Paradise In Coffee Country

After my journey into the jungle, I flew back to Bogota for one more night, before heading out to the coffee region of the country.

I was greeted by a friendly British girl in my dorm room named Kirsten, and we set off to explore La Candelaria a bit; we went to the Botero Museum, had fun posing with some of his brilliant portraits, and then went to a bar nearby which was excellent. It was located in a small plaza where loads of people were chilling out, playing music, drinking, and smoking. The bar was tiny and rustic, it was super cute.

The reason for my night out was to meet up with a travel blogger, whose blog I have been reading for a few years now. Dani writes a blog called Globetrotter Girls, and coincidentally we were/are traveling through Colombia at the same time, and happened to be in Bogota at the same time as well! It was so cool to meet her in person and chat about our travels.

After a great last night in Bogota, I hopped on a quick flight to Armenia, one of the cities part of Colombia’s coffee region. The moment our plane started descending, I felt my heart grow a few sizes; I was in complete awe of the beauty of the region. Lush, green mountains as far as you can see. Green plants of all sizes are speckled with colorful flowers, and you see the life of Colombians living in this area; cowboys riding horses or pulling mules and people selling food out of tiny food stands on the sides of the streets. The scenery was exactly how I pictured Colombia to be like in my mind, it was so classic and picturesque.

I took about an hour car ride from Armenia to Salento, a tiny cowboy town where I spent the majority of my time in coffee county. The town is excellent! Very small, hilly roads, and people passing by on horses frequently.

I ended up staying at an eco farm/hostel which was about a 20 minute walk from town. This place was really special. It felt like staying at a person’s guesthouse/hacienda more than a hostel, and the people I met during my time there were fabulous.

My first day I took it easy, wandered around town a bit, and just sat around my hostel and took in all of the beauty. My second day was a lot more active; I hopped in a jeep with several people I met at my hostel and we headed out for Cocora Valley to do some hiking and see the wax palms, which are Colombia’s national tree.

The hike was great, but challenging in the heat. The views were beautiful, though. About an hour or two into our hike, we made our way to a little sanctuary where humming birds fly all over the place and you can grab a refreshment. The refreshment? Chocolate con queso! And interesting combination of hot chocolate served with a side of cheese. Colombians like to dip the cheese in the chocolate, let it soak a bit, and then eat it. Strange, yeah? But it wasn’t bad! On my way up to the sanctuary, I was hot, sweaty, and tired, and I thought to myself that the last thing in the world that I want right now is some hot chocolate. But, it really did help give me a boost and gave me a second wind to complete my hike.

We eventually made our way to the valley to see all of the wax palms, and they were gorgeous. The sun was setting just as we we were finishing, and we were greeted with some spectacular views, with the mountains and palm trees becoming gorgeous silhouettes against the colorful sky.

   
 
The following day, I had intended on going horseback riding, but my day took a different route. As I was relaxing in the morning, Thomas, a German guy who I hiked with the day before, told me he was chilling with some people outside. I ventured out to join, and there sat Alex, a guy from LA, and James, an Aussie. We were just shooting the shit, and naturally the conversation shifted to politics. We all had lively chats about each of our countries’ history, culture, and political systems. Along the way, someone moseyed to reception to grab a bottle of wine, and somehow, suddenly, the sun was setting with about a dozen empty bottles of wine at our feet.

We had several people join us during our little chat, and it was really neat to watch our circle expand and contact over the hours.

  
We somehow were able to walk over to the farm’s restaurant, ate dinner, then wandered into town to a bar to watch a band perform traditional Andean music, which was great.

The next morning, I woke up miraculously hangover free, and determined to have a more active day, other than walking to and from reception to buy wine.

I took a coffee tour at a nearby finca, which was 100% organic. The clever and simple ways the farm can remain organic was really fascinating.  

  

 

After our coffee tour, a group of us went horseback riding which was incredible!! My horse, Corozzo, was a beast. He was able to navigate really steep, muddy, rocky, narrow paths, and when we had open land, he really likes to gallop. Horseback riding in Salento was absolutely gorgeous, and it made me feel like an actual cowboy (cowgirl?). I had been horseback riding before, but only on a farm, so this was my first time riding through the mountains.

