Medellín: Guatapé

Today M and I are taking a day trip out to the town of Guatapé from Medellín. There are a few different ways to get here (taxi, private tour, bus) and we decided to take the cheap route and take the bus. For us it is a 20 minute walk to train then take metro to Estacion Caribe. From Estacion Caribe walk to the terminal del norte bus station. There are a couple bus companies that have a bus to Guatapé, find one that has a soon departure (ticket booth #14). Go early so you’ll have time to climb and explore town. Once you arrive book return ticket since seats are assigned/limited – we found this to be very important on the return trip back.

The ride takes about 2 hours and is comfortable enough. There are not any empty seats so it is nice that I at least share the row with someone I know this time.

If you want to get off at the Peñól de Guatapé before you go into the town of Guatape, you have to tell the driver or listen carefully for the stops. We didn’t and ended up going all the way to the town of Guatapé when we really wanted to stop at the large rock first. We take a cab to the rock (Peñól de Guatapé) and he drops us off at the bottom of the hill. We had to walk uphill to get to the small town of El Peñol where we bought a ticket for the climb.

Piedra del Peñol

La Piedra del Peñol is the large rock nearby the town of Guatapé . It is an awkward looking rock but at some point some people decided to climb it. There is conflicting stories that one man did the climb but I’ve seen online that it is a group of men. Since then a set of stairs have been added for tourists and locals to make a climb as well.

Our morning task is to climb 700+ stairs to the top.

In the 1970s the area was dammed so the rock now overlooks a series of lakes and islands.

Fun chiva bus in the town El Peñol

In a crevice of the rock is a winding set of stairs.

It is tiring but we make it to the top (with lots of stops of course).

There is a café at the top so we take a break and have a beer.

We head back down and take a jeep back to the town of Guatapé.

Guatapé

It is lunchtime and I decide it is a great time to try Bandeja paisa and I have a new best friend as a result. It is a very good amount of meat and this dog wants me to share.

After lunch we wander around town. I am once again in a beautifully colored small town in Colombia.

I love all the scenes depicted at the bottom half of the buildings.

There is a large town square that is surrounded by restaurants.

The large white church has a beautiful wood ceiling.

More wandering around town

There is an afternoon storm coming. The clouds look ominous so we head to a indoor/outdoor cafe to wait it out. It doesn’t take long. Good thing we climbed the big rock in the morning.

More of the town….

We stop at a colorful café for a dessert treat.

We start heading to the edge of the town where it becomes more residential and less touristy. We end up by the water where obviously the water level is super low. The low water level gives the appearance of the boats looking stranded.

We see the bus station. Since it is getting close to time to leave we stay in the area and wait. There is a guy acting strangely nearby. We keep our distance to save trouble.

Bus station

Finally we board our bus for the ride back from Guatapé. I am glad we got on early otherwise we would be standing the entire way. The bus is full when we leave and we stop to pick up others on our journey. Unfortunately we chose the row up next to the door so we had quite a few people squeezing around us making it uncomfortable. Also the bus stopped frequently and people would ride temporarily trying to sell things, food, jewelry, etc. But it wasn’t until this man who got onto the bus and proselytizing to the bus loudly did it really get annoying. He stood right in front of us and screamed loudly at the bus for many minutes about Jesus. We put our heads down and pretended we didn’t understand. At some point we heard him talking to those in the seat across from us and we heard them tell the man that we don’t speak Spanish and that is why we did not interact with him. M and I both heard and understood the conversation and grinned briefly at each other. Now is a great time to play stupid! Eventually he leaves the bus. Good riddens!

Needless to say we are happy when we finally arrive back in Medellín.

The bus ride to Guatapé is cheap as heck. It isn’t the most glamourous way to travel but now we will always have the memory of the crazy bus ride.

Me not knowing what to expect on the ride back

It is a long day and long bus ride. Also I don’t mention enough that though I love the metro in Medellín it is exhausting to take the 30 minute journey uphill after a long day of sightseeing.

We only have energy tonight to stop for dinner around the corner. After that it is to bed. Partying will have to happen another night.

Salento: Mirador Alto De La Cruz

Yesterday I did a physically intensive hike so today I am taking it easy my last full day in Salento Colombia. I finally took advantage of the nice breakfast at my hotel. I’ve also walked down to the bus station to ensure I have a bus ticket for tomorrow. Tomorrow evening I travel to Cartagena by plane. Salento has no airport so I need to ensure I have a bus ticket to the nearby town with an airport – Pereira.

Salento bus station

I don’t have much planned today but I know I want to take the stairs up to the Mirador Alto De La Cruz, a place to get a nice view of town. I walk toward the stairs.

There are a series of colorful steps that take you up to the top.

view of the town
view outside the town

I descend down the stairs and decide to stop at a nearby bar to have a daytime cocktail (the same bar that the dog had taken up seats for previously).

Kafe del Alma

After my drink I walk around and appreciate town. Stopping to shop or lounge at another bar. I again appreciate how nice it is to be able to travel to smaller towns. The bus rides are long but they are so worth it.

