because I was coincidentally attending the same party!

Of course I was really glad to see the snowflakes there and so I decided to put the design files up on Thingiverse so that anyone can download them and make their own, without further ado here they are!

Feel free to comment if you've made some or have any suggestions.