What to do in Popayan, Colombia’s White City?

After dancing the night away on the black-and-white dancefloor of Topa Tolondria in Cali, the next morning was supposed to be an early one for Ale and me. The plan was A. Waking up at 6 o’clock to prepare the bike and B. Ale leaving on the bike direction Popayan, with me following a bit later in a bus headed for the same city. But, as you’ve already read before on this blog, travel plans tend to change quite often. It also didn’t help that the mexican I was travelling with is a master in changing plans last minute, – Not that I have to talk, steadily continuing my journey in the opposite direction of where I originally planned to be – especially when it’s raining when he wakes up and doesn’t feel like getting out of the bed. – My jetlag resulted in me being widely awake by 5 am during the whole length of my trip…often followed by a grumpy Mexican waking up with me. Woops. I read it has something to do with not adapting well to the altitude. – Anyway, the whole decision of continuing to travel together was a very smooth one in the first place. Somehow, we both knew that Popayan and San Augustin where on our to-visit-list, so why not continue together while we’re heading in that direction anyway?

We ended up spending one more day and one more night in rainy Cali, switching our time between the bed, the kitchen, the supermarket and the terrace on the roof that we discovered at one point. I was still winning in ‘Shithead’, our cardgame competition, this to Ale’s big frustration since he taught me the game. Hehe. Slowly we made more plans for the next day, as in trying to wake up at 6 o’clock again – Surely wouldn’t happen, I already knew – and booking a hostel for the first night since Ale figured he would make it to Popayan in one day. I had my doubts, but was hopefull he would be right.

Termales de Coconuco – I think it’s clear what you’re not ought to do…such a pity
Green water, green hills and the delicious smell of sulphur…but very very relaxing

Next day came and Ale left the hostel at 10 o’clock, – right on time -, and I followed 2 hours later, saying goodbye to Erika and heading for the bus station. Bus stations are crowded, dark places where I started to feel at home and as everywhere in Colombia, I found a bus waiting for me and leaving within 5 minutes. Only downside was the driving time, what supposed to be 3 hours became a 5 hour drive along brick villages and without nice views along the road. On top of that, it started to poor outside, so I knew Ale wouldn’t be able to continue to ride, risking the fact that he, his bike and everything inside of his bags would be soaking wet within half an hour. Which made it highly unlikely that he would make it into Popayan by the end of the day…I kept my fingers crossed. Upon arriving in Popayan, the Rain Gods where still angry with me – and the rest of Popayan / Southern Colombia -, so I decided to take a taxi to the hostel we’d picked, which was a bit more secluded than I originally tought. A hostel in the middle of the woods doesn’t sound so appealing anymore when water is gushing out of the sky, your taxi drops you off at a side road in the middle of nowhere and you have to walk 15 minutes uphill to reach the place, which seemed to be deserted when you arrive. Awtch. My doubts grew bigger when I got escorted to my room, which wasn’t the one I’d reserved – When you give me the option of booking a double bed, please give me the double bed. ‘Friends of the owner staying in the only room with the double bed’ is not such a good reason not to give me my reserved room. But hey, I’m in Colombia and I didn’t even know if my cyclist was going to make it to Popayan that evening, so I took the room anyway. -, when I noticed there was only ice-cold water in the shower and when they told me there were no shops or restaurants at walking distance. A bit hangry and half freezing I got the message from Ale that he wouldn’t be able to make it that evening, so my mood obviously wasn’t the best. I decided to look for another hostel in the city to move to first thing in the morning, covered myself with a bunch of blankets and fell asleep.

Mexican exploring the Termales of Coconuco
The relief of stepping into 40°C

My first evening in Popayan wasn’t the happiest, but the next morning the Weather Gods brought me already in a better mood. The sun was shining brightly when I finally decided to leave my bed. To then notice I was locked up inside and couldn’t get out of my room anymore. Bummer. Luckily, they came to look for me anyway since the owner of the hostel wanted to speak to me about the room issues I’d had and, five minutes after throwing my key out of the window, they’d freed me from my little prison. The owner of the hostel was very friendly and understanding, he offered me that I would pay only for one person in a dorm, since I’d got the wrong room and my travel partner clearly didn’t arrive on time. Well said, well done and I finally started to relax again, with a big healthy breakfast in the sun, waiting for a message from a Mexican cyclist. Which came, way later than anticipated, when I was already packed to leave for the other hostel I’d booked the night before. In the old town. Also cheap. With supermarkets and civilisation close by. When Ale’s message came, he was at 3km from the city and we were bound to arrive at the hostel around the same time, since I had about 20 minutes walking ahead of me.