My bus ride out of town isn’t until later the next day. I leave my bags at the hotel lobby and order a pizza at a nearby restaurant, because pizza.

Piccola Italia

I arrive at the bus station in time for my ride to Pereira. Once I arrive at the bus station in Pereira I still need to catch a taxi from there to the airport. It isn’t clear where the appropriate place is to catch a taxi. Taxi drivers tell me it is illegal to pick up passengers in areas not designated as a taxi pickup area. I wander around the bus station and eventually I am able to flag a cab down that will pick take me to the nearby airport. The cab driver misunderstands me and doesn’t drop me off in the correct place at the airport. I find myself walking pretty far to find the correct terminal – which sounds odd since it is a pretty small airport. I believe I am dropped off at the international terminal when I am flying domestically. Pereira airport is currently under construction. From the outside appearance it seems like the new airport will be pretty nice when it is complete but for now it is a small and confusing airport.

Waiting area and food court before going through security

At the airport I wait in the main waiting area for a while not knowing what to expect after security. I eventually cross security and there is a narrow walkway between the gates. I notice a small bar along the walkway so I decide to squeeze in and order a beer while I wait for my flight to board. The bar overlooks planes that are boarding. I must mention that the gate area is totally open air to the outside. This means that basically someone can just hop over the ledge and head out to a plane. Security is so much more relaxed here compared to what I am used to in the USA.

Nothing but a low concrete barrier between me and that plane
time to board

The flight to Cartagena is decent – no complaints here. Once in Cartagena there is an expensive cab ride to my hotel from the airport. It is late so I figure a cab ride is the safest approach to get to the tourist areas. Luckily Cartagena is a night city and there is a hotel clerk available at check in. I’m tired so I’ll have to experience the city tomorrow.

Hotel 3 Banderas is the hotel I booked for the couple days I am traveling alone. The options in Cartagena seem to much pricier than I’ve experienced in other towns and not as nice. My hotel is satisfactory but I don’t like not having a real window in my room and it does get damp in my room with the air conditioning running (at one point I had a puddle of water on the floor). The hotel reminds me of my stay in Saigon.

Hotel on a beautiful street (one with flags outside)

Jardín to Salento

Jardín

My last hours in the town of Jardín are nice. I spend my time wandering around and relaxing at tables spread out in the square. I’ll grab a beer or two and people watch during the day but this behavior doesn’t seem to be normal. Not many people are day drinking and the ones who do are mostly males; most people drink coffee or other beverages during daylight hours.

I tried to connect to the public WIFI a number of times but I am never successful.

I finally wake up early my last morning to take pictures in town. My photos aren’t the greatest but at least I don’t have all the shadows of the daytime. I enjoy watching the town wake up. The garbage collectors are out and they have a trail of dogs waiting for trash to spill out along the way.

I make one last stop at a cafe to get a coffee and a pastry before it is time for my bus to leave.

I loved my stay in Jardín but I must be moving on. I have one more small town to visit before I go to Cartagena to meet my friend in a couple days. Right now I am heading to the town of Salento.

When I booked my bus ticket I was under the impression that I would be taking a fun chiva part of the way. However the bus company I chose uses regular coaches for the journey. I am disappointed but I did learn that the chiva buses are quite uncomfortable so maybe I did make the correct choice.

chiva bus
chiva bus

This is my actual ride….

The bus ride is relatively comfortable. I mostly have the row to myself but occasionally have to let another passenger sit next to me. A man enters a bus with a burlap-like sack tapered at the top. I hear a loud qui-qui-ri-qui coming from the bag (Spanish for cock-a-doodle-doo). We are sharing the bus with a rooster – well a rooster in a bag. He is very vocal today, as heard in the video below.

One of our rest stops

Today is a long journey of two bus rides. The first bus travels from Jardin to Riosucio on a 3-4 hour journey (with a couple health stops).

We have a bit of a layover in Riosucio. Luckily there are other friendly travelers taking the same journey. I am able to leave my bag with them to go buy a snack. It is nice to have a few people to trust enough to leave your heavy bag with; I of course return the favor. From the nearby café I pick up some empanadas, cheese bread, and the most amazing pastry called Pasteles de Arequipe (Dulce de Leche Turnovers). Sounds like a healthy lunch to me!

Bus number 2

The second bus ride is another long journey (3-4 hours). I nap a bit but I do enjoy the scenery on the way. There is no rooster on this leg of the journey!

I finally arrive in Salento. The bus station is at the bottom of a hillside. According to my map my lodging is not too far away. I walk a little uphill and a couple blocks over to my hotel Casa Olier Hotel which is more like a bed and breakfast that has its own chocolate factory! I picked a great place to stay. Again it is a little more than I would normally pay but since it is my last month traveling why not?

View from my window

After my hotel check in I walk to the town center. The town is built on hills so there is much walking up hill during my visit. I head to the town square and order dinner. I have a dog companion waiting for his share.

