This week started off with a road trip through the coffee region and ended in Bogota with my sister Kelly visiting me. On the Thursday prior, we decided last minute that the best way to see the coffee region between Medellin and Bogota was to rent and car and take a 5 day road trip so that is exactly what we did. We wanted to recruit a couple of more people to share the cost of the car so we asked Larissa and Elles who we had met through Jordan and Sam. Larissa is from Germany and Elles was also from the Netherlands…so Viviane finally had a buddy to speak Dutch with. We planned the trip VERY loosely which means that we just rented the car and did a bit of research on what cities to spend the night in.
We picked up the car at noon on Saturday. It took the guy forever to fill out the paperwork and then even longer to get back to the hostel with the Medellin traffic. We loaded up the car very quickly (which was not a good idea because I later realized that I forgot all of my make up and jewelry in the hostel….so guess what! I am going back to Medellin! I love it there and wanted to go back anyway). Then we were off….on a 5 day road trip in Colombia! So we drove for maybe 2 hours before the first glitch in our plan happened. We encountered a road block. So we asked a man that was waiting there with his truck and he said the road was closed until 5 pm. It is about 2pm right now. So we have to decide: do we wait here for 3 hours or do we try to find a way around? So, of course out comes the maps and phone and GPS and we try to find a road to Jardin another way. So began the real Colombian adventure.
At first is was not problem, the roads are really windy, there are trucks and motorbikes everywhere who don’t want to stay in their lane, but I can manage those situations fine. Its when…the dirt road hits. As a side note, the scenery here on this entire drive was absolutely amazing and I never would regret doing this road trip because I felt we finally got to experience some of the real Colombia. So, dirt road, we thought it may only last a little bit. Um nope. We were on that for at least 2 hours. Not many other cars were there and every other car we saw at least looked like a big car with 4 wheel drive. Verses us in a little car with two wheel drive, who couldn’t change gears well to accelerate. So we named our car Robbie. Robbie was a trooper. We made it through all of those dirt roads, rocks, and waterfalls even when the sun went down and we were driving in the dark. The funniest part is we are now going through small towns where I don’t think they see tourists at all. So, 4 white girls in a small car was quite an interesting site. Finally, we arrived in Jardin. The only hostel in town was full, so we found a small hotel and knocked on the door. We are pretty sure we got the owner out of bed and basically just stayed in a couple of rooms in his house. We wandered down to the square to get some food. It was a Saturday so everyone was out in the square drinking aguardiente. It was hard to find a restaurant because everywhere on the square only served coffee or alcohol. Eventually we were successful and the food was pretty good.
The next morning we wandered back to the same square for breakfast and again it was hard to find food. There were about 7 cafe’s around the square, but none served food! We were a bit more successful off of the square. Then, we hopped into Robbie to start day 2. We were going to drive to Santa Rosa to go to the Termales near there. We were also going to meet up with Jordan in Santa Rose since he was in the area as well. So off we go….again on dirt roads for perhaps another 1.5/2 hours. When we hit paved roads we were all so happy! It took us longer than expected to get there (the theme of the trip). We pulled into town and picked up Jordan then made our way up to the Termales. From the picture we had seen an epic waterfall as a background to these beautiful thermal pools. Well, when we got there it was not quite as we expected. It was a Sunday and it was Valentines month (you heard me in Latin America there is a month not just a day for Valentine’s) therefore the price for the hot springs was discounted and everyone was there. We go into the locker room and it is flooded and there are people everywhere! Even people using the sink to wash their hair. Once we got out the springs, it wasn’t any less crowded. Yet, the waterfall was just as it appeared in pictures. We got into the hottest pool, which was a nice temperature, but the water was pretty dirty and occasionally your hand got caught in some hair. I had been to thermals in Argentina and Ecuador so I was expecting a bit more out of the thermals here. We left after about an hour and a half and drove to the hostel. It was too late for Jordan to take a bus to Manizales so what did we do? Buy some wine of course and play drinking games. It was a really fun night and the hostel called Coffeetown was really cool.