Now. It would have been a good idea to ask if the road was safe to walk on. Which I didn’t. I started walking with this 13-kilo-backpack on my back and all my other earthly belongings in a small backpack on my front, on a route with a lot of heavy traffic – big trucks speeding past – on a road where the only form of civilisation are the Love hotels on the sides – Love hotels in Latin America are a necessity. Lots of young people live with their parents as long as they’re not married, the only way to have a bit of ‘alone time’ with boy- / girlfriends is in a Love hotel. It’s quite common to see them, mostly a little bit outside of the city. – and slowly heading upon a hill, once past the Love hotels there was no house or building in sight. While I was walking further and further along this road, I started to think. It was actually quite perfect to rob an innocent looking, white girl in a red dress – definitely didn’t think about appropriate clothing – walking with all her belongings along the road, with no houses or witnesses in sight. Hmm. Thinking this made me walk faster. Seeing this gap in the bushes, with a pile of trash and a crazy looking guy throwing trash in the air sitting on top of it, made me walk even faster. Anyone who could manage a sprint, would reach me within seconds, since running with 13 kilo on my back is not something that I do quite often. What did comfort me a little bit, was the traffic passing by, the road was definitely not empty. After 20 not-so-comfortable minutes I reached the roads of the old town and was at two streets from my hostel. When arriving, I noticed I was still the first to arrive – no sight of Ale – and the receptionist started to explain the map of Popayan to me, where we were and what to do, but also: where not to go. As in: you could go everywhere, except for this one road up the hill, known to be a place where a lot of robberies take place. Yes, you can already guess, the road where I’d just walked a couple of minutes ago. – Which I didn’t mention ofcourse. You have stupidness and extreme stupidness, and somewhere in the middle am I, when I forget to ask about the route – After that realization and relief that nothing bad had happened – I even had some good views upon the city when walking -, I started to unpack my stuff in the room, waiting for the Mexican to arrive.

Which he did, 5 minutes later, exhausted, sweaty and very happy to have arrived. After installing the bike inside – Yup, you don’t want your major way of transportation and reason why you’re travelling be stolen by leaving it on the street – we went for a quick round through the city, looking for something to eat, before Ale wanted to go back to the hostel and take a nap. Hmmm. Now, it was around 4 pm already, so we weren’t up for much exploring anymore, but I was quite awake…after reading a bit, going around the hostel twice and reading all the info about what to do, I joined Ale in the bed and promptly fell asleep. Day number two in Popayan was spend walking, eating and sleeping…only to wake up together with Ale – Correction: to wake up and shake Ale awake that it’s already 11 pm and his nap took quite a while…I needed a bit of attention after two days alone, I guess – and fall asleep again for the rest of the night.

I loved these three little ladies chatting the afternoon away…in the rain
Yup, we enjoyed the Termales too…

RELAX IN THE TERMALES DE COCONUCO

In the morning, we decided what to do for the rest of the day and since Ale was still a bit tired of his two days on a bike, we opted to go to the Termales in Coconuco, which was a nice day trip from Popayan. To go to the Termales, you head to the main bus station, ask for Coconuco and the bus takes you straight to Coconuco and takes about an hour. Easy as can be. Once there, you’re dropped at the main road in the middle of the village, where you can grab a 4×4 up to the Termales, they’re all waiting at the same corner where the bus dropped you off. Which we only did after taking our lunch at one of the panaderia’s at the side of the road that happened to be selling chicken as well. So I ate some plain chicken and Ale had the luck to be travelling with this Belgian girl that doesn’t like normal potatoes, so he had chicken AND all the potatoes. The dog begging at our table got the bones. Everybody happy, no? – I think I like these places the most, random little shops or restaurants that aren’t too fancy, aren’t thinking too much about the design, a part of the normal village life in Colombia. – Bellies full and ready to relax in some stinky sulphur baths, we took the jeep up the hill to the Termales, where we arrived right on time for the rain, a little drizzle, to start. – After Cali, we still didn’t have much luck with the rain apparently – We couldn’t care less, since we were about to get wet anyway.

