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Published: June 23rd 2018
From Medellin we took a six hour bus to Salento which is in the coffee region and we were looking forward to spending some time out of the city again. We had also arranged to catch up with Conor, Caoimhe, Jess and Daniel who we had met on The Lost City Trek. We arrived late and unprepared but luckily Conor was slaving away in the kitchen with plenty of bolognese going spare to feed us as well. He had also had an ample supply of beers which he kindly shared as well! We stayed at a place called La Serrana and when we woke up for breakfast the next morning we were greeted with lots of green and 360 degree views of the hills in the surrounding area. The next day the six of us headed to The Cocora Valley to check out the tall wax palm trees that are the national symbol of Colombia. Having completed The Lost City hike we were pretty confident that it wouldn’t be too trick but I don’t think we had anticipated just how muddy the trail would be, especially Caoimhe who wore one of the most colourful dresses I’ve ever seen! Julia and I
were grateful to have the extra grip offered by our walking boots as the others slipped and slid their way around in trainers. The valley itself looked like it could have been used to film Jurassic Park with the tall palm trees rising from the surrounding hills. At the halfway point there was a place where you could get a coffee or a hot chocolate with cheese and watch hummingbirds feeding on the flowers or feeders filled with honey. It was incredible how close you could get to them and see close up how colourful they were. We ended up walking back the same way as we had gone because we weren’t sure if we would have made it back in time to catch the jeep home if we’d gone the other way which I think means we actually missed the chance to get up close to the palm trees but at least we made it back and managed to find a restaurant that served up a delicious Indian curry which was a nice change from the ‘menu del dia’ that has become a staple over the last few weeks!
We said goodbye to Jess and
Daniel after Salento. They are flying to Bolivia next but will hopefully be in Peru the same sort of time as us so we may get to see them again at some point. Conor had been doing some research into coffee tours and had discovered a place called Buenavista not too far away from Salento and was supposed to have the coffee tour to end all coffee tours so we decided to head there with them. Buenavista was lovely and we definitely made a good decision to follow them there. The town was small with a population of around 2,000 people and we maybe four of ten tourists that we saw the whole time we were there. We stayed at a place called Panoramic Cafe Hostel where we had an endless supply of great tasting coffee and a view from the balcony that you could never get bored of! The coffee tour was interesting as we got to learn about the whole process from beginning to end and meet different players in the chain. It was fascinating to hear that those people who pick the beans may never ever get to taste the finished product and it was also interesting
to hear that the beans that the likes of Starbucks, Costa et al. buy from the cooperatives are the beans that show any sign of defects with the best beans kept aside for the farms own brand! We took it in turns to cook whilst we were in Buenavista and I’ll never forget going to the butcher with Conor to buy some steak and watching the butcher take a massive knife to a carcass hanging in the shop door and having to duck from the bits of ribs that were splintering off in order for him to get to the area he needed to cut! It was probably a good job that the girls weren’t there as well otherwise I think steak might have been off the menu! We had a great time with them both and will definitely hope to catch up with them both in London when we get back and I’ll definitely keep an eye on their continuing travels across America and Canada.
From Buenavista we needed to start heading south and think about moving on from Colombia. Originally we had only planned to stay for four weeks but have actually ended up
staying for about six weeks. We headed to Cali which I think it’s fair to say neither of us particularly enjoyed. It just felt like a big city with not a great deal to do and I think we’d been spoilt by the countryside the last week or so. We did go to a salsa club, La Topa Tolendo, on the Saturday night we were there and we did try to dance but we must have looked like a pair of clowns compared to everyone else strutting their stuff in there. It was good fun giving it a go and I really enjoyed watching everyone else making it look like the most natural thing ever! From Cali we headed to Popayan which is otherwise known as the white city, simply because all the buildings are white! Unfortunately our timing was off and it was Mother’s Day followed by a national holiday which meant most shops, cafes and restaurants were closed. It has been declared as a City of Gastronomy by UNESCO so it was a little bit disappointing to not be able to see whether it could live up to its billing but nevermind.
finally time to leave Colombia and get across the border into Ecuador. We had been warned that the border crossing can take anywhere up to 10 hours at the moment because of the number of Venezuelan refugees that are crossing the border in search of a better life. I don’t think either of us really thought it would take that long but when we arrived at the crossing to find a queue going around the building and the number of people already there before us we prepared ourselves for a wait. We ended up queuing for 5 hours just to get our exit stamp out of Colombia and in that time got chatting to a group of Venezuelan men that had left their families behind and were heading to Lima in Peru in search of work and opportunities. One of the men was even able to speak a bit of German to Julia and it was really sad to see these kind, well educated people in the position they were in. He told us how the air conditioning at his house had broken and the value of his house was now less than what it would cost him to fix
it. He also showed us his picture on his driving license where he looked like a different man to the one standing in front of us due to the large amount of weight he had lost due to not being able to find adequate food in his own country. You always hear about refugees on the news but to actually see it first hand was really heartbreaking and makes you realise just how lucky we have it back home despite often thinking differently.
It’s been a great 5-6 weeks in Colombia and a good start to our South American leg of the trip. I think we’ve always felt safe and not really had any issues. It’s been a challenge at times with not being able to speak much Spanish but that has also been part of the fun. We’ve met some great people along the way who we will hopefully either see further on in our travels or definitely catch up with when we all get home and of course it was a great bonus to catch up with friends from back home at the beginning of our time here. I’m now looking forward to seeing what Ecuador has in store!
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