Salento, Colombia
The signature dish of Salento, Colombia, is trucha con patacones— trout with mashed, fried plantains
Feed Me Please!

I wander around the lively town at night. I tried to have a cocktail at one bar but some rude dog is hogging the seats.

It is a long travel day so I head back to my hotel. Tomorrow I visit a finca or coffee plantation.

Salento Streets at night. Things seem pretty safe here.

Medellín To Jardín

Town of Jardin

For the next part of my Colombia travels I want to experience small town Colombia. In the interest of time I have chosen two towns to visit: Salento and Jardín. Today I am heading to Jardín.

As I stated previously I attempted to follow the usually very good RometoRio app for directions to the town of Jardín. However the app this time tried to send me to the wrong terminal in Medellin and on a bus to the wrong city. My hotel concierge helps me determine there is a direct bus to Jardín from the south terminal of Medellín.

The journey is three hours and the roads vary from highways to bumpy and curvy mountain roads. Early on the ride there are many stops to pick up additional passengers. Vendors also periodically board selling plantains, chips, cookies, beverages, fresh cut fruit and ice fruit – this is totally normal for Colombia. I can’t resist buying some plantain chips.

People get on and off our bus at various points. At one point we picked up about 15 school kids catching a ride home.

View along the ride

Once I arrive in Jardin I am greeted by colorful buildings with large hills as the backdrop. The town definitely has its charm. I walk a couple blocks to my hotel Hotel La Casona.

Hotel La Casona

My hotel is adorable and I enjoy the included breakfast in the courtyard that my room overlooks.

View from my room
View from my room

Rooms are simple and contain an ensuite bathroom.

I spend my first afternoon wandering around town. I find a café to order a drink (or two). I want to order food to dine al fresco but it appears they have rules about dining outside. My waitress instructs me to go inside once my pizza is ready to eat it. I never had the reason explained to me but I am assuming there is some sort of no outdoor dining ordinance. The town center is full of lovely colorful tables; they must not want the clean up and mess for the courtyard.

I hang out here my first evening
Main town church

Colorful buildings on my walk around town.

Views of the hillsides…

I once again sit at an outside table and people watch as the sun sets.

I have a moment of bliss. This town and this travel style is exactly the type of travel I love. I am glad I booked multiple days here.

On my way to Pai, Thailand

The town of Pai

On my last full day in Chiang Mai, Thailand I take it easy. I visit a very clean laundromat down the street to get some laundry done. Then I mostly chill out in my room catching up on shows and people back home.

The next day I have a bus reservation to go to Pai – a hippie-like city a couple hours north of Chiang Mai. It isn’t popular for regular tourists visiting Thailand but is very popular with backpackers for its chill atmosphere. There are waterfalls and canyons to hike so being intrigued I decide to spend a couple days there.

Before my bus trip I get up early to get some coffee and finally try the doughnuts around the block that seem to be so popular at MOOH. I get the enthusiasm. I am not a huge doughnut fan but these are really good.

I gather my things at the hotel and take an uber to the bus station. After I check in at the bus company I get a hand written boarding pass of sorts and find my van. My bag is placed on top and I am told my assigned seat is in the very back. Unfortunately I am unable to choose my seat ahead of time online so the back is randomly assigned. I dread the ride. I don’t think I have motion sickness medicine on me. This ride will not be fun.

Turns out I am correct. The ride is horribly curvy. I am so nauseous. We stop half way for a bathroom break and I find a soda that might settle my stomach for the rest of the ride.

We finally arrive in Pai and it is pouring raining. More prepared backpackers have a special rain cover for their backpack. I only have my rain jacket and poncho to use. But because it is raining too hard and I need my maps.me on my phone to navigate I wait for the rain to die down before heading out. The small bus area is packed and there is only a little overhang to cover all of us who have just arrived. But somehow we all shove under the area. There are taxis but my lodging is too close that I can’t justify the ride. I assume others have the same idea. Once the rain subsides I start my walk down to my lodging which is a bit of a splurge that I gave myself with credit card points.

Typical street in Pai

I arrive at my villa and it is adorable. I have a private villa and it is very homey.

Pai Village Boutique Resort

After I settle in I head out because it is the night of the walking streets in town. It is still early but I am not one for late nights so I head down there.

I buy a couple food items and browse a bit at items for sale. What I really want to do is chill with a cocktail. The first place I find is a very quiet wine bar.

I find a seat outside and have a glass of wine. The bar tender is very friendly and the music isn’t bad. But because it is so quiet I decide to only have the one drink and walk around some more. I eventually walk down to this waterfront restaurant closer to my hotel. It is still very quiet but I decide to get a cocktail here as well before I head in for the night.

After my cocktail I head back. As I head back I hear the street music get louder. A young Aussie working one of the clubs tries to entice me to come in. He is either humoring me or he has no idea how old I really am. Anyway, it isn’t happening tonight. Bed early!!!