Medellin

I took a direct bus from Salento to Medellin at 16h (49,000 COP). As everywhere in Colombia the announced travel time of 7h was way underestimated and we reached Medellin’s Terminal Sur at 1am.

I shared a taxi with two Canadians to get my hostel (Arcadia Hostel) in El Pablado. I was glad to see in the taxi since it was raining cats and dogs upon my arrival.

The next morning I got up early as I had reserved a free walking tour in the city center starting at 10:30am. I had a nice coffee and a serano avocado sandwich at cafe run by a Kiwi. Thanks to the efficient metro system I made it on time to the meeting point at Alpujarra station.

The tour company is called Real City Tours and my female guide was Medellin born Monsa. We were around 15 people in my group, mostly Europeans. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t initially on our side: It started pouring as soon as the tour started. Luckily, I brought my rain jacket and rain poncho 😉

First, we visited the Palacio de la Justicia and the old railway station. Monsa bridged the time of the rain with interesting stories about the city’s past. She talked about the four main groups who shaped Medellin during the last century: The FARC, the government, the drug cartels and the Paramilitarios.

She talked a lot about the violence which was prevailing in the city in the 80s and 90s and made Medellin the most dangerous city in the world in that period.

We continued to the Square of Lights, a garden of white pillars equipped with lamps. Also we could observe that there’s a library in front of the square. Monsa explained to us that this was part of the social urbanization strategy of Medellin’s former mayor (a math teacher 🙂 ). Once an unsafe place dominated by criminals it is now a spot where families visit every day!

Afterwards we continued to the former Palacio Nacional building which houses nowadays a mall and Medellin’s second oldest church: Iglesa de Veracruz. The next stop was very interesting: In front of a church-like building designed by a Belgium architect a couple of statues with disproportional body parts can be found. The square is named of the Colombian artist Botero who donated these sculptures and lives nowadays in Italy.

Later we passed by the shopping arcades and the tallest building of Medellin: The Coltejer Building. We finished the tour in San Antonio Park where two bird statues stand. One is nearly completely destroyed and the other one is untouched. In the beginning of the 90s someone placed a bomb during a music festival here and over twenty killed got killed and hundreds injured. It is not clear up-to-date who was responsible for this attack. The destroyed represents the past, the new one the future.

The tour lasted in total 4h and is highly recommendable. It was tip-based and I gave 30,000 COP which seemed to be adequate.

Afterwards I took the metro and cable car to climb up to Parque Arvi on the northern side of Medellin. It was a gorgeous ride (6000 COP each way) and gave fantastic views over the valley Medellin is located in. The gondola led me over green lush forest and finally ended in Parque Arvi.

Unfortunately, the walking trails had closed at 4pm such that I could just wander around and look at the beautiful nature from distance. There was also a small exhibition of relics of the first known Americo-Indian tribes. Before leaving I tasted a good papa rellena.

I returned to El Poblado where coincidentally ran into the two German guys, Benny and Cem, who I had met earlier that day on the walking tour. Hence, I found companions for the night to drink and dance 😉 Before we had fantastic Asian fusion dishes at Bao Bei – super-recommended!

The next day I slept in after a long night dancing 😉 I started the day with a super-hearty meal called Bandejo Paisa and watched the Wimbledon Final between Federer and Djokovic. The later one defended his title in the longest Wimbledon Final ever – the Joker won the last set with 13:12!

After this heavy lunch I headed straight to the San Javier metro station where I participated in another free walking tour, this time about Comuna 13. I made a reservation the day before with Zippy Free Walking Tours. Our guide was Stiven, who lived over two decades in Comuna 13 and still lives nowadays.

Comuna 13 was considered to be the most dangerous neighborhood in the world during the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s. This was mainly due to the fact that FARC, different drug cartels and Paramilitarios settled down in this neighborhood at the same time. There were multiple (over 20) unsuccessful military operation to “clean up” the barrio. At it’s peak time over 2000 people were killed within 10 months – just in Comuna 13.

True change came through peace negotiations with FARC and Paramilitarios in the beginning of the 2000s and the ultimate breakthrough has been accomplished by Medellin’s former mayor (yes the math teacher again!) by agreeing to pay the drug cartels money for their promise to stop killing people. Believe it or not but up to today they are holding their promise.

