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.

Cartagena: Pink Sea of Galerazamba

Today we have booked a private car to take us the see the famous Pink Sea of Galerazamba and Totumo mud volcano.

The pink sea is an hour northeast of Cartagena on the coast.

This man-made salt lake is a mine that is run by the small town of Galerazamba. The bright pink color is caused by microbes which create pigmented protein to absorb the sun’s energy.

The Pink Sea is not always bright pink but we get extremely lucky since it is as pink as it can be. The best time to visit is December to April and we are visiting in February.

There is no swimming at the pink sea but we were allowed to walk out into the water and have some photos taken.

The whole thing felt essentially like a nice salt scrub.

We head next to the Totumo Mud Volcano.

Both the sea/salt mine and mud volcano are run by the nearby communities who are employed by and profit off the locations.

We choose not to “participate” in the mud volcano during our visit. Reviews said that you have to pay someone inside the mud mound who will then massage mud all over you. Once you exit the mud pit you walk down to a lake where ladies clean the mud off your body parts. We are not interested in having someone randomly put their hands all over us. Usually I am a “When in Rome” type of person but both M and I are both on the same page – maybe we’ll skip this one.

Instead we checked out the mud pit from below.

village surrounding mud volcano

We walked down to the lake to witness the “washing”. Nope, not for us.

Once we arrive back to the tourist areas of Cartagena we decide it is a great time to check out the popular La Cevichería.

It is a long wait for a table but once inside it is worth it.

While everything we ordered is delicious it was this shrimp in curry that we craved after. It is an amazing dish.

M is fan of Liverpool and noticed a local bar was playing a game while we were town so we went down to The Clock Pub for a little while to watch. After the game the bar played 80’s pop videos.

Keeping up with the theme of fun we head down to a another lively pub. It is daytime so not rowdy but we did enjoy the décor of clothes hanging from the ceiling (including underwear). I do not recall the name of this pub but it was nice for a quick stop.

It’s been a long day but it isn’t over yet. We have dinner reservations to we head over to the area of the restaurant.

Earlier we had made reservations for dinner at Juan del Mar upon recommendation of our driver. While it was good, it wasn’t as good as La Cevichería.

Juan del Mar

After dinner we call it a night since we have our cruise rescheduled for tomorrow. Hopefully it goes as planned.

Cartagena: Getsemani

It is M’s first full day in Cartagena with me. We have booked a cruise to the Rosario Islands. We could have traveled directly to an island to do a day of relaxing on the beach but from reviews it doesn’t seem like a relaxing option due to beach vendors constantly bothering you.

There are a couple different choices for a day cruise ranging from packed-like-sardines in a speedboat to a luxury yacht cruise. The speedboat option seems like it could be fun but we both agree we would prefer the more laid back (though more expensive) catamaran tour.

There is an early start of 8:00 for our tour. We leave early to ensure we arrive in time.

Morning walk to our boat tour

One we arrive we wait at the marina for quite a while.

Finally our boat arrives. It is a lovely sight to see.

After arrival we still wait to board. Eventually the staff announces that they are cancelling the cruise for the day due to strong winds at sea. We are disappointed.

Luckily we can reschedule in a couple days. There is already a line of people waiting for refunds to be processed or to book another day. They let us onto the boat to wait in comfort which is great because we get to use the very clean bathroom downstairs. M has a great idea of getting cheap morning beers from one of the vendors on the dock. It didn’t take much for her to talk me into one as well. We sip our beers while we wait our turn to rebook.

We have rebooked and the day is still early. We have a free day we did not plan for. We head from the marina area and decide to explore town a bit, stopping first in a nearby museum.

The museum we stop at is the Museo Naval del Caribe, the Museum of the Colombian Navy.

All the exhibits are in Spanish but we understand enough to get an idea of the history. The exhibits are heavy on the military and the sea. We had some playtime in a submarine for a bit.

Side Note: M and I combined have a pretty good grasp on Spanish. We seem to fill in each others gaps well. What she doesn’t remember I remember and vice-versa. It gives me a bit more confidence.

After the museum we decide to check out the funky neighborhood of Getsemani. Fortunately it is in walking distance so no taxi is necessary.

We pass through some more charming streets on the way and stop for arepas.

Narrow walkways

We stop at Quero Arepa for an arepa snack.

Sloth at Parque Del Centenario

We walk past Parque Del Centenario where it is said you can see monkeys but we instead find a sloth on a tree. He is snacking on some tree fruits. Some people are trying to feed him and pet him but we respectfully keep our distance.

Getsemani

We have arrived in Getsemani. The neighborhood of Getsemani is funky and colorful. We originally considered staying in his neighborhood but opted to be closer to the tourist sites. If I am ever to return I am definitely staying in Getsemani. I really like the vibe.

I see lots of street art in many different cities but it never seems to get old.

Flags hang from above, in this case flags from different countries.

We watch an artist at work.

Today is about walking, eating and drinking. We stop to try local fried foods at a hipster restaurant.

Cháchara restaurant
empanada sampler

We stop for food once again, this time to split a small pizza.

We end up down a narrow and colorful street shaded by colorful umbrellas.

We are almost out of Getsemani but not before we stop at a corner bar that sells sushi and beer. We order only beer.

Once back in the tourist area we climb the fortification walls to catch the sunset.

After dark I get to try the Russian themed bar near the apartment. We decided to test our luck and have a Moscow Mule at the KGB Bar. Back in the USSR!

Keeping the theme of Soviet area relics we head next to my happy place at Cuba 1940. We don’t stay for the band tonight but we will be back.

As we walk back to the apartment we peak into a service at a beautiful church.

Even though things did not go as planned our day ended up pretty great.

Tomorrow we head on a trip a little out of town to see the pink sea. Hopefully it is the perfect pink color.

Cartagena

It is my first full day in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. I have a couple days here alone before a friend comes to meet me. I’ll save the major sights for when she arrives, now is the time for me to enjoy the city leisurely.

Fortunately I wake up early enough to take advantage of the free buffet breakfast at the hotel. A friendly kitchen staff member greets me and asks how I would like my eggs. I enjoy coffee and the buffet of fresh fruit along with my eggs.

Against better judgement I have been eating a good amount of fresh fruit in Colombia but it isn’t until my visit to Cartagena that it has an effect on me. The bacteria in Cartagena is different than other parts of Colombia. I have some mild stomach discomfort here (the water quality has something to do with its lower elevation).

After breakfast I wander around to explore and stop to order a fun cocktail and a snack at Lobo de Mar.

I am once again in another town where the buildings are painted in vivid colors. It is a beautiful sight to see.

I grab a beer and rest in the courtyard of my hotel to escape the heat and book some tours.

my hotel

The next day or so is about the same; I take things easy.

I see on a map the home of Gabriel García Márquez (the famous Colombian author) but I cannot find it. While I really like the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, I had a annoying experience reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Many praise the novel but I find it impossible to follow. There are so many characters introduced in different timelines and they all seem to have similar names. I’ve tried to read it three times and still have not been able to complete it. I am unable to locate the house.

I did see this boutique hotel in his honor…..the map shows that this hotel is right next door to the house. If it is there I did not see it.

Gabriel García Márquez on the wall

There is also a fortification around the city “Murallas De Cartagena”. One can walk along the walls as I did a few times during my visit.

More city photos

Botero statue

One plaza has a bunch of sculptures by Edgardo Carmona, a local sculptor.

Street Arepa

I soon find one of my favorite places to have a drink in town – Cuba 1940. I watch live music here a couple days later. (Cartagena really makes me want to party, lol).

While people watching I’ve seen Captain America, Iron Man, Deadpool, Spiderman, Edward Scissorhands and a large-bellied man dancing shirtless in a hula skirt. Being Friday night people must be out for birthday celebrations or stag nights. Cartagena is a fun city.

Later on I treat myself to a nice meal at Agua De Leon restaurant. The restaurant is busy but they are able to seat me at the bar. I still have a view of the live band playing up front.

Ceviche
Mac n cheese de langosta

The next day …

I have a travel partner again! My friend M has arrived. I’ve checked out of my hotel and transferred my belongings to the apartment where we will spend the next couple days. Unfortunately when we arrive they want all cash payment. We are both confused because we thought we had prepaid. Additionally the booking had no specification about paying in cash. We don’t have that much cash on hand so we ask if we can pay later after we are able to withdrawal more money; hopefully we have high ATM limits. After we gather the funds we have a really hard time finding a person to pay. Our days are similar, we return after sightseeing and we still not know who/how to pay. It makes us a little irritated and anxious. Eventually we learn that there is an office that is not often occupied. One day we find a person in the “office”. They seem ready to leave but we make sure that we pay for our stay and get a receipt. Whew! Glad that drama is over! Luckily our next hotel is prepaid by credit card.

