We left Quito and Ecuador behind us early in the morning. We had a taxi cab during rush hour to the bus terminal. There we got on a local bus to Tulcán, the last city on the Ecuadorian side before we would cross the border to Colombia. We had a quick lunch and found a taxi cab to take us to the actual border. Without much hassle we were able to cross the border in a record time. No checks, no questions asked. By far the easiest border crossing I had during my five month trip. We had to take another taxi cab on the Colombian side of the border to the nearest village. Once there we could get Colombian pesos out of an ATM (€1 = COP 3500!), and got on a small bus that would take us to Pasto. On our way there we saw lots of military personnel guarding strategic points on their war against drugs. A huge difference with the other South American countries. Military personnel is hardly ever visible there. Pasto itself isn’t an interesting city. However, it is a convenient location for a nights rest when coming from Ecuador over land. I got to try one of the local specialities at dinner. Frito: deep fried pork on a bed of popcorn, a strange combination! It tasted fine though.
We had bought bus tickets to Cali when we arrived in Pasto. The bus left at 9:30 AM from the terminal. The 9 hour drive wasn’t comfortable at all. The windy road through the mountains had some pretty sights, but was not relaxing. Only the last 40km were flat. We arrived at the terminal in Cali at 7 PM. We still had to take a taxi cab for 20 minutes to the Caelum hostel. It is only a small hostel with just 16 beds. Angelo and I found a pizza restaurant nearby for dinner. The pizza tasted very good. I join a group from the hostel after dinner to celebrate the birthday of a Dutch girl. We end up in a salsa bar, as she wanted to. For me a good opportunity to get to know the others from the hostel. For the birthday girl a great opportunity to do some salsa dancing. Too bad that I didn’t know how to dance salsa.
Breakfast that was served in the hostel had a nice twist on the often seen eggs and bread combination. Besides a scrambled egg we got a piece of fruit (which changed every day) and bread, pancakes or something similar. I relax for a while in the morning, and got invited by the group in the hostel to join them this afternoon for salsa dance lessons. After a lunch in a sandwich restaurant similar to Subway nearby, but named differently, I joined the group for the salsa lessons. The dancing school was just across the river. Together with four girls and two other boys we followed two hours of lessons. They learned us a couple of steps, and recommend to us a local salsa club to go to that evening.
On our way back to the hostel we stopped for some Italian ice cream. A small piece of brownie that they gave us tastes delicious. If I had know how good the brownie tasted before I bought my ice cream I would have changed my decision. Back at the hostel we went for a quick dinner. Then in a taxi cab to the salsa club that was recommended to us. The place was filled only with locals besides us. The girls got invited for plenty of dances (men are supposed to lead the women), and even we boys got invited by a couple of local women. Great entertainment! Within the hour everyone in the club knew we were there, and we became the post popular group in the club. When we left the club at closing time, the regular guests of the club waved us goodbye.
Angelo left for Manizales in the morning. We decided to split up and both go our own ways from here on out. I enjoy a relaxing morning by myself, and use the free time I have to update my travel journal. I didn’t feel like exploring the city of Cali. Near lunch time I got invited to join the girls from the group of the hostel for some grocery shopping. Two of the English girls decided to cook a curry for all of the group. The curry they made tasted delicious! We hang around the hostel for a while, chilling in the TV room. Although we were still full from lunch, we went for another ice cream. The Italian ice cream shop we were yesterday was closed unfortunately. No brownies for us then. On our way back to the hostel we did manage to find another ice cream shop and we got some ice cream anyway. With our bellies full we got into a taxi cab to the football stadium to watch a match of América de Cali vs Unión Magdalena. We bought the tickets from a guy on the street for just COP 10.000 each (about €3). It was a very enjoyable match to watch. The Colombians are very passionate about their football.
Today was the first day that I was traveling on my own. I checked out of the hostel and took a taxi cab to the bus terminal. From Cali I took a bus to Armenia. There I had to change busses (actually a minivan this time) to get to Salento in the heart of the Colombian coffee region. I arrived at the main square in Salento halfway through the afternoon. Because I didn’t got any lunch yet the first thing I did was to find a restaurant to get something to eat. I found a place at the main square where they prepared a decent trout with a delicious tomato/pineapple sauce. In the taxi cab (which was a jeep) to the La Serrana hostel I met a group of four Americans traveling together. I chatted with them for a while, but stay behind in the hostel as they return to the town to do some souvenir shopping. I joined the dinner that was organized by the hostel. They served it in their own ‘restaurant’: Mexican style wraps with plenty of toppings to choose from. The Americans invited me after dinner to join them for a game of Tejo together with a couple of others from the hostel. A typical Colombian game, which has been played there for centuries. The Tejo is a heavy metal disk, which is thrown at a pit of clay. Inside the pit there is a metal ring with four pieces of gunpowder on top. You get points by hitting the gunpowder and creating an explosion, or by throwing the Tejo inside the ring. Combined with drinking lots of beer — it is kind of a drinking competition also, the more you drink the better you play — the game is loads of fun!
Breakfast in the hostel was mediocre. The bread that they served just tasted disgusting. I made my way to one of the coffee farms down the road after breakfast. A 40 minute walk. The road leading to the Ocaso coffee farm was very quiet, with only a handful of homes alongside the road. The group to join the guided tour was small. We were guided over the grounds of the coffee farming, learning about the process of growing coffee beans and making coffee. The guide showed us each step as they performed it on the coffee farm. At the end of the tour they served us some coffee to taste. Very tasteful, but I prefer my coffee a little bit stronger. I returned with a taxi to the town of Salento for some lunch. A small restaurant a couple of blocks from the main plaza served sandwiches. The sandwich with tuna tasted delicious. Back at the hostel I spend most of the afternoon changing my plane tickets back home. Originally we wanted to fly back from Guayaquil, Ecuador. However, I didn’t really want to travel all the way back to Ecuador for my flight. The costs for changing my ticket to fly back from Bogotá, Colombia aren’t really high. Luckily my parents were able to help me. Not all changes to plane tickets are possible to do online. Ceri, whom I met in Cali, arrived in the hostel at the end of the afternoon. After talking for a while we walked to the town center to take a look around. Later that evening we joined two Englishmen for dinner.
