Colombia

We’ve been in Bali for just over a week now, and I figured it’s time to finish up our time in South America.

Our last section of the trip was Colombia.  We arrived on the ourskirts of Popayán, Colombia a bit shaken after a somewhat harrowing twentyish hours on a bus from Quito.  Tip to anyone who is thinking about running a bus company: do not under any circumstances force people to watch Human Trafficking, a Lifetime miniseries from a few years back.  We caught a bus into the center and soaked up the bustling vibrant feel of the town.  We spent the next day wandering and sampling a few of the local delights of this UNESCO City of Gastronomy, including empanadas with peanut sauce, tamales, and candied coconut (you can read more about all the food on Bowen’s blog).  I also had the unique experience in my life of paying for plane tickets in cash at window on the street.  In the evening we headed up to El Morro for a view of the city.

The Popayán Cathedral

The Popayán Cathedral

A view of the city from El Morro

A view of the city from El Morro

The main plaza in the early morning

The main plaza in the early morning

The next morning we headed to the bus station and caught a series of buses to the little town of Salento, up in the hills of the Eje Cafetero, the coffee-producing region.  We spent the first evening enjoying the small-town feel and the beautiful views, and eating fried trout with patacón, a platter sized cracker made out of a plantain hammered flat and fried.  Salento was really the only small town we visited in South America, and I had forgotten how much more I like traveling to small towns.  It has also been a tourist destination for Colombians for many years, so has good tourism infrastructure, without the grossness that large volumes of American tourists produces.

We got up early the next morning to catch a “Willy” jeep to the Valle de Cocora.  We hiked up the valley and into the cloud forrest, where we stopped for coffee, hot chocolate with cheese, and the chance to see lots of hummingbirds at Acaime.  Then over to the other side of the valley to hike down through the wax palms.  Wax palms are incredibly tall, thin trees that grow in only a few locations in Colombia.  Seeing them did strange things to our visual perceptions because their proportions seemed all wrong.  It seeming like something out of a video game, and I kept expecting them to start flapping their fronds and fly away.  After our hike in the valley we set off on a much-longer-than-expected hike from the town to a coffee plantation.  We saw the plants, their production process, tasted some truly fantastic coffee, and then trudged back cursing the rubber boots we were wearing.  In the evening we ate some incredible local food at a cheap restaurant, including chicken soup with pieces of banana in it.

Willys in Salento

Willys in Salento

We had about 8 bridges like this to cross

We had about 8 bridges like this to cross

One of the many varieties of hummingbirds we saw at Acaime

One of the many varieties of hummingbirds we saw at Acaime

Wax palms

Wax palms

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Picking coffee at Finca Don Elias

Picking coffee at Finca Don Elias

Coffee drying

Coffee drying

Flowers growing along the road

Flowers growing along the road

The next day was largely spent getting to Medellín so we could fly out the following day.  We had heard great things about Medellín, but I think we just stayed in the wrong area of town.  The area where we were, near the center, was bustling with lots of locals out and about in the evening, but the center on the next morning felt a bit sketchy.  The Museo de Antióquia, on the other hand, was fantastic.  It had a large selection of works by Fernando Botero, who grew up in Medellín, and other local art that was top notch.  In the afternoon we caught a shuttle to the airport, over a mountain and into the next valley, and caught a flight out on Viva Colombia, the new Colombian discount airline, to Cartagena.

Fernando Botero does Tommy Trojan

Fernando Botero does Tommy Trojan

We arrived in Cartagena in the dark and were greeted by the humid warmth of the Caribbean.  We caught a cab to our hostel, Casa Viena, and decided that everyone in the city of Vienna would be horrified at the association.  The room wasn’t all that bad, and had a balcony, but the only bathrooms were down the hall, downstairs, through the lobby, and to down a hall to the back of the building, and there were only two of them for about twenty beds.  So we set off to find someplace else to spend our other nights in town.  The next day we spent the morning wandering the streets of the old town.  Cartagena was the main Caribbean port for the Spanish for a long time, and the location where they would bring all the gold they plundered from the natives.  Consequently, the English under Sir Francis Drake would try to steal that gold, so the Spanish built protective city walls all around.  The streets are lined with old colonial buildings with balconies and bougainvillea.  In the afternoon we walked down the spit to spend some time on a beach in Boca Grande.

A street in Cartagena

A street in Cartagena

Bougainvillea abounds

Bougainvillea abounds

The next morning we caught a bus back into Boca Grande, and then a boat over to Punta Arena beach on Isla Tierra Bomba.  We spent the day reading relaxing and being watched over by a local who was trying to coordinate everything for us.  We had a really great fried fish, that was also the single most expensive dish we had eaten since Buenoes Aires, but when you are on a island with only one restaurant, there aren’t a lot of options.

Punta Arena

Punta Arena

The view back to Boca Grande

The view back to Boca Grande

Our last day in Cartagena we again wandered the streets.  In the afternoon we visited the Museo de Oro, which was more interesting to me because of the fantastic drainage systems the Zenú people had developed to deal with flooding in the area.  After the museum, I wanted to drink a tropical cocktail up on the city walls, and it just so happened that there was a bar up on the city wall.  So we sat and watched the sun sink into the clouds on the horizon, and just happened to run into a few people I knew from Eugene.  The only people we had encountered in two months, and we see them on our last night!  Then we had a lovely last dinner at El Bistro, and headed home.

Sunset from the city walls

Sunset from the city walls

Then it was a long day of travel.  We left our hotel Thursday morning at around 10:30, had a long layover in Bogotá.  Luckily, the Bogotá airport is very nice and has free wifi, but 10 hours is a pretty long time, especially when the United desk doesn’t open until the evening and one has to stay out in the public area.  Then it was an overnight flight to Houston, a couple hours there, and landing in Los Angeles, about 27 hours after we left our hotel in Cartagena.

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One response to “Colombia

  1. Thanks for the lovely wrap-up of your time in South America. I’m glad that Columbia is such a nice place to travel. We missed it on our trip. Enjoy Asia. I was caught by one comment you made about tourism infrastructure related to large numbers of Americans. Wait until you see the Asia infrastructure! Dan

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