How relaxing Termales can be. I love taking long, hot baths – preferably when reading a book – and enjoy just staying in the water, feeling the smoothness of the water on my skin, which is perfect when visiting hot springs. These ones in Coconuco come with the smell of sulphur and there are several baths with different temperatures. And some cold showers to cool down again afterwards… maybe to wash a bit of the smell away. Of course, once inside the water you don’t realize it, only afterwards when sitting on a bus you’ll start to smell yourself. Pretty badly. Anyhow, we really enjoyed ourselves. Even though the Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal where much prettier, spending time with Ale and his neverending chatter makes up for that.

Once back in Popayan, we visited the Exito – Colombian supermarket in Colombian colours – next to the station in order to buy some supplies for the evening’s diner. Packed with two bags each we headed for station again in the hope to hop quickly into a taxi and head to our hostel. – We could still smell ourselves and it was about time to take a shower – What we didn’t count on, was the drizzle of the afternoon growing into a heavy rain shower, leaving us no choice but to stand and wait next to the two thousand others that happend to arrive in the station and needed transportation home. Ale luckily is a bit flexible in finding transport – living in D.F. you have to, I guess – and negotiated an ‘illegal’ taxi to our hostel. ‘Illegal’ as in a normal guy trying to earn some money by transporting backpackers, or other visitors like us that don’t want to walk in the rain, in his own car. The guy delivered us nicely in front of the hostel’s door, we happy that we could leave the station that quick, ready to finally get rid of our smelly clothes. After a much needed shower together and a delicious home cooked meal – by Ale, with assistance and cleaning of this Belgian girl – we were ready to end the day and go to sleep.

Sunshine after the rain in the centre of Popayan
Meeting point of the Free Walking Tour
Lots of churches in the white city

TAKE A FREE WALKING TOUR

I’d spent two days in Popayan and I hadn’t even seen the city yet, about time to change that. The day started as usual since we visited Cali, with rain. Having to move to another hostel – They didn’t have a private room available and we were still travelling as a couple, so we booked another hostel two streets down – we started packing and ate the rest of our diner of the day before, as breakfast. People were looking a bit strange, when they saw us devour our plates of pasta, but it was too good not to eat it. We were on a budget anyway.

Then, all of a sudden, a miracle happened: the rain clouds started to go away and a sun appeared, shining down on the white streets of Popayan. Right in time for us to walk to the city square and join the Free Walking tour. Well. It took me some time to persuade Ale, since he’s not the guy that usually takes a tour everywhere he goes. On the opposite, most of his time is spent in nature or villages no tourist ever visited. Going with me on a tour in a city was a big step. Luckily, I could convince him and we had the Weather Gods in our favour, he had no choice but to join me. I’d read a ton of good things about this particular Walking Tour and I was glad we took it as well, since I got to know a bunch of historical information and end up drinking one of the best juices I’d ever tasted.

Is this a Hitchock movie, but with pidgeons?
The rain stopped right on time for our tour to begin…
Pretty colonial buildings

During the tour you visit mainly downtown, with its beautiful Colonial buildings, all painted white. We started at the main square at 10 o’clock, making our way around the square while listening to our guide, telling us about the history of the city, why it’s painted white and not in a thousand different colours like other Colombian cities and how the city got partially destroyed during the eartquake of 1983. Following the group into a gorgeous Colonial mansion, we discovered the importance of Semana Santa in Popayan and how a lot of time is dedicated to the processions in the city during the Holy Week. Ale felt a bit uncomfortable as the only latino in the group – Soy lo unico güero aqui! – and compensated that by hanging around my neck and not losing my hand for one second. Which I didn’t mind of course. And he didn’t regret taking the tour either in the end. The best part of the tour was when we got to the part that connects the old town with the north of the city, a bridge called ‘Puente del Humilladero’ in a nice and quiet square, filled with stalls selling books. – A place that sells books is always heaven for me. – Not the square or the books where the highlight, but a little bistro called ‘Mora Castillo’, known for its typically Caucan dishes. We sat down with the group and I enjoyed a drink called ‘Salpicon’, made with chopped ice, raspberries, pieces of Guanabana and some other fruits. Ale discovered his favorite drink of his whole trip over there – You see Mexa, sometimes doing things with other güeros is not such a bad thing – and ate some Tamales de Pipian, a local delicacy.

