After the desert of Tatacoa with more than 35 degrees we now look forward to the mountains with more livable temperatures around 20 degrees. Our first stop on the footsteps of the Colombian Coffee is Salento the oldest town in this region. We go into a backpacker hostel a bit away from the city center where we find a space for MOMO. We are surrounded by young people travelling with backpacks and feel young and old at the same time. In the evening we sit around a big campfire and exchange travel experiences.
Approximately 11km east of Salento is the “Valle de Cocora” in a river valley which is the starting point for a nice half day hiking tour. Along the riverbed the path leads into the cloud forest and goes steady upwards. Overall are wax palms. With a height of up to 60m they are highest world-wide and are declared to the National trees of Colombia. After 2 hours you reach the Casa Colibri where a clever Colombian has established a well working business model. Simply hang some Colibri pots on the trees, offer a few refreshing drinks, declare the premises as private and take an entrance fee of $2 per visitor. As hardly nobody not stops for a bit to eat or drink after a two hours hike the daily income is from $50-$100. Compared to the average salary in Colombia of $300-$400/month this is a good deal. On the way back we look around in Salento with their painted houses and colorful streets.
After a few days in the hostel with a lot of nice encounters and good talks with other travelers we go on to Chinchina to a Coffee hacienda. There we want to find out whether the Colombian Coffee is really as good as his reputation. We park MOMO in a picturesque surrounding and book a coffee tour for the next day. The coffee plants are often cultivated in an extreme steep terrain and all is manual work. Harvest is all year round but the main season is March / April and November / December where up to 200 season workers are engaged. A picker gets 500 Pesos per kilo which is US$0,20 and achieves approximately 100kg per day or even more and picking in steep terrain gets an extra bonus. After picking the beans are separated from the fruit shell and come into a water bath. The premium beans sink on the bottom and the 2nd choice gets up. Then they are dried and separated from the rest of the shells automatically. These beans then go into the export. The biggest customer is Germany where the beans get roasted. At the end of the chain 5kg fruits get 100g of coffee. Certainly we have tried a lot of coffee but honestly we cannot say that we have found a major difference between the coffee from the supermarket we normally buy and the one offered. Perhaps one must be some kind of a coffee sommelier to really feel and taste the difference. Jorge the owner of the hacienda is very helpful and with his help we are able to get new batteries for our motorhome within two days. After our experiences in Ecuador we are very pleased about the professionalism and service attitude of the Columbian people.
Then we continue to the megacity of Medellin. Inevitably one links the city to the Medellin Syndicate and drug lord Pablo Escobar. In the eightieth the syndicate controlled more
than 80% of the cocaine business. As the Colombian government started a debate with the USA about extradition of drug dealers Escobar officially declared the war to the government. For every dead
police man he paid 2000US$ to his followers. In December 1993 he was shot dead from the military and the syndicate collapsed. Today we experience a modern city and the metro is cleaner than most
of what we have seen in Europe. We can park our car in front of the hostel Black Sheep with a good connection to the city center and not far away from the popular entertainment area Poblado. On
Sundays many streets are closed from traffic and people use the car free area to stroll and do all kind of sport activities. The fanciest attraction is the Plaza Botero in the city center. Here
Fernando Botero established 23 monumental sculptures like Adam & Eve, cat, dog, horse and more. All are abundant and sensual which means thick and round and black in bronze. The high
recognition value made Botero to one of the best paid artists in the world.
After a few days we continue our journey to the barrier lake of Penol-Guatape which provides energy for Medellin. The lake was filled in the seventieth and covers the ragged valleys between the two municipalities and a Lakeland was newly formed with many islands and peninsulas where rich Colombian people have their holiday houses. But the actual attraction is the “Piedra del Penol. A granite monolith of 200m who remembers a little bit on the sugarloaf in Rio. 735 steps lead to the top with a breathtaking view over the Lakeland. We stay for the night on the parking place in front of the rock and continue to Guatape the next morning. The village is known for the frescos on the houses and the lower half of many buildings shows different reliefs of humans, animals and other figures.
Now we must re-adjust our travel plans for Columbia because our son joins us for a visit in August and wants to spend the time on the Caribbean beaches. So we set out for Cartagena which is “only” 700km away. Sounds like an easy ride you may guess but Columbia has three Cordilleras of the Andes with over 3000m which we cross over in a steady up and down. On the first day we make 250km in eight hours and are happy that we reach a truck stop before dark. On our way thru the mountains we see people living on the roadside ditch covered by tarpaulin under circumstances we cannot imagine. Due to roadworks we must stop for some time and a young boy runs around our car and hits the tires with a stick. Obviously he wants to proof the air pressure. Then he puts himself in front of me and shouts: “Hey Gringo, monetas”. Nothing happened however it was some kind of an aggravating situation. But in the evening at the truck stop two young police men make us forget this occurrence very quickly. They ask us several times whether we feel ok and/or need something and the security guard offered us a shower in his hotel room. We still have some time until Felix arrives and make a stopover for a few days on the Caribbean beach at Playa Blanca. We stay direct on the water under palm trees. What else one needs. But dumb that it`s weekend and this means the real big loudspeaker boxes are pulled out at 8am and off it goes. Some kind of terrible South American folk music booms all day long in an endless loop with 100 decibel and we must hold out for two days before silence returns.
Now we are in Cartagena and pick up Felix from the airport. With him we will mostly explore the North and the Caribbean beaches. How we do and what happens to us is then part of the next blog. Until then stay tuned, enjoy reading and watching the pictures. Hasta Luego.