I arrived in Armenia on Sunday, one of the three main towns in Colombia's coffee region and was immediately enveloped in the famous Colombian hospitality.
I had arranged a trip to the region through an agency, so basically I didn't have to think too much in the coming days....except in Spanish. I was too cheap to spring for an English speaking guide and I thought it would be better for my Spanish practice. Well that's my story anyhow. I was picked up by Yicel, the local agent here who had organised my time in the region. She whisked me off to have lunch with her parents to celebrate Mother's Day. Like most Colombians I have met they were fascinated that I was travelling alone.
Colombians usually travel with their families, which was proven true when I got to my hotel and met a Colombian woman who was spending her holiday with her parents and Godmother. Incredibly generous and hospitable, the Godmother immediately invited me to stay at her apartment in Bogota, and joined me for dinner. They couldn't fathom someone travelling alone and having to eat alone. Then after dinner they bought a bottle of Colombian apple wine to
Luis at the Rio Verde
As you can see, wearing jeans did not detract Luis from getting thigh deep in the water.
celebrate Mother's Day and invited me to share it with them. It was actually quite good, not nearly as bad as it sounds! I was asked the usual questions about New Zealand:What's the weather like? Do you have different seasons? What language do you speak? They keep me company at dinner and breakfasts, even if I feel a bit like an exhibit in the zoo. What did you do today? Talk to us some more!
My driver for the next few days was Luis Eduardo. Words cannot begin to describe him! He needs his own TV show. After having lived in Germany for 20 years he is fluent in German, but returned to Colombia after being deported because he didn't have the right visa seven years ago. He's full of life, enthusiastic, gregarious, talkative and very eager for me to see and experience all that the region had to offer. This means that, amongst other things, he will stop in the middle of road when he sees a fruit vendor to buy some kind of fruit I've never tried before, and make sure I get into the Rio Verde and not just look at it from the banks. Luckily
Twilight views over the Quindio region.
I was wearing a short skirt that day! He said to me somewhat sadly that many people won't get into the water, despite it being a wonderful bathing spot and with pure waters. I hadn't realised that it was optional!
While officially he was my driver and I didn't have a guide, he has lots of suggestions and has helped ensure that I am having plenty of adventures. The first day I went to the Botanic Garden, which doesn't sound very interesting, but was great. There was a couple there from Bogota as well, and we all set off on the same tour together. It included an hour or so walking through the huge gardens, plus a visit to a butterfly enclosure. Other exhibits included various insects, which as you can imagine I was less excited by.
I also visited a tiny little coffee plantation. Different from most of what you can see in the countryside, this coffee farm was competely organic and grew shade coffee. The woman who ran it and gave me the tour was extremely passionate and proud of her little organic farm, which has been in the family for generations.
As part of
my official programme, I visited the cute little town of Salento, which is in the heart of the coffee zone and obviously attracts a lot of tourists. It is gorgeous, tiny but really lovely. However Luis also took me to a number of other typical little villages in the region, which was interesting. Every Colombian town has a Plaza de Bolivar at its heart, plus numerous churches. It was interesting to see all the farm workers biking home after a long day's work, and the villagers enjoying their days drinking coffee in cafes and hanging out in the squares. I had the best cup of coffee I've had in a very long time in one of these little villages for the princely sum of about 50 cents. I told Luis what we would normally pay for a cup of coffee in NZ and this caused much hilarity in the cafe.
One day for lunch we stopped at a lovely restaurant in the Valle de Corcora, on the banks of the Rio Quindio, and had delicious trout. The countryside is just spectacular, with coffee, plantains and in this particular valley, a particular type of palm tree that only grows in
The first evening I was here there was an impressive thunder and lightening storm
Colombia. Apparently they take hundreds of years to grow to their height, maybe 50 or 60 metres tall.
Luis brought a mountain bike for me to ride one day, so that I could better enjoy the scenery. It really was spectacular, however I stupidly had thought that it would all be downhill, this is despite Salento having been pointed out to me nestled in the hills. Yes, I was supposed to bike all the way to Salento. It was more exercise than I had had in some time!
This morning I went horse riding. Yes, the second time since I was a child in a matter of a few weeks. It was a lot of fun, and again, an opportunity to truly experience the gorgeous scenery. Yicel came too, in order to take some photographs for her tour business.
Luis is absolutely fantastic, and genuine in wanting me to discover and enjoy the heart of Colombia. Either wittingly or unwittingly, he is also very educational when it comes to Colombian men, and has had me in stitches or in wonder more than once. When we were having a conversation about cars, he told me that he doesn't
Lots of lush greenery and pretty flowers...
like clean cars, because he thinks it is an indication that a man's wife is sexually unsatisfied. He also said somewhat disdainfully after I mentioned that lots of cars in NZ were automatic, "real men don't drive automatics". Yesterday he told me that it was normal for men to have two or more wives, at least in the older days, and that he himself has 24 brothers and sisters, as his father had five wives. The machismo Latino culture is alive and well!
Tomorrow I am going hiking in the mountains, called Peña Blancas. Or as Luis told me, La Teta de la Bruja. I'll let you find that out for yourselves!
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