The next morning, we were off on our third day of the road trip, our destination was Salento. We had a bit of a late start so instead of going hiking that day we decided to visit the town nearby to Salento called Filandia. I loved this town. It was very adorable and the center square was absolutely gorgeous. We had a cup of coffee in the square first and then took a walk to see the structure they had built as an overlook to the valley. Unfortunately, the only day the lookout was closed was Monday’s. So, we walked back to the town, grabbed the car, and set out to find a coffee farm so we could get a coffee tour. We found one up the road and I couldn’t have been happier with our find. It was called Finca El Mirador.
The cafe there overlooked an entire valley and down on its farm on the hill. There, we drank coffee and ate chicken nuggets and chocolate cake (lunch of champions). After, we took a coffee tour with a woman who spoke the most clear Spanish I have ever heard. I will briefly outline the coffee process here because I found it so interesting. Coffee is consistently being harvested all year long because of the consistency of weather the beans are in different stages on the plant. Once the fruit is red, it is to be plucked off of the tree. On the property, they also grew other types of fruit plants because the bees that pollinate both will give some of the fruity flavor to the coffee plants. Banana trees are also planted to give shade to the coffee plants. Once the fruits are harvested they are placed in a bucket of water. All fruits that float are tossed because they have gone bad. Then, they used a machine to take off the outer skins of the fruit. The insides that were white were good and the ones that were black were bad. They sorted these by hand and but them into different buckets. They still used the black ones because this is the coffee they sell in Colombia, the rest is exported.
Then. they are sent down a shoot and put into water again. The bad ones float again and are disposed. Then, the seed are dried out for about 10 days. After, the final layer of protection (the white part that was actually sweet tasting) is shaded and the seed again are sorted into three piles of the really good ones, the ok ones, and bad ones. These are their 3 levels of coffee and they are sorted by hand according to a chart. Then the coffee is finally cooked and bagged.
So, we get back from the tour and what do we find? A sheep on our car! It left a bunch of little scratches on the hood of the car and we freaked out a bit (later we fixed it with toothpaste and it actually worked! No charges!) Then, we left Filandia and drove to Salento. It was crazy driving in that town because everything is a one way street and there were a lot of steep hills which Robbie does not do well with. We got all settled in to our hostel (El viajero – not recommended) and then went to dinner a place called Brunch which is run by an American and delicious! He makes his own BBQ sauce and peanut butter. Viviane and I split a BBQ burger and salad and it was so amazing!!
Then next day, we woke up early and drove out to the hike through the wax palms. It took about 4 hours and was beautiful. It felt good to get out and do a bit of physical activity. The first part of the hike was in the woods and we crossed back and forth over the river on these beautiful bridges. Then, we had a long uphill to a finca where we had beautiful views of the valley.
Finally, we hiked down into the forest of wax palms which are basically just really really tall palm trees. It is the national icon of Colombia. Then, we drove to a city called Ibague. This was an interesting stop because we wanted to go there to spend the night just to be closer to Bogota. Yet, this is not a tourist city and there are not hostels. So, on booking.com we rented an apartment for the night. It ended up being a crazy weird situation trying to get keys to the apartment from this old guy that found us trying to get in. Then, we had dinner at a local place and passed out.