One important trait of Comuna 13 are graffitis. They are legal here (one artist won the legal fight against the municipality) and speak a lot about the barrio’s history and Colombia’s current problems. It is apparently the only neighborhood in entire South America which has electric stairs. Guess whose idea that was?

Today Comuna 13 is super-safe and has already a kind of hipster vibe! I even found craft beer there and there a lot of shops who sell clothes with prints saying “Comuna 13”. We finished the tour with a break dance show of a local youth dancing group. Also this tour is very interesting and I recommend it as well.

I finished the day with a nice barbecue at the hostel and went to bed early since I had to catch an early flight to Cartegena. Fortunately, I realized in the morning that the relevant airport was not as I initially though the one in town but rather 45km outside of Medellin. I immediately called an Uber and made it luckily 10min before check-in closure to the check-in counter, Puuuhh! That was worth the 80,000 COP!

I wish I had had more time in Medellin. I think the city is epic and after Buenos Aires my second favorite city on this journey. A visit is a must when in Colombia!

Since the picture storage is completely full pictures can be found here temporarily:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/lrr3nqu9z5c7j58/AABGW-3zhOx0uGrjakdnROB2a?dl=0

 

 

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Salento

The travel day to Salento was a bit sad since it was Irina’s depature day to Germany ;( At some point even grandparents run out of vacation 😉 We took a 8:15am minivan from Buenaventura’s terminal (again 27,000 COP per person) to Cali and reached the terminal there three hours later. After a quick lunch Lothar accompanied Irina to the airport shuttle where their ways separated for two more weeks.

Both of us were very sad but at the same time also thankful that we had to the opportunity to have a short kids free travel time 😉

Irina’s shuttle (8,000 COP) broke down on the way to the airport but was quickly replaced by another one such that she made it right on time to Cali’s airport. From there she took a flight to Bogota from where her international flight to Frankfurt left four hours after her arrival. Ultimately, she arrived safely to Germany where 18 degrees Celsius and rain greeted her – what a stereotypical German summer 😉

Lothar carried on by bus (22,000 COP) to Armenia. After three and a half hours he caught a connecting bus to Salento which took another hour a costed 4,000 COP. On the bus he met two American sisters of Venezuelan origin, Clara and Michelle, and they decided to head to the same hostel spontaneously. In fact, they got lucky and there were three spots available in the dorm (25,000 COP/night including breakfast).

Lothar and the girls walked up to a lookout point of the Corcora Valley and ate dinner at a Venezuelan food truck. Afterwards it was Tejo time! Tejo is a Colombian game (similar to corn hole) where each player gets a rock (which looks like a grenade) and has to target a metal circle where small triangle explosives lie. The player with the closest rock to the ring obtains one point, an explosion yields three points, a hit within the ring six and explosion plus inner ring nine points. Winner is who reaches 21 points first.

It’s a fun game for a night out but our group did not manage to get one loud explosion! Lothar jumped everytime when another group on another playing field got an explosion 😉 The only thing what occurred when someone of our group hit a triangle was white smoke. Still a good game to play from time to time 🙂

At the next morning, the two girls and Robin, a German guy who slept in their hostel the same night, and Lothar (from now on “we”) took a Willy (Jeep taxi) from the Plaza Central to the start of the trail in the Concora Valley. The return ticket was 8,000 COP and it took 30min to get there.

Upon arrival we could immediately the tall wax palm trees this valley is known for. They can grow up to 60m and are the national symbol of Colombia! The trail covered a distance of 12km and a altitude difference of 1200m and loops around a mountain range and along a river and ends ultimately at the same place from where you start.

We walked the trek clockwise although Lothar read before that anti-clockwise is the nicer route as it has less impact on the knees (while descending) and ends in a garden of wax palm trees. Anyhow, after a couple of meters in altitude a lot of clouds were drawn into the valley which made the views rather mediocre.

After 2h we reached the highest point, Finca la Montaña, at 2850m. As well, from here we had a very cloudy view. At least we saw a beautiful colibri with long silver-blue tail. After a short snack break we started the steep descent.

After an hour or so we reached the river and walked along it over multiple small wooden suspension bridges which was quite adventurous. Then after another hour we left the forest which surrounded the river and came to open fields.

At this point of time the sun showed first time her beautiful face and broke through the clouds. We had nice views into the valley and of wax palm trees along the steep hills. After 5:20h we reached the parking lot of the Willys where we started the track. On the way, we had to pay in total 7,000 COP since we walked over private land.

The next day I spent the day by myself since the other ones had other plans. I started to walk west of town along carretera 8 towards the Reserva Natural Kasaguada and reached it after 40min. I got lucky since the only tour of the day was just starting at 10am. The owner, Carlos, is a very passionate and knowledgeable biologist who bought the land 12 years ago.

He ran his tour (30,000 COP per person) for a little bit less than two hours and explained in very easy words a lot about sand banks, the mistakes of the first Spanish settlers w.r.t. cultivating the land, wax palm trees (shadow provider), emphasized the differences between the tropics where there are no seasons vs. Europe where there are four, etc.

He showed us different plants of the cloud forest, trees covered by moos, and bambo-like trees called Guadado which he and his two partners used to build sustainable bungalows in the middle of the cloud forest. Also he mentioned the importance of ants who protect a plant which is called Guama which usually is a sign that the ecosystem is functional. He provided so much information that I felt a little bit overwhelmed and felt like being back at college 😉 Anyhow, great tour and great owner.

Afterwards, I walked another 10min along the same track and reached the coffee plantation Finca Las Acacias. After half an hour wait and a decent Americano from a good coffee machine one of the guides, Cristian, showed me and two other tourists around.

First, we learned that many other things such as bananas, mandarins, lemons, wax palm trees, flowers are planted on the Finca’s land. Second, we went through the process of coffee planting until the fermentation. We learned that a new coffee plant needs 5 years until they give their maximum harvest. Coffee beans are put into sandy soil where they grow for 5 weeks. Then they are transferred to a normal soil (still in a pot under observation) for up to six months until they are finally transferred to the real soil.

Coffee beans from lower altitudes taste sweeter than the ones from higher but are stronger in taste. At the same time they are more prone to insects and hence the higher the coffee grow the higher is the likelihood that it is organic coffee.

On this Finca they exclusively sell coffee to tourists but many other coffee farms export coffee to North America (most important market) and Europe and hence are subject to the world market price of coffee. Arabica is by the way the only type of coffee which is grown in Colombia. Arabica has a 75% world market share, Robust the remainder.

After the second tour I walked back to town to eat a yummy Filet Mignon with vegetables and fries and half an hour later I took a bus to Medellin. The coffee region around Salento is a great place to visit and I recommend it.

Since the picture storage is completely full pictures can be found here temporarily:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/3brs89gqd5endt6/AABWyMGkFK1rJhdT4Ylctuwna?dl=0

 

Bahia Malaga

Colombia – the last country on our journey! Not taking car import time into consideration it was the longest border wait on this trip. Entry and exit immigration was handled via the same queue at the Ecuadorian immigration. We reached it via taxi from Tulcan’s bus station (4$ for a 20min ride).

There was an own queue just for Venezuelans and there were lots of them waiting for a better future in Ecuador. After 1h and 20min we finally got our exit stamp and headed over to Colombian immigration. Here it was luckily just a 20min wait and then we officially arrived in Colombia!

We took a shared taxi to the next town’s terminal for 4000 COP per person. We changed 30$ at a bad exchange rate before at the border. At the terminal we bought two tickets for the 21:30h night bus to Cali for 45,000 COP per person. Out ultimate goal was the Pacifico Hostel in Bahia Malaga. To get there we had to make sure that we catch the last boat at 16 o’clock from Buenaventura, at the Pacific coast.

We reserved some time for dinner at an Italian restaurant (nothing special) and bought a Claro chip for 12000 COP (70 MB and calls and texts included for one week). The night bus took unfortunately much much longer than expected: 15 hours instead of the announced 12 😦 At least we caught a bit of sleep.

As a consequence, we just had 20min for a quick breakfast at Cali’s terminal and took a minivan to Buenaventura at 12:30pm for expensive 27,000 per person. Fortunately, we arrived at 15:30 at Buenaventura’s terminal such that we just made it on time to the docks! Puuuh, since we left Otavalo we were nearly 30h on the road. That deserved a beer on board!

