IN THE LAND OF COFFEE
IN THE LAND OF COFFEE
We just come back from a hike through the valley of Cocora. In the “zona cafetera”, the area of Colombia where most of the coffee comes from, grow also the famous, up to 60 meters (!) tall wax palms. Their almost dainty-looking crowns, which stand out against the dark gray of the swelling clouds, offer a great photo opportunity. The loop hiking trail leads over huge pastures up to the edge of the cloud forest and on the other side of the mountain down through the forest along a stream which we cross countless times by adventurous hanging bridges. We are lucky, the sky only overcasts at the very end and now it’s drizzling outside and we pass in review our first weeks on South American ground over a cup of delicious Colombian coffee… After the countries in Central America, Colombia seems unbelievably vast to us and we almost feel lost between the huge mountain ranges. The days in Colombia until now were very varied, but first things first.
HARBOR TOWN WITH CHARM
While we wait in Cartagena for the arrival of our vehicle from Panama, we explore the colonial town. It’s a mixture of Colombian and Caribbean style and we stroll through the streets and narrow alleys in search of the famous graffiti, which make the streets even more colorful than their cheerful-colored houses and doors. We visit the monumental fortification that was built in centuries of drudgery to protect the city from the lootings of corsairs, buccaneers and later from the invasion of the Englishman and we appreciate the refreshing cool temperatures in the long, dark and humid tunnels in the underground of the fortress. In the evening we meet with other Overlander for drinks and dinner and exchange travel tips for the upcoming months. We cannot wait to get going and are more than happy when we finally, after two full days of bureaucracy, get our home-on-wheels out of the harbor. Now only stocking up on groceries, filling water, diesel and propane keeps us from the departure.
Our first destination is Minca. Here we visit Ana-Maria and Mike, who settled in Colombia several years ago. We know the two of them from our backpacking tour the world, where we met them on an island in Malaysia while diving. Back then they travelled on to Australia, bought a Toyota Land Cruiser and finally shipped it to Argentina. From there they drove all the way to Colombia where they bought a piece of land and later a finca with coffee bushes. They are involved in social projects in the village, help the local population with ideas on sustainability, waste separation and, in addition, cultivating the coffee bushes and fruit trees of their finca. From exactly these same bushes we drink coffee right now and we bought enough of it that it will last us for a long time. We park straight in the driveway of their house and spend comfortable days and evenings with the two, indulge in memories of old and in anticipation of upcoming journeys.
But finally, it is time to say goodbye, because there are still thousands of kilometers to go across Colombia, and so we drive further inland to the pretty, extremely picturesque colonial towns of Barichara and Villa de Leyva. Both villages were restored with great care over the past few years, and their charm now attracts tourists. Once again, we walk on cobblestones around generous plazas, marvel at the beautifully carved, wooden balconies and gates and pamper us in nicely designed courtyards with a delicious piece of cake from the French bakery or a full-bodied coffee.
A DETOUR TO OUR DESTINATION
Then we have to continue to Medellín because after two years of full-time living in the truck camper, our hot water boiler unfortunately leaks. Luckily, we found a fellow traveler who flies to Colombia with a half-empty suitcase and he now carries a spare boiler with him, handing it over to us at the airport. At this point once again a big “thank you” to the conveyor, we are super glad about the warm showers here in the cool highlands of South America. 😉
The way to Medellín leads across several mountain ranges and – how could it be different – the roads in these remote areas are bad, bumpy and, above all, very winding. Our first attempt to cross the mountains fails after a 6 hours and 130 kilometers drive due to a multiple landslide. The road is completely closed and it can take days until the heavy machinery arrives and clears all the earth and trees. We don’t have that much time until our package arrives in Medellín and so we have to turn around and make our way back to where we started in the early morning. With the next attempt on an alternative route, we have more luck and make it after a two-days detour in time for the airport in Medellín. On the way we visit the lakeland around Guatapé with its imposing Peñol rock. The huge boulder looks somehow lost in this landscape and one wonders how it got there in the first place. Over seven hundred steps lead to the top and are the price for a fantastic view over the lake.
THE CITY OF DRUG CARTELS
Our days in Medellín are mainly characterized by maintenance work on our vehicle. The steep decent down into the valley caused our brakes to overheat and so we replace brake pads and fluid. After more than 80’000 kilometers, we also provide new tires to our vehicle, which hopefully will last until home… We also remove the leaking hot water boiler and fit in the new one and we are proud when, after a few hours of handcrafting, there is hot water again. 😊
In between, however, we don’t miss the opportunity to visit some attractions in the city with its violent past around the reign of Pablo Escobar and the war between the drug cartels! We hover with the cable car lines that were built as an extension to the subway system across entire neighborhoods and look from a bird’s eye view down on the corrugated iron roofs of the brick stone houses and hundreds of balconies. Those cable car lines connect the districts situated on the mountain slopes on both sides of the valley with the city center and allow their residents to commute much faster between their home and the center. We also take a tour of the notorious Comuna 13, the neighborhood that until a few years ago was well known for the violent gang wars of the drug mafia. Today, the 140’000 (!) inhabitants of this “barrio” are proud of the graffiti artists, musicians and dancers originating from this neighborhood and the whole area presents itself spruced up for the tourists who are interested in its history and inhabitants.
OVER MOUNTAINS AND VALLEYS
It takes us almost a week to leave Medellin and the rest of the time in Colombia we spend in the vast countryside, driving hundreds of kilometers through valleys, over several mountain passes up to the valley of the wax palms where our travelogue started. One of these mountain passes we remember very vividly even days later… With every meter that we gain in altitude, the track gets worse and with the onset of rain, all potholes fill up with brown water so we can no longer tell their depth and therefore have to reduce our speed to almost walking pace. In addition, there are single-lane sections right on the steep abyss and after we drive past a tilted truck because the road gave way to its rear axle, we call out a prayer before each turn and hope that no semi-trailer truck meets us at the worst possible time.
Over days and many kilometers, these green mountain ranges have accompanied us…
A PRETTY DESERT
Within a couple of days, we will enter Ecuador, but not without visiting the Tatacoa desert before. It’s a dry savannah and the name Tatacoa originates from the indigenous people and means “rattlesnake”. The whole area is unusually dry and consists of undulating, red, ochre or gray colored land, into which erosion has carved bizarre canyons up to twenty meters deep. At noon temperatures at the bottom can reach up to 45 degrees Celsius and the whole landscape reminds us a bit of the USA with its red rocks and canyons in Utah. We find a place to spend the night with a magnificent view over the canyons and mesmerize at the golden light of the setting sun. Our thoughts wander into the distance and we look forward to our upcoming adventures in Ecuador.
Look around yourself in the Tatacoa desert: