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)

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.

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.

Jardín: Hike to Christ

Another day in Jardín (Antioquia, Colombia) so I decide to take another short hike but this time to a Christ statue on a hill.

The town looks beautiful this morning as I head out for my hike.

Where I am going today is up the hill to see the large statue of Jesus (Seen as the little white thing in the photo below).

See the Jesus on the middle left.

The path is straight ahead and not clearly marked. I only know it is the correct path because of website that created a great guide to the area (fortunately I found the link to their website intentional travelers – they are so helpful).

The trail begins as a steep decline downhill on a rock trail. I am glad I am wearing my hiking boots again.

A kitten comes by to greet me before I start my hike.

I don’t really see many others around once again today. Traveling in Colombia is quiet compared to visiting other countries. Normally the isolation would have me worried about my safety but for some reason I feel safe here.

I come to a large moss covered tree. The tree is beautiful and reminds me of home.

I come to a little wooden bridge and cross a stream.

The area around the stream looks like a nice place to picnic during the day.

It is not clearly marked but I notice a rough path going uphill. I am thankful that it is both dry and that I am wearing my hiking boots. The steps are challenging for my shorter legs.

Looking down below. I see other hikers!
Town off in the distance

I arrive to a gate. There is no sign but it is not locked. I open the gate and walk through, hoping I am not tresspassing.

I am at some sort of summit. I stop and take in the views. There are large beautiful black birds flying to and fro.

I walk past banana trees. The path I am on is clearly used but very rough. I see another couple hiking around so I know I am in the right place.

Eventually I arrive to the area that contains the statue. There is a restaurant or café that appears to closed but a gate is ajar. A tour guide has entered into the viewing area with some tourists; I assume since he is there then it is ok to enter. I grab a seat and enjoy the view for a while.

At some point it looks like the owner shows up. I pack up my things in anticipation of getting asked to leave but he doesn’t seem angry we are there. I don’t stay long anyway.

restaurant up top
seating with view of town below
Finally the view, from below it looks like there used to be gondola system. It doesn’t seem to be operational.
A directional sign! Don’t see many of these.

I think there are other trails up here somewhere but I end up just heading back the way I arrived.

Trail goes on? Who knows?
The Moss tree again

It doesn’t take me long to arrive back in town. It is still early so I take the time to visit the inside of the beautiful town church.

I love the tiles and the ceiling colors.

I head back to my hotel to freshen up and rest. I’ll head out later to see some birds at dusk. More on that later.