Area outside the hotel

Once we drop our bags off we hit the ground running. We first head out for a beer at the pub around the corner.

We then walk around town a bit. We end up catching the tail end of a wedding. It is fun to see local wedding traditons.

Finally we share a Colombian version of a charcuterie platter. We have an early morning cruise scheduled tomorrow so no late night for us.

Salento: Finca El Ocaso

Today is my first full day in Salento Colombia. I am in a coffee growing region so it is natural that I visit an coffee farm or a finca (Spanish word for farm). Finca El Ocaso Salento seems to be close to town and highly recommended for a coffee tour.

I skip breakfast and head out early for my 45-ish minute walk knowing well that I walk slower than most and will need extra time. It is 4.5 to 5 km from my hotel to the coffee farm. The walk is mostly downhill but there are some up and downs. I notice some unfortunate people biking uphill on the rocky road. I could have arrived by truck but it is my first day in town and I am not familiar with how to hire a ride. Walking is a great way to explore the countryside.

On my way out of town
On my way out of town

I travel to the edge of town until I get to the road that will lead me to my destination.

I love the views on my journey.

Finally I have arrived. I head down the path to the main building to check in for my tour.

I arrive slightly early for the English speaking tour. The cashier is confused when seeing my Spanish last name because I do not look like a native Colombian (I still carry the last name of my ex). She tells me that traditionally women in Colombia do not take their husband’s last names.

I wait on the beautiful grounds for my tour to begin.

We meet our tour guide. Our guide gives an introduction on growing Colombian coffee. Coffee is actually not native to Colombia but introduced by Jesuit priests arriving from Europe in the mid 16th century.

We look at the different stages of growing.

We are given baskets and instructed how to find berries ready for picking. I wander through the bushes trying to find ripe red coffee berries. I am having a hard time spotting them but I do find a few.

We are told to try the berries (or coffee cherry pulp) and it doesn’t seem to have much taste to me. Most berries have two beans (or seeds) inside. Some come with only one seed inside, those are used for peaberry coffee.

Our guide points out companion planting and that the coffee is mostly shade grown.

composting

We take our berries back for processing. We are told about a couple different techniques for this. The grinder separates the beans from the berry pulp and skin.

We go indoors and view equipment used for larger scale processing.

A german actually invented the modern day coffee peeler.

The most recognizable man in Colombia (besides that drug lord) is Juan Valdez. We learn that he is not a real man but a marketing feature that has been represented by different men throughout the years. It is a highly successful campaign.

We head back outside to see the beans drying on racks

Our guide tells us about the different coffee types produced on site.

In Colombia the beans get sorted by quality. We are told that lower quality beans float to top of water and are typically sold as supermarket beans. Meaning the worst of the beans get sold in supermarkets in Colombia. To get good coffee one has to visit a finca or a cafeteria. A great deal of the good stuff is exported to other countries as well.

Finally we are taken to the kitchen where we learn how to roast. It is a delicate process. In the USA we burn the heck out of our beans and that is not how it is done in Colombia. Colombians actually prefer their coffee lighter (but not necessarily light in caffeine). As I spend more time in the country I learn to love my coffee roasted lighter as well.

Grinder

We learn about different brewing methods but brew some fresh coffee using a pour over method.

I am very satisfied with my cup of coffee at the end of the tour.

I’ve skipped breakfast this morning so I head over to the café on site to order a coffee and a ham and cheese pastry. I sit back and enjoy the view.

When I decide to head back into town I contemplate the long uphill (and hot) walk to town. This seems to be the best time to take the red truck back to town. These trucks are very handy for getting around. The drivers like to pack them full as seen in the picture below.

Sorry for the crouch shot but I wanted a picture to describe where you’ll be riding if you aren’t the early ones on the truck.

The red truck drops me off at the town center. It is still early and a beautiful day so I take a stroll around town.

I browse through a couple of shops and cannot resist buying a colorful hammock. It is such an irresponsibly large item to buy while backpacking but I tell myself I only have a couple weeks left to carry it. If I ever have a home of my own again it will look lovely in the backyard.

Salento is a beautifully colorful town as well.

I find a nice terrace to have a sunset drink at Quindú Restaurante. Fortunately they have Colombian chicken soup (Ajiaco) on the menu, something I’ve been meaning to try.

Back to my hotel to rest because tomorrow I plan a long hike.