Colombia: More or less two amazing weeks are past us. To structure this very long post, here are the places it is about:
- Medellin (former drug capital, now transformed city)
- Salento (a town in the coffee region)
- Cali (local experience with Angela and Eduardo)
- Popayan (hot springs and relaxed times)
- Ipiales (border town with nice church)
So let’s start with Medellin: As everyone in Bogotá told us that we HAD to go to Medellin, we decided that this should be our next destination. Medellin is infamous for its drug cartel history in the 1980s under Pablo Escobar and has been dubbed “the world’s most dangerous city”. Today, things are very different though and Medellin has gone through a very impressive transformation process. Famous are the many Botero Sculptures in the centre.
After a really horrible night bus ride (many, many curves and mountains), we arrived in the morning and took the metro to the district of our hostel. The metro is one of the things having led to the change in town and the citizens are very proud of it. This is why there is not a single graffiti, destruction mark or piece of garbage in the whole metro system.
First, we enjoyed the great showers at Happy Buddha Botique Hostel, which was ok but not recommendable due to loud music and a bit unfriendly staff. After that and great breakfast, we explored the city and went to Parque Arvi, a nice park at the outskirts of the city. There, we took one of the cable cars that are connected to the metro system and are one of the architectural transformation projects of Medellin, as they connect some of the poorest districts to the city center.In the park, we relaxed and explored the small stream. It was great to be in so much green just a cable car ride away from the city. On our second day, we went on the Free Walking Tour which was really amazing. Our guide Juliana explained all about the city, Colombian history and the transformation of Medellin, connecting it to what we saw while walking through the centre. We got a better feeling of what being Colombian means and are impressed by the people’s positive attitude and happiness despite all the country went through. This was an amazing and very different experience from all other walking tours we did so far. Some impressions (even though this time photos cannot picture the experience):
Our next stop in Colombia after Medellin was Salento. I was sick on the day of the bus ride which made it the worst day for me ever but Chris could enjoy the view and also the Colombia-Chile football match that evening (seriously, Colombians are CRAZY about football, everybody wears the uniform and the bus radio played people calling in to tell their result tips for about 1 hour straight…).
Salento is a small town in the coffee delta of Colombia and really amazing. We also stayed in the best hostel ever, Hostel Tralala! Really recommendable, nice staff, nice rooms, great atmosphere. Just the right size for a hostel (we found out that bigger ones are not so much our taste – too anonymous). The three days in the colourful town that transforms into a Colombian tourist hub on the weekends were great.
On the first day, we did another coffee tour, this time Chris joined. That was interesting and really delicious. The walk there was nice too so this was a good introduction. In the afternoon, we explored the town and found out that it has hundreds (not exaggerating) of souvenir shops!!! We had to force ourselves to stop going there as they were amazing: On the next day, we were ready for what we actually came to Salento for: The hike through Valle de Cocora with its famous wax palm trees, the highest palm trees in the world. We went there together with two Dutch and a Portugese traveler from our hostel, a really nice group. As it was weekend, the hostel people told us it would be best to go as early as possible. We took the jeep at 6.10 and it was worth it. We barely met anyone on the trail and we were done with the 5-hour hike by 12! Still half a day left, which was quite surreal after the exhaustion.
The hike was breathtaking. It starts with a walk through the valley followed by Indiana-Jones-style hanging bridges over the river in lush forest – really cool. That was impressive on its own. But we soon found out why nobody mentions this part of the hike. The palm trees and views over the valley are even more breathtaking:
This hike was definitely one of the best things on the trip so far. In Salento, we also played a funny Colombian game, Tejo, which is a bit like Jeu de Boule but with explosives.. That was interesting but also very difficult. I was proud to sometimes hit into the clay pit in which the four explosives were put but Chris managed an explosion once. We also tried out all the amazing fruit that Colombia has to offer. A few favourites of us are Zapote (something like a Mango-Squash mix), Grenadilla (good for cereals), Lulo (awesome sour-sweet juice), Guanabana (great sweet juice), and Pithaya (Dragon fruit in yellow) and Tomate de Arbol (also good juice). The options are endless… Colombian food in general however is mostly rice, beans, soup, arepa and fried meet.. A lot of fried things actually. But the fresh juices are amazing, as well as out all-time favourite snacks Empanadas. A few food pictures:
From Salento, we took the bus to Cali where food brought us to an interesting two-day experience. We stayed with Eduardo and Angela, her being the sister of the owner of our favourite restaurant back in Europe, Carlina’s in Enschede. That is Latin American hospitality.
In Cali, we saw more graffiti, Salsa dancing (for which the city is famous), and the city’s zoo. We also accompanied our host to a small village in which Angela works at the local market, selling meet. This was definitely an experience, being the only foreigners at this market and the nearby river where locals come to swim and enjoy street food.
The time in Cali reminded us of exchange student times, as we were led around and looked after. It was really great to experience this hospitality from people we did not even know, only because we asked the sister back in the Netherlands about her city…
Our last stop in Colombia was Popayan, a city with a calm, colonial centre in which we enjoyed two relaxed days. We ate steak, went to hot springs and booked our flight to…. Galapagos (where we will be in the first week of December)!!!. Hostel ParkLife is also really recommendable, it even has a view onto the central park, a great chillout area, a rooftop and a very fat cat.
From Popayan, we took another night bus to border town Ipiales, this time we even slept quite well (If you ever want to take night buses in Colombia, go with Bolivariano, they are the best). Arriving in Ipiales in the morning, we took a quick taxi trip to the Sanctuary Las Lajas, a rather stunning church built into the canyon. It was definitely the nicest church we saw here so far. After that, we spend our last Pesos and headed to the border for another standing-in-line experience.
I felt very sad to leave this beautiful country with its happy and friendly people. Even on the taxi back from the church, we had met a young paragliding guide who wanted to add us on Facebook so that when we come back, we can fly with him. Experiences like that were regular in this country. In Salento during lunch, a guy with a guitar inventing rhymes on the go even sang a few lines for us about Alemania. Bye bye beautiful Colombia, I think we will be back.