A Travellerspoint blog

Zona Cafeteria

Coffee, Colombia´s biggest export (legal export that is, wink wink)

02/01/10 - Armenia, Zona Cafeteria, Colombia
03/01/10 - Salento, Zona Cafeteria, Colombia
04/01/10 - Valle de Cocora, Zona Cafeteria, Colombia

We catch a bus to Armenia in the coffee zone of Colombia. It takes 6 hours. Buses in Colombia rarely leave on time. This one for example had not left according to time, but only when it was physically impossible to squeeze in anymore people. By the time we left the bus station, it had picked up half the population of Bogota, a pig or two and the entire output of a craft village.

Armenia offers little and there is nothing to see there. The main reason to go there is to visit the nearby small town called Salento and hike the forested mountains of Valle de Cocora. Salento is one hour´s drive from Armenia and is a big contrast to the urban decay of that city. It is small and beautiful. Unfortunately it is also packed full of tourists (like us) during the weekends, to the extent that you can barely move in the main square. It is here we get a tour of a coffee plantation from a nice English chap. He explains the ins and outs of growing coffee and the differences between the various variaties of coffee beans. If you taste a coffee bean (like we did) before it is dried, it tastes very sweet and sugary. Bet you didn´t know that. Or care.

The stunning Valle de Cocora is like a lush version of Switzerland, with a broad green valley floor framed by rugged peaks. The hike takes over 7 hours (both ways) which includes a drive up to the mountain base camp in a jeep. If you´re not one of the first ones to get to the jeep (like I wasn´t) you have to stand. Which is fine for 10 minutes. Even 20. But when it´s a whole hour and the driver drives like a, well, a Colombian, then it´s a little difficult!

The astonishing sight of the palma de cera (wax palm) in the cloud forests in which they thrive, make it all worthwhile.

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Hunting for the biggest game of all: Man
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Coffee, had no idea they grew like that. They taste really sweet before they are dried
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Beginning of the trek, all happy an that...
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That's me nearly falling through the bridge. Everyone on the trek thought it was hilarious, you know, me nearly falling through cracking my skull and bleeding to death. Hilarious
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If we're not HERE then we're buggered...
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Hummingbirds: hard to photograph
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Posted by Señor Usuf 05:32 Comments (0)

Bogota

Again

30/12/09 - 01/01/2010 Bogota, Colombia

We spend New Year´s eve and New Year´s Day at Michael´s friend Diana´s house. Diana and her family are very nice and generous to let us stay in their home. We spend most of the time at Diana´s house partying. I am jealous of how good Colombians are at dancing. There´s not much else to add as I don´t remember much of what happened. This aquardiente stuff is bloody strong.

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Diana and her dad, Diana is drunk
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Fuck knows what that is
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Posted by Señor Usuf 05:20 Comments (0)

Cartagena

Sun, sea, beautiful old town and so on

25/12/09 - 30/12/09 Cartagena, Caribbean Coast, Colombia

On Xmas day we travel to Cartagena. Cartagena is probably the most famous city in Colombia outside of Bogota. Founded in 1533, Cartegena suffered many dreadful sieges by pirates, the best known led by Francis Drake. In response, the Spaniards decided to make Cartagena impegnable by building an elaborate wall around the city. Nowadays, Cartegena is a fashionable seaside resort. The weather is hot but not unbearably so (apart from one evening when the electricity went out) as a fresh breeze blows in from the sea making it pleasant to stroll around.

A couple of days later we packed our bags and caught a boat to Playa Blanca, a beautiful stretch of beach on a small island called Islas del Rosario. On the way we met Nicole, a German living in London who is in Colombia for a friend´s wedding.

After reserving a ´room´in a rustic old hut right by the sea we spend the rest of the day fannying about in the sea. I do some snorkelling (the coral begins just off the beach). The beach itself is lined with stalls selling coconuts; restaurants offering fresh sea food; hawkers selling tacky souvenirs and campsites offering camps for the night. It is also frequented by pushy women with a fine line in sales techniques offering massages. "Okay I give you massage later" one said when I indicated I wasn´t interested. "My name is Maria, I give you good price".