The boat ride into Bahia Malaga National Park and specifically to our Hostel took two hours due to a rough sea (80,000 COP for a return ticket per person). We were super-happy when we arrived at the hostel. Luckily, we could still some dinner 😉 Due to the long journey we went to bed (only dorm rooms were available) early.

The next day we intended to go kayaking but then we met the two Colombians Laura and Mayra who invited us to join them on their hike to the next village. We happily agreed. When we started walking our group had grown to six people: Pablo from Chile with his dog Salsa and Karin from Germany had joined us.

It took us half an hour via a muddy path leading inland to reach the next bay. At this time in the morning we could not walk via the beach since it was still high tide. We reached the village of Juanchaco where our native Spanish speakers organized a taxi. The taxi driver Marco turned out to be the right person at the right time since he brought us in touch with a friend of his, Armando, who offered a tour through the mangroves, natural pools and the beach “La Barra”. Also we pre-agreed with Marco on a very good price of 25,000 COP per person for this trip. Armando told us that he usually sells this trip for 35,000 COP 😉

We started off with a boat ride through the mangroves of Bahia Malaga NP. There was not lot of wildlife to see but still fun observing the fauna. Furthermore, it was just fun being part of this group!

After 20-30min we reached a shallow spot were we had to get off and push the boat a little bit. Another 5min later we got off the boat again to walk over wooden trunks over the river and reached cascades of natural pools close by.

Another group was already there and their guide animated everyone to jump from the rocks into the pool which everyone happily followed 😉 There was also a tiny waterfall which served as a natural shower.

After enjoying ourselves for a while we continued through the mangroves for another 40min until we reached the beach “La Barra”. The name refers to the sand banks which are an important part of the eco system here. First, we headed to a nearby restaurant called “Hola Ola” to have a late lunch.

Then we jumped into the Pacific. The water was incredibly warm – the warmest one on the entire journey. But still not too warm to be not refreshing. Pablo who is an educated marine biologist explained to us that the cold Humboldt stream which is very dominating in the southern part of South America’s coast does not play a role in Colombia.

Then we headed back to Juanchaco were we took the same muddy trail back to the hostel. Dinner was already waiting for us there. We spent a great night with our new friends at the hostel bar and got also to try a couple of shots of the local liquor “Viche” which tasted very similar to Obstler/Schnapps 🙂

The next day, we went with an even bigger group to another day trip. Two Austrians, Johannes and Max, and two Germans, Annika and Laura, were the latest additions. German speakers took over this day trip 😉

It was an hour boat ride until we reached the first of the two “sights”, “La Serpiente”. These are two large waterfalls (ca. 20m) which are hidden in a calm bay. Everybody jumped into the water upon arrival and showered under the waterfalls. Also no one missed out to take a decent jump into the water from the rocks under the waterfalls! Great times!

After an hour we continued in the boat for half an hour to reach the “Tres Marias”. These are cascades of partly deep natural pools. There were a lot of other groups already there which gave it a very touristy touch. Nevertheless, bathing and jumping into the cold sweet water pools also was quite fun.

We returned around 12:30pm to the hostel where Lothar inquired about kayaking. Since it was low tide the only option was to go out to the open sea which he opted not to do. His idea was to explore the bay inland from the hostel but this was impossible at this time of the day due to the low water level.

At 3:30pm we said goodbye to our new friends and took the last ferry of the day back to Buenaventura from the low tide beach. The boat ride was much smoother and we reached the city before sunset within one hour. We walked to our hotel and had to negotiate the same rate we had a confirmation for since the had canceled our reservations while we were at the hostel without wifi ;( Luckily, that worked out well and we got a room (no idea why it was called VIP 😉 ) to bridge the night. Buenaventura did not seem very special to us but we had a great dinner at Cafe Pacifico. We were served a four course meal with ingredients of the region prepared in an African-Colombian way and accompanied with different type of Viches ;). A bit pricey with 90,000 COP per person but very yummy!

Overall, we were very happy with Bahia Malaga and Pacifico Hostel! It gave us a great start in Colombia!

Since the picture storage is completely full pictures can be found here temporarily:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ixmuthofp7gwwyh/AAAfCaPMQP6HhuVQpP0-y4yMa?dl=0