Ceri and I agreed to visit the Cocora valley today, know for the many giant palm trees that grow there. We had to get up early, as we wanted to take the first jeep from Salento to the valley. We left the hostel at 8:00 AM, and at about 9:00 AM we arrived at the start of the valley and the trail. We met a Chinese girl — Lin — who was with us in the jeep, and she joined us for the hike through the valley. The hike started with a slow paced walk through grass fields. The weather was pretty good, apart from a few clouds that restricted our view of the hill tops nearby. After a while nature around us started to change. We entered a jungle with lush vegetation. We followed a small river upstream, crossing it several times using bridges. The bridges were very simple, and we could often only cross one at a time. Often the bridges were held together by a patchwork of planks, as if they were repaired numerous times. Ceri, Lin and I made a small detour to take a look at a ‘hidden’ waterfall just off the trail. After two hours of hiking we get to the first stop on the trail: the hummingbird sanctuary.
We had to pay a small entrance fee, but we got a hot chocolate in return. As soon as we entered the sanctuary the weather started to change. It began with a drizzle, and then it quickly turned into a heavy downpour. Luckily, we had the opportunity to see plenty of hummingbirds. The weather wasn’t going to change any time soon, so we decided to continue the trail. One way or another, it was at least another two hours before we would be back at the start again. We got completely soaked within minutes. The path took us up and around the hills into the actual Cocora valley. Halfway through we found a farm where we could shelter in one of its barns. We waited there for a while, like many other hikers that were on the trail that day. The rain just kept coming. After 45 minutes of waiting we decided to continue, as the weather didn’t seem to improve. As soon as we entered the valley with the palm trees, the weather started to clear slowly. It stopped raining! The giant palm trees were an amazing sight to behold. After the visit to the valley we returned to the hostel to change into dry clothes. Ceri and I went for something to eat in Salento together with one of the Englishmen from the hostel. Afterwards we met up with Lin again for a game of Tejo.
Ceri and I both planned to travel towards the Caribbean coast, so we decided to travel together towards Medellin. From Medellin we could take a flight to Cartagena on the northern coast of Colombia. The hostel in Salento offered a ‘shuttle’ service to Medellin. The 7 hour long drive wasn’t very pleasant. Although the entertainment on-board was fine (they showed a pretty funny movie), the roads were very uncomfortable. We arrived at the southern bus terminal of Medellin, and took a taxi cab to our hostel. The Lleras Park Hostel was situated in the middle of the nightlife neighborhood Poblado. Medellin is known as the former drugs capital and former home of the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. After we checked into the hostel, Ceri and I walked around the neighborhood to look for something to eat. We ended up in a nice Italian restaurant. After dinner we walked around some more, but Ceri returned to the hostel. She was a bit tired. I met up with one of the Englishmen we met in Salento for a night out.
The first morning in Medellin started off slowly. I stayed in bed for quite a while, but eventually got out for some breakfast. As Medellin is known for its nightlife, that is what we came for too. I got breakfast somewhere in the neighborhood, where it was awfully quiet compared to last night. After breakfast I walked around to look for a supermarket or groceries store to buy some snacks and water. When I got back to the hostel Ceri and I set out to explore some of the city, and to do some shopping. The woman from the hostel pointed us to one of the metrocable systems (a cable car part of the public transport) for a nice view of the city from above. The northernmost metrocable that we wanted to take was unfortunately closed due to maintenance. We found another metrocable which was in use somewhat further south. The view wasn’t the prettiest, although the surroundings of Medellin are very beautiful. The city itself reminded me somewhat of La Paz in Bolivia. Both cities have plenty of red brick houses. We got off from the metro in the center of the city to do some shopping. It took a while, but we found everything we wanted (and needed) to buy eventually. On our way back to the hostel we made a quick stop at the supermarket for some dinner. We prepared ourselves for another night of going out in Medellin. Tonight we went with a mixed group from our hostel.
After another night of going out, I didn’t get to do a lot in the morning. I grabbed some breakfast near the hostel, and looked for a hostel to stay at in Cartagena. I joined Ceri for a day trip to the nearby town of Guatapé. We took the metro to the northern bus terminal, where we found a small bus to Guatapé. It was a two hour drive to get there. Once we got there it became quickly apparent that the small town was a popular weekend destination for the citizens of Medellin. The beachfront of the lake was crowded with hundreds of Colombians and foreign tourists. The first thing we did was to get some food for lunch. The long bus drive left us hungry. I got some fresh fish (I assumed), but it didn’t taste as good as I expected. We walked along the beachfront and through the town. The town itself was quite pretty: very colorful and the surrounding lakes and hills gave us a nice view. Colombia’s most famous drug lord Pablo Escobar had a home somewhere nearby, where you can play paintball nowadays. Unfortunately I didn’t get to visit the home, due to my poor planning. Ceri and I settled for a drink on the main square of town. After a while we had to return the bus company’s office to catch our bus back to Medellin. There we just arrived in time to catch the metro back to our hostel. I packed my backpack for our flight to Cartagena and tried to get some sleep. The taxi that we reserved would pick us up tomorrow morning at 4:00.