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Crimes in Colombia are still punished using primitive methods. Here, this man is guilty of walking on the wrong side of the road
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Posted by Señor Usuf 05:11 Comments (0)

Santa Marta

To the coast

22/12/09 - 24/12/09 Santa Marta, Caribbean Coast, Colombia

From Bucaramnga we take a supposed 8 hour (according to guidebook) bus trip to Santa Marta. In fact it takes 12 hours and leaves us turning up at a stange town at 11 with no hotel and very very tired. Luckily we find a hostel with a room and even more luckily, it is very nice hostel with a pretty courtyard and a swimming pool.

Santa Marta, though, is a massively disappointing place. The beach is dirty, the water almost black. There are very few places to visit. The one museum we go to is rubbish. But for some reason Colombians flock here in droves for their holidays.

I spend a lot of time in the hostel. I spent a whole afternoon going through an old box of books previous travellers had left behind then reading them while lying on a hammock. Most of the books are dreadful, written by authors I´d never heard of and published well before I was born. The only one that held my interest was a slim volume called Cheerleader - The Tryout. It was the first in a series of Cheerleader books to be published once a month, each volume containing the story and developing the characters.

Not that there was much developing to do. The characters we pretty much fleshed out in the first book. There was Kirsty, the beautiful blonde, whose mother had been head cheerleader and saw her daughter´s selection as a birthright. Val, the dark, beautiful new girl, who was intelligent but wanted to get on the team to make friends in her new school, despite her doctor father´s disapproval. And Pip, the happy, chirpy girl who was eveyone´s friend and held the team together despite all the internal bitchiness. I finished it in a couple of hours and ferreted throught he box to see if there were anymore from the seriesw. Unfortunately, The Tryout was the only one.

I began to wonder if Pip got into the team or if Biff, the captain of the football team, asked Kirsty out. When I return home I intend to hunt down the rest of the series on Amazon or whatever.

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I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence but that's a church
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Ha ha funny init
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Oh dear
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Flooding in Santa Marta, happens often appearently but the water clears remarkably quickly after it stops raining

Posted by Señor Usuf 04:06 Comments (0)

Lots of Parties

And not much else

19/12/09 - 22/12/09 Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia

Having reserved the bus ticket the previous day on a luxury bus, our ´bus´turns out to be a mini van (a ´combi´). We were duped into believing it would be a luxury coach with a toilet, air conditioning, tv and possibly a jacuzzi. Instead we get a shitty van with NO toilet, NO air conditioning, NO tv and definitely NO jacuzzi. Scamming people is a national sport in Colombia.

The journey is another test of attrition and even though the scenery along the way is magnificent, the long journeys are starting to take their toll on my physical and mental stability. Where do ants go to school?

And there´s yet another bloody military checkpoint. When a guy jumps on the bus and says something incomprehensible I can´t even be bothered to make up whatever he is saying.

The journey takes over ten hours. When we finally get to Bucaramanga, Milena picks us up from the bus station. There´s nothing to do in Bucaramanga except party. So that´s what we do. We go to a swanky club with Milena and many of her friends who are ALL very good looking and very nice too. Bastards.

We get hammered on aguardiente (literally ´fire water´). Someone keeps buying the stuff and leaving it on our table and by about the 10th shot I don´t even remember what my name is let alone where I am.

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The next day, with a massive hangover, Milena and her friends show us around some nice places in Bucaramnga and some nearby towns and sleepy villages inlcuiding Giron. The cobbled streets, horse carts and the lazy atmosphere of Giron is a world away from the madness of Bucaramanga and yet it is only 9km in distance.

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Would anyone be upset if all mime artists died?
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During our stay in Bucaramanga, we are also invited by Milena´s friends to join the Novena a 30 minute ritual some Colombians perform (and others ridicule) in the eight days leading up to Christmas. It involves some religious reading, some singing and eating some snacks. I enjoy it but do find it a bit weird.

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Posted by Señor Usuf 03:35 Comments (0)

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