Medellin and Colombia´s coffee region, La Zona Cafetera
First week traveling Colombia with Jackie
It all began with her late/very early morning arrival to Bogota at 6 am. Despite just off the plane and barely sleeping, she wanted to check out the charming streets of La Candelaria neighborhood by sunrise. And what a different feel it has without the crowds and sketchy artist/homeless types I was more accustomed to seeing in my later hours of exploring. Seeing Bogota through the fresh eyes of my friend was nice, like how did I miss the relatively nice restaurants and bars offering happy hours in parking lots? And to have a private room backed up to the bohemian Plaza Chorro de Quemevedo was a great change of pace from the dorm beds. We toured Plaza Bolivar briefly and then back for breakfast and a whole lotta catching up. It was a whirlwind one day tour of Bogota: bakeries, my fave restaurant for Lunch, the gold museum where you guessed it a whole lotta gold and South America sure does have a lot of it. A two hour walking tour of the city gave us even more info on Bogota and the Colombian government with glimpses of the presidential palace, lots of guards, the candy cane striped church along with the requisite history lessons from our passionate tour guide. We then took off walking to La Macarena neighborhood for dinner along the septima, the road where pedestrians rule with no cars during the day, a progressive move by the government to clean up the city.
Trying to find addresses in the city is always a challenge, the agave azul restaurant may just be an urban legend. The address matches this old brick house with only a trip advisor sticker in the window and the locals and guidebooks claim it exists but it never opened at 6 pm so we ended up at a tapas restaurant for more tinto verano and a glance at the restroom's faucet which happened to be a man's penis, hmmmmm, interesting art scene in this city ;-)
But Bogota, it is time for me to leave. Gracias for allowing Jackie to see you with beautiful weather, I'll try not to hold a grudge that you didn't bless me with that gift.
Off on a bus journey that is 8 hours long and that would be Colombia time. Which means we left late and arrived much later. This bus was huge with the requisite super loud violent movie playing but what scenery! Mountainous curve after mountainous curve later, stopping only for lunch and by the police to check out some of the passenger's documents, we couldn't understand what was being said but we didn't leave the bus while most of the passengers did. All in all, a long travel day to Armenia, where we then found a Colectivo, shared van, heading to Salento. We are now in the famed coffee region, known as zona cafetera, where it's lush, green, hilly, pretty much gorgeous. We checked into our coffee plantation/hostel/guesthouse and were immediately shown the grounds in the dark, dropped our bags in our room and checked out a local restaurant serving international fare before hitting the sack early.
Waking up in our four person dorm, we were the first up excited to get our first glimpse of the grounds by daylight. After breakfast at the same restaurant as dinner last night, we notice the verdant gardens and enjoyed perhaps the healthiest breakfast of our trip: homemade granola, yogurt and fruit, and of course, coffee. Off to tour the plantation, our guide was so passionate about coffee, poking fun at his neighbor for growing beans the old-fashioned way but missing the whole shade piece. The owner is an English guy who married a Colombian woman and you can tell how happy he is with his decision to leave his mother land. 3 hours later, no kidding, we finally taste the roasted product and, I have to admit, I'm not a fan. How is this possible? I lived in Seattle, for god's sake and am likely a coffee snob. Well, arabica roasted coffee is not where my heart's at but I still appreciated the history lesson as well as the hike through his land seeing pineapple plants grow from the ground and through a bamboo forest. Beautiful! Snacked on bananas off the tree too, delish. But I was determined to visit the Valle del Cocoro, home of Colombia's national tree, the skinny, and tallest palm tree in the world, Palma de cera, wax palm tree.
We had to leave immediately to catch the last jeep heading the 20 km to the park. And this ride was my favorite kind, alfresco! Why sit inside if you can travel with the wind blowing through your hair? The best views too, as we approached the valley a mist of clouds covered the Dr. Seuss like trees like a fairy tale setting. We hiked for an hour or so before we had to return before sunset so you know we took cartwheel and yoga pics all along the way and traveled back alfresco. This day remains my favorite in my month of traveling Colombia so far :-)
The town of Salento is a touristed area but I suspect much more was happening during our visit due to holy week, semana Santa. We trolled the town searching for yummy street food and found some goodies: salchipapas, sausage with potatoes and a mayonnaise and ketchup like sauce as well as ready for this? Banana nachos! Well, plantains specifically but covered with everything like nachos. Discovered this "interesting" dish just after Jackie made the observation that there should really be more banana recipes since they are truly so plentiful. Oila!
Following the best day we had, came the day we could have skipped. Manizales. It's a university town close to a park with glaciers but we didn't have time to hike and later found out, it wasn't worth the money as you spend most of the day traveling anyway, all good. Instead, we explored by foot and cable car this mountainous town on Good Friday. We decided to treat ourselves to ice cream and this treat left us both feeling ill, especially me as I had to break down and buy anti-diarrhea medicine, which was an experience in communicating if nothing else. Later that night, we both felt up to walking around more, seeing the few historical landmarks and getting caught in a rainstorm which diverted us to explore another neighborhood before deciding on an early night.
Medellin is next up, it was another hair raising trip, this time by small van, 4 curvy hours and some doubts my stomach would survive the trip. But we stopped at a cute roadside stop and drank sugarcane juice and enjoyed the fresh air along the river which went a long way for my nausea. So curious about Medellin as it's ranked the #1 international city to retire in for Americans and the wall street journal dubbed it the most innovative city in the world beating out NYC and Tel Aviv, impressive. But perhaps you are more familiar with the Medellin of Pablo Escobar fame? This side of Medellin we did not see other than some sketchy neighborhoods that even the locals wouldn't stop at.
So we arrived at Happy Buddha Boutique hostel, which is by far the nicest place I've stayed in Colombia. Great location in El Poblado neighborhood, pretty much catering to tourists and has a very strong yuppie vibe. Jackie and I liked it immediately. We took off to explore and Jackie was hot, this the city of eternal spring, I found it perfect but am in no way a fan of cold and one reason I am not a huge fan of Bogota. Veg options abounded as did shopping and well pretty much just felt extremely liveable. So we did what any self-respecting city girls would do: we went to happy hour in our hostel and proceeded to make friends with all the residents and I even took a salsa lesson with what one of the guys referred to the Instructor as a weapon, yep, pretty much any guy's dream, gorgeous, petite, lithe instructor. Yep, I felt like a giant and it was pretty funny to dance with birth control shoes, a.k.a. Chaco sandals, next to her spiky, sexy heels. I am such a gringa.
Medellin is Colombia's only city with a subway system so we just had to check it out as it also promised a cable car ride up to a park and what better way to spend Easter Sunday? We headed out with two other travelers from Chicago and were warned about the pickpocketers on the subway, one of their friends was accosted but thankfully, we didn't have trouble. No both Jackie and I had other issues with our debit cards. She couldn't take out any money and my debit card was only good for 20 more days as during the first week, my bank notified me that my card "may" have been confiscated so they were sending me a new one to my parents, well that's super helpful while traveling, not! Even as I told them I had taken out money those three times. Arrrggghhh. Well, the way I look at it, I've already donated my passport and credit cards to Barcelona's crime ring and had my wallet stolen in Laos, so why not just get over any money issues I might encounter during my first week in South America?!
Medellin has pleasant enough activities but we didn't do much other than visit the park, eat well, visit the free botanical gardens, took a yoga class and got a brazilian wax. Oh, are you still reading? Great, then let me tell you before going to the Caribbean beaches, I thought this would be a good idea but wasn't sure how to say it in Spanish. I'm quite sure I would offend a Colombian as Brazil is a border country and there's some fierce competition but do I ask for a Colombian? So just in case you run into this issue, it's called a depilacion completo and they are just as painful here. But worth it for the further stories I will tell, however, this post is already too long. Hasta pronto!