We made our way to a stream with a waterfall, which was FREEZING, but we decided to swim for a moment anyways. After our swim, we made our way to a little restaurant for a beer and some patacones con queso; fried plantains mashed into chips and then topped with cheese, so good!

  

After we galloped back to our hostel (I think our horses were ready to get rid of us), we all had dinner again at the farm’s restaurant, which might have been the best meal I’ve had in Colombia so far; BBQ pork and chicken with coleslaw and an amazing spicy mango sauce. It was a really lovely dinner, at that point a large group of us had become quite close, and it felt like a big family dinner.

We then started a bonfire, and spent the rest of the evening chatting and drinking wine around the fire. It was a perfect day, beginning to end.

It was so hard to pack my bags and leave Salento. Every day was eventful, yet relaxing. And the views never got old. I could have stayed at the farm/hostel for months. But I had another stop in the coffee country before I got back to city life in Medellin.

I’ll write about my quick but relaxing time in Manizales, and then about the fascinating city of Medellin in my next post…

It’s hard to believe my trip is winding down. Every day has been a new adventure, and now that Salento is behind me, I can safely say that those days spent in that small town were some of the best days of my life.

 

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Colombia Calling: First Jaunt To South America

I’m a week into my first trip to South America; a new country, a new continent. My first trip where I am flying 100% solo. Planning and taking a trip alone stirs up questions, excitement, and doubt more than other kinds of trips. I kept going through the highs and lows of wonderment; will I be safe? Will I make friends? Will my Spanish hold up?

I’ve been in Colombia for a little over a week, three different cities, and so far I can say:

 1. I’ve felt safe and totally at ease traveling alone throughout the country.

2. I’ve met so many lovely people, both Colombian and fellow travelers, who have made my time in each place very special.

3. Yes! My shoddy Spanish has been getting me around! I think I can attribute that more to friendly and helpful Colombians than my bilingual prowess.

Choosing which country to first explore in South America was difficult; it is such a large continent, but I know several friends and family members who have either lived in or traveled extensively in Colombia, and every one of them expressed how much they loved their time there. After doing my own research, well, it was an easy sell. The Amazon! The Andes! The Carribbean coast! 

I had initially planned on starting in Peru, trekking to Machu Picchu, then making my way to the Amazon and taking a boat to cross into Colombia. However, after breaking both wrists in the fall, I figured trekking in the Andes was probably not the best idea. So I had to put Peru on the back burner and focus my attention on Colombia.

My adventure started by me arriving late at night into Bogota; the next day I was graciously invited out to do some sightseeing with my friend Zach and his family. Zach works as a tour director at the same company as me, and I had only met him just a month prior in Boston. He lives in Tunja, a town a little ways outside of Bogota. His family was serendipitously in town to visit, and it was great to have some company on my first day in a new country.

Zach introduced me to his friend David, a Colombian guy living in Bogota, and after Zach and his family set out for Tunja, David took over as a tour guide and showed me around Bogota. We hit up a few museums and walked around La Candelaria. 

Later in the night, we met up with my friend Juan; he is the brother-in-law of my friend and former boss, Kelly. She put me in touch with Juan and he was so great! He invited me out to go drinking with his friends. Everyone immediately welcomed me as if I had been a longtime friend and we drank and danced the night away.

Later in the night we went to one of Juan’s friend’s apartment, and even though it was well into the early hours of the morning, they immediately put on salsa music and started dancing in their apartment. I got a kick out of it because I had heard how much Colombians love to dance and now I was witnessing it. Juan was definitely the best; he is from Cali which is the salsa capital of the world and it showed! 

The next day I was feeling the effects of the night before, so I took it easy and just wandered around the neighborhood I was staying at, Chapinero. My hostel was really chilled out, with a really diverse range of travelers. It was really nice sitting out on the patio drinking and chatting with everyone, and hanging out with the hostel’s two dogs!! Every place I’ve stayed at has had dogs. Beautiful.

That night, I watched the Super Bowl at one of Juan’s friend’s place. It was a mixture of Colombians and a few American expats looking to watch some futbol americano. I had fun explaining the rules to Juan.

The next morning I set out to fulfill a childhood dream, explore the Amazon!! Arriving in Leticia was a sensory overload; hot, muggy, people of all types zipping by on motorbikes, the sounds of the jungle buzzing in the background, with all types of Latin music blasting virtually out of every corner. It was my first taste of small town South America life.

After wandering around town a bit, I randomly chose a restaurant to eat at. The restaurant was basically a concrete patio with plastic chairs and tables. No sign or name that I know of. The server said to me as soon as I approached “solo pescado” (fish only). Okay, sounds good. A few moments later I was given some soup, and then a platter that consisted of a whole, bone-in fish, rice, beans, and a plaintain, and some delicious, fresh juice. And here I was expecting to just receive a single piece of fish. 

  
Eating here was an experience; I almost felt like I was intruding on a family BBQ, everyone else there either seemed to be close friends or family. It was nice to sit for a bit and take in Leticia life; the kids running up and down the street chasing after the ice cream vendor, motorbikes and tuk-tuks flying by, and street dogs who are savvy enough to look both ways when crossing the street, and people narrowly avoiding collisions with motorists as they cross the streets where traffic lights and stop signs don’t exist.
The next morning, it was time to set out for the jungle. Myself, along with a husband, wife, and daughter from Medellin staying at the same bed & breakfast as me were taken to Leticia’s port, another sensory overload! Leticia is on the border of Peru and Brazil, so as you go out along the river, you are staring at three different countries at once.
We made our way to a nature reserve in Peru, and spent a few hours in the jungle with our guide. He spoke no English, but I enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand what he was saying. Camila, who is about my age and the daughter of the family I was with, spoke English really well and helped translate which was so nice!

The rest of the day was spent kayaking, fishing, and lazing around in hammocks. I met a Colombian named Pedro who has lived in San Francisco for the past 30 years. He said he took a spontaneous trip to the Amazon, “to escape the Super Bowl”, as he put it. He was really surprised and impressed that I decided to choose Colombia as my first South American country to visit and that I was traveling alone.

The next day, we basically spent the entire day on the Amazon River, while visiting a few small towns. On this journey we saw lots of pink dolphins and crazy squirrel monkeys that had a penchant for jumping on you and giving you awkward hair massages. It was a long day, but I loved spending time around the small towns and learning about how indigenous communities lived. 

  
   
 
 

My final day in the Amazon was a special one. I set out to explore the jungle once more, by myself. I we a bit apprehensive without having the safety net of my Medellin family by my side and with Camila helping with translating, but it turned out to be incredible.

I was taken around the jungle with my guide, Ramillo, who was around my age. He spoke no English, but he did a great job explaining things to me in simple Spanish that I would understand. 

Somehow I convinced myself to go zip-lining to see the canopy. I am terrified of heights but how could I go to the Amazon rainforest and not see the canopy?? As I was climbing up to the very top, the guide on the tree’s platform must have saw the fear on my face and asked me, “Are you afraid?” in English. “Yes, very,” I responded. It actually felt cathartic to be able to express my fear in English instead of constantly repeating “Ayyy….dios mio!!”

Zip-lining through the canopies was wild and I’m glad I went through with it despite my sneaking suspicion that this was going to be how I died.

After zip-lining, Ramillo and I went kayaking down a stream; it was so peaceful and serene. Ramillo saw how much I had been bit by mosquitos, so he stopped and found a bamboo-like plant, ripped it to get the pulp, and rubbed it on my bites to stop them from itching. He also showed me a very natural repellent; tiny ants that you squish (RIP) and rub all over you. 

We had a nice swim in the stream and sat for a few hours or so talking. In Spanish! We talked about so many things; Colombia, the US, our governments, our cultures, dating, our jobs, etc. It was amazing how much we were able to convey despite my very basic speaking abilities.

Shortly after, we were greeted with a massive downpour and had some lunch (Ramillo and another guide taught me how to eat a whole, bone-in fish, thank god). After that, Ramillo walked me out of the jungle to wait for my tuk-tuk and we parted ways. It was a perfect day!

I am currently in the coffee region now, which I will write about in a separate post. But it’s been incredible. I have seen and experienced so much, and I still have a lot more to see. Trying to take it all in, one day at a time, because trips like these just fly by. Until next time, hasta luego!! 🇨🇴