The final day, we headed to Bogota. The roads for the last two days were all paved, but took forever! The trucks cannot easily go uphill (or downhill) so everyone was stuck. Even if you passed a truck in 2 minutes you just hit another. Therefore, the going was really slow. Then, when we made it to Bogota, the driving got even more ridiculous! Cars just go in and out of lanes as they please, or just make up their own lanes. Motorbikes are everyone and you never know when someone is going to come into your own lane. Add the this the stress that the address to the rental agency doesn’t exist because you are given Avenida 19 when there is only a Calle 19 and a Carrera 19 on opposite sides of the city. It was a stressful 1.5 hours driving around and tensions got a little high, but we made it safe and sound without a scratch! (Minus the sheep). We took a taxi to our hostel in Candelaria and rested for awhile because we were all exhausted. We went out for Mexican food that night because it was Elles’ 24 birthday! Then, she went out on a date and I went home to crash. Kelly was coming in at 11:30 and I just couldn’t stay awake so she had to wake me up when she got in.
So now, it is Thursday and I got to hang out with both Kelly and Viviane! We went on a walking tour of the city which was really well done where we got to see Candelaria which is the historic district and even went to the Botero Museum. After the tour, I had to say a sad goodbye to Viviane because she was flying to Peru to meet up with her family. It was hard to leave here since we traveled for almost a month together, but I know that I will see her again. Kelly and I went to eat a a restaurant near Plaza Bolivar called La Puerta Falsa, which is famous for its traditional food. We both got the traditional drink of hot chocolate with cheese (not as bad as it sounds) and I got a Tamal and Kelly ate this traditional soup called Ajiaco. The food was amazing!!
Then, we headed over to the gold museum where they had collected gold objects from all over the country that were buried in tombs of the ancient cultures of Colombia. It was amazing what they could do with so little tools and many of the pieces were stunning! After, we returned to the hostel for a nap (we were staying at the Cranky Croc hostel which I highly recommend. For dinner that night, we went to Bogota Beer Company for pizza where Larissa met up with us.
Friday, we woke up and headed up the train up and cable car down to Monserrate. It is a church on the mountain overlooking the whole city. When we first went up, it was clear and we were able to get some good picture. Yet, Bogota is so rainy and cloudy (at least while we were there) that in about an hour you could not even see the city. We went to a cute cafe up there and got some hot chocolate then took the cable car down.
After, we saw a gathering of people that were singing and dancing and waving white flags. We found out it was a movement to raise awareness to vote yet in the vote regarding the Farc in Colombia. The vote would be taking place on Sunday. At this point, it started raining, so Kelly and I cancelled our Graffitti tour for the afternoon and just chilled out. This was very necessary because she was tired from work and I was tired from my road trip. I was able to catch up on completing my work application and blogging.
Saturday, we went on a bike tour of the city. The tour started at 10:30 and ended around 4 so it was really long! It was a really great tour and we were finally given a chance to leave the Candelaria area. We saw some of the same things for a bit, then rode out and saw many more buildings and parks. Our guide was really informational. One of our stops was a juice stop. We got to taste 3 types of juices. The first juice was brown and it was delicious! I am still trying to figure out what the fruit was called because when we felt it, it was round and soft and kind of felt like a boob, so we just called it the boobie juice. The next stop was to see some graffiti. Graffiti is taking off in Bogota in a large way. You can see most of the walls covered in these giant beautiful murals. After, we went to a coffee factory where we saw the process of cooking the coffee live and then tried a cup of their cappuccino.
From the coffee factory, we rode through the red light district (which was an interesting part of town). Our last two stops were at a fruit market and a game of tejo. The fruit market was very interesting. We tried lots of different types of fruits that I have never tried before. So of them were amazing and some were a bit weird. At this points I forget a lot of the names, but I highly recommend trying all of the fruit that you can in Colombia! Our final stop was to play a game of tejo. Tejo is a Colombian game where you throw a heavy disc like stone of different sizes at a bed of clay. Usually there are only 4 white triangles that are full of gun powder, but we played with many more. The goal is to throw inside of the circle and also hit one of the triangles which would the explode and make a very loud noise. We never played properly, but it was very fun. Then, we returned to the start. That night, many Aussies came over to our hostel to watch the Aussie rules final which is Australian football. It was fun! It got really loud it was interesting to learn another sport. See below for a couple of more pictures of Bogota!