If you ever go backpacking in South America, you’ll soon notice that there is a well-trodden (gringo-) trail that most travellers, including us, stay on for the most part of their trip. The only difference is the direction in which you travel, south to, north or vice versa. All the north to south travellers we’d met on our south to north trail had recommended us to take out plenty of time to visit Colombia. Colombians were supposed to be the friendliest people and their joie de vivre and beautiful country were apparently something you had to experience for a while.
It is thus needless to say that we were pretty excited when we finally crossed the border into Colombia to spend our last month of travelling. That the people in Colombia are very welcoming and friendly was proven after about 15 minutes on the bus to our first stop. We started chatting to the girl sitting next to Matt who gave us loads of ‘things to do’-tips, offered to take us out for a guinea pig meal and gave us the number of a family member we could stay with in the coffee region. Not something I, as a cold Belgian, would think of straight away when meeting a tourist on the bus.
After our night in Pasto, which only happened because of our late border crossing, we moved up north slightly to Popayan, a pretty colonial town. Whilst our stay in Popayan was very pleasant, albeit not very eventful, the drive up there was the exact opposite. Colombians, friendly as they may be, aren’t the most cautious drivers. If our driver had decided to go back onto his own lane on those narrow mountain roads two seconds later than he did (on several occasions), I might not have been here writing this blog post. And if you think I’m being dramatic, one of our Colombian fellow passengers went up to tell the driver to slow down. That is saying something.
Anyway, we survived. As you do. After Popayan, where I watched the Belgians win their first World Cup game in a bar filled with old coffee drinking Colombian men, we continued our journey to Cali. Self declared capital of salsa. And we actually danced salsa! In a club filled with locals, who obviously put our white boy and girl attempts at rhythm and sensuality to shame, but I didn’t care one bit, it was amazing! Think ’Dirty Dancing 2, Cali Nights’. I suggested to take up salsa classes after our return and Matt, to my great surprise, seemed inclined to agree. To be continued!
TO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
Our next stop was the coffee region, where we managed to get a bit of a bargain. I found a very nice hotel on Hostelworld that had a deal on, where you could book a double room with breakfast included for 1 dollar per person per night. Too good to be true? That’s exactly what I thought, but we decided to give it a go anyway. When we showed our booking to the receptionist, she didn’t show any sign of surprise. Obviously, being the good travel buddies we are, we passed this information on to someone we’d met in Cali, who checked in the next day. Reunited in luxury! In reality the receptionist was just being professional, a mistake had been made of course. After she told us we felt a bit guilty because we were afraid someone at the hotel would have to pay for our lavish little break of hostel dorms. However, she reassured us there was no reason to feel that way as she said it was the firm that did the marketing for the hotel that had messed up and they were going to pay our bill. When you specialise in marketing for hotels, I guess you really shouldn’t make that mistake. Guilt put aside (although I did write them a raving review).
Apart from being happy about our accommodation we also visited a coffee plantation, where we were taken through every step of the coffee harvesting and drying process, very educational indeed, and went for a walk in the Cocora valley, famous for it’s huge wax palms.
COLOMBIA’S FAMOUS EXPORT PRODUCT
We were confronted with Colombia’s other famous export product during our next stop, Medellin. Former stomping ground of the infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar, even though the city has made an impressive turnaround in the last 10 to 20 years, there still seems to be plenty to go round. As a gringo tourist you get approached several times a day by guys asking if “you want something special”, or just say “coke, weed, I have everything!” as if they are selling vegetables at a market. Don’t worry, when you don’t want anything to do with it, you can just, like my polite English boyfriend, say “no thank you”, and they’ll leave you alone. Or buy one of the packets of chewing gum they are pretending to sell of course. We did meet a lot of people on the way for whom the chemical adventures that are to be found in Colombia seemed like the main reason to be there. We even met a Canadian couple, who were going on a ‘make your own cocaine tour’. Yes that’s a thing apparently. Intrigued? I was too, but not enough to risk having to call my embassy from a Colombian prison cell. A guy from Vice did do it however and you can read about it here. Two guys actually.
We did celebrate Colombia’s World Cup victory over Uruguay in Medellin, which was pretty epic. We got intense hugs from our new Colombian friend and got covered in foam and flower by the crowds, which together resulted in an interesting crust. I already wrote about the football craze in Colombia, so I won’t go into it too much and risk boring you. I know this is a long one by the way, kudos to you if you are still here! Medellin is also the hometown of Botero, so we went to see some of his curvy works of arts.
After Medellin it was time to fly (yes fly! No more long distance busses!) to the Colombian coast where we did some thorough relaxing. We celebrated my birthday in Cartagena, a beautiful colonial city, although we had to regularly flee into air-conditioned rooms to get away from the heat. We might have even pretended we were interested in buying emerald jewellery to get some of that sweet air-conditioning inside the shop… And then it was (finally!) time to hit up the most beautiful beaches on Colombia’s Caribbean coast in Parque Tayrona. Yes it is overpriced, yes it is a hassle to get there, but I think it’s worth it because It. Is. Heaven. We hadn’t really been on any nice beaches during our trip so this was a nice addition to our collection of amazing sights.
When we returned from the Bounty advertisement like beaches of Tayrona we watched Colombia getting kicked out of the World Cup in Santa Marta. A very sad day. So many people in the bar cried, James cried (I cried). The next day we watched the same thing happen to Belgium. Another sad day. It was about time for some more beaches. We took the local bus to Palomino, a small beach town, which seems to be a favourite among backpackers (I suspect mostly because of the presence of a famous hostel). We sipped cocktails, we tried to get rid of our hiking tan. Nothing exciting, but a perfect way to end our holiday. Our last two stops on the trip were Minca, a small town in the Sierra Nevada, where I managed to fall in the most ridiculous way whilst canyoning (sorry there’s no footage) and Bogotà where we couchsurfed for the first and last time on our trip.
So there you have it: the last travel report of ‘Our Big Trip’. I won’t bore you with it anymore now. Goodbye.