Jun 072014
 

I feel like I just broke up with the girl of my dreams.

It’s been 4 full days since I left Colombia and I still can’t stop thinking about her.

I thought maybe the beautiful town of Cusco would be more than enough to distract my attention but I still end up making comparisons.

Colombia really comes close to having it all regardless of what you are into.  Whether it be white sandy Caribbean beaches, charming colonial towns, picturesque countryside and coffee plantations, the Amazon and other inland jungles, deserts or large cities oozing with art, culture and nightlife.  On paper, Colombia should be one of the worlds premier travel destinations.

First impressions... the colonial town of Cartagena

First impressions… the colonial town of Cartagena

Colombia made a hell of a first impression on me after our sailboat docked at the beautiful colonial town of Cartagena. Sure I have seen my fair share of colonial towns in Latin America from San Cristobal (Mexico) to Antigua (Guatemala) to Granada (Nicaragua) however Cartagena has a certain something  that gives it an edge over them all.  I’m not sure if it’s the large skyscrapers nestled together with the historic old town and city walls, the rich history and coralstone forts, or the super-friendly and hospitable locals.

Castillo de San Felipe

Castillo de San Felipe

Castillo de San Felipe

Castillo de San Felipe

I had heard so often from friends I met travelling, telling stories describing the overwhelming friendliness of the Colombian people. Whilst I never doubted it in the slightest, it was difficult to fully comprehend until I was on the receiving end of this genuine warmth and hospitality.

And it didn’t take long for me to get a sample, only 24 hours in fact.  The day after we arrived, myself and 3 friends (from the crew of the SY Mintaka) decided to explore the Old Town. Whilst we knew the rain season had just commenced, we were not really ready for the torrential downpour that was about to unleash on the street with minimal shelter or wet weather gear.

Inside the dwelling of a beautiful Cartagena local waiting for the rain to subside.

Inside the dwelling of a beautiful Cartagena local waiting for the rain to subside.

The 4 of us were standing under what little shelter we could find when a door opened from a nearby house and the most hospitable and friendly gentlemen invited all of us into his residence to wait for the rain to ease.  We were dripping wet and making a mess on his floor but he didn’t seem to mind one bit.  It probably took about an hour for the rain to ease yet he just carried on with his business whilst we sat in his hallway talking to a local elderly lady who had also taken refuge from the rain.

 

The scenes on the street shortly after the rain stopped.

The scenes on the street shortly after the rain stopped.

For me that was one of the warmest and most hospitable welcoming gestures I have experienced in any city visited.  Some might think its overrated but that kind of care from complete strangers rarely happens these days.

As hard as it was to leave Cartagena, my excitement for the next stop on the itinerary could barely be contained.  Medellin was the Colombian city my friends spoke of most highly and I was seriously looking forward to a week of partying Colombian style.

Pueblito Paisa - a reconstruction of a typical Antioquia village located on top of el Cerro Nutibara and has some of the best views over Medellin.

Pueblito Paisa – a reconstruction of a typical Antioquia village located on top of el Cerro Nutibara and has some of the best views over Medellin.

Whilst we had our fair share of parties in Medellin, we probably didn’t get to experience the nightlife scene to the fullest due to national elections taking place on the weekend we were there.  This was the second election campaign I witnessed in Latin America with the former being in Panama a few weeks earlier.  Most Latin American countries enforce a zero alcohol policy during the weekend the elections are held which obviously kills the vibe at most nightclubs.  Fortunately we had the perfect mix of people within our dorm room at the Pitstop Hostel and let loose for a few days there instead.

However, by far the highlight during my week in Medellin was attending the Grand Final between Atletico Nacional and Junior.  If you havent read my blog post you can check it out here

These were the scenes as we got off the train walking into the stadium

These were the scenes as we got off the train walking into the stadium

I also developed a healthy addiction to empanadas in both Cartagena and Medellin. Colombian style empanadas are made by frying corn-based pastry filled with delicious stuffing, which usually consists of a variety of meat, cheese and vegetables.  Whilst most people I came across prefer the Argentinian style empanadas which are baked, I was well and truly addicted to the Colombian variety.

Empanadas!!!!

Empanadas!!!!

Next stop after Medellin was Salento – part of the Eje Cafetera (or Zona Cafetera) region which is home of Colombia’s coffee plantations and nearby Cocora Valley.  I stayed in one of the most picturesque eco-hostels of my world tour to date called La Serrana, it was nestled between the most beautiful valleys surrounded by abundant flora and fauna and the freshest country air.

So relaxing waking up to this view every morning at La Serrana

So relaxing waking up to this view every morning at La Serrana

I visited 2 local fincas (coffee farms) whilst in Salento – the family run (smaller) Don Elias and the larger El Ocaso commercial farm. We literally learned about the coffee-making process from crop to cup and I genuinely loved going out into the plantations and picking some beans – I also had no idea that they were so sweet when picked.

Not sure if I could make a living picking coffee beans but loved the experience nonetheless.

Not sure if I could make a living picking coffee beans but loved the experience nonetheless.

So sweet.

So sweet.

I definitely got my caffeine fix whilst in Salento and bought a few kilo of Colombia’s finest to take home.  Whilst we are spoilt in Melbourne to have access to quality beans, being able to take home my piece of Salento is priceless.

The smell of freshly ground coffee was pure addiction.

The smell of freshly ground coffee was pure addiction.

The other highlight of my Salento visit was taking a half hour 4WD taxi ride to the Cocora Valley for a 4 hour hike.  The valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and is the principal location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), as well as a variety of other flora and fauna.

It was almost surreal seeing the palm trees out in the middle of the valley.

It was almost surreal seeing the palm trees out in the middle of the valley.

soloworldtour_Colombia__Latin_America_May_28__2014-7

Hummingbird Sanctuary

Hummingbird Sanctuary

Following 3 super-chill days Salento, I took the overnight bus to Colombia’s capital – Bogota. Depending on who you talk to the capital can be hit or miss mainly due to personal preference for big cities.  Well it was definitely a hit for me with an impressive street art scene which took me completely by surprise.  More detail in this blog postsoloworldtour_Colombia__Graffiti__Latin_America__Street_Art_May_29__2014-13

I stayed in the hip La Candelaria district where most of the hostels and restaurants are located. I was also fortunate to have some crazy Aussie roommates who turned out to be great wingmen whilst we hit the clubs in Zona Rosa and elsewhere.

Bogotá also boasts a number of world-class art galleries and museums, many of which happen to be free.  One of my favourites was the Museo Botero del Banco de la Republica which has several pieces from one of Colombia’s most famous artists – Fernando Botero as well as many other national and international names.

Botero

Botero

The Bogota locals also sport a solid fashion sense with an abundant supply of local designers producing pieces exclusively for the local market.  I was quite often lost for words when chatting with the stunningly beautiful Colombian ladies.

There are so many parts of Colombia that I am yet to see and a return trip is definitely on the cards in the foreseeable future. Pound for pound Colombia ranks right up there with many of my favourites and will always have a special place in my world tour memoirs.

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