More pretty buildings
And a church. But you get the feel of Popayan, no?

After the tour we still had some things left to do: change hostel, wash our stinky clothes – yep, sulphur smell and sweat-from-biking-two-days – and Ale was in desperate need for some cash, so we had to find an ATM. The hostel change and the money issue was solved quite quickly, the laundry issue was a bit more difficult to solve…we couldn’t find any lavanderia in the city centre and our hostel didn’t have a dryer. Washing the clothes would be possible, but there was a big chance they wouldn’t be drying easily and we were planning to leave for San Augustin the next day.. So we spended the next hour walking around the beautiful city centre looking for a laundry shop and, when the clouds came back, at the Juan Valdez – Colombian Starbucks -, hiding for the rain. Again. Seeing our chance the get back to the hostel between the rain showers, we continued the afternoon eating chips and playing ‘Shithead’ – yep, still winning – on the bed. It was also the first time Ale played his guitar for me – he’s crazy enough to cycle with a guitar on his back, planning to reach Ushuaia this way – and even though he still needs to work on his singing, I really enjoyed the private concert. While our original plan was getting back on the road again and head to San Augustin the next day, Ale told me he wanted to stay one more day and we celebrated our one night extra in one of the restaurants near the hostel, once the rain had stopped. We passed something that looked like a Mexican restaurant combined with a pizzeria that didn’t look too expensive, so we enjoyed a not-so-Mexican pizza before heading to bed. Bed normally means watching some Netflix before falling asleep, with me sleeping and Ale watching Netflix. Only this time my eyes opened right in time to see the Mexican drop his tablet on his head, falling asleep himself while watching Netflix. The good girl that I am, I just started laughing immediately, before kissing the pain away. – Don’t worry, he dropped his tablet also on my head when watching. I know how it feels. – No Netflix for the rest of the night anymore.

Sleepy Mexican needed a cup of coffee to get out of the comfy hammock.
Guess who brought him that coffee then…

CLIMB EL MORRO DE TULCAN

As usual, I woke Ale up way too early, but after the past rainy days, I was very happy to see some sun and couldn’t wait to go outside. And we really needed to get our laundry done that same day. So we left after breakfast and spend the next two hours walking around the city, looking for a lavanderia with a dryer. Luckily, after asking a dozen of people, trying to find something on maps.me that looked like a place doing laundry, we eventually found one, about 200m from the bus station. Even more lucky, they would be able to wash and dry it by the next morning, so no more sulphur or sweat stench coming out of our bags when we would leave for the next stop.

After having told me plenty of times before that he would like to climb up the Morro, Ale and me decided that our last day would be the day that we would climb the hill overlooking whole Popayan. It seemed like a fun thing to do since we A. both like hikes B. both like nice views and C. didn’t know what else to do anymore, Popayan isn’t THAT big anyway. El Morro de Tulcan is actually a pyramid dating from the pre-Columbian period and at the same time an ancient burial place of the tribes living in the city all those centuries ago. The Spanish discovered it empty and now it’s known as a nice place to chill and have a look over the whole city. A lot of people come here to hang out, maybe have a first date or smoke a porro. It’s a good place to relax and enjoy and have a picknick. We, of course, didn’t think about a picknick, but I do remember we relaxed a bit by the statue – of a Spanish conquistador on a horse, of course. What else do you put on top of an ancient archeological burial place of the native inhabitants? – and enjoyed sitting in the sun for a change.

On top of the hill.
Nicest views of Popayan

After our two hour long walk and a little climb up and down the Morro de Tulcan, we were starving. Of course, what better than a menu del dia in a local restaurant? Since we ran out of other things to do after lunch, we ended up walking along the book stands at the Puente del Humilladero and visiting ‘Mora Castillo’ again, this time with a Lulada – refreshing drink made from Lulo fruit, it’s also delicious and Ale’s favorite – for Ale and another salpicon for me. After sipping Colombia’s best drinks, our food tour wasn’t over yet. Apparently, on Tuesdays the heladeria selling yoghurt ice had a two-for-one deal that day, so we both enjoyed a huge bucket of yoghurt ice burried beneath plenty of unhealthy toppings. Not being hungry at all anymore but still thinking about food, we went to the supermarket to buy provisions for the next day. Forward thinking, they call it.

I really need to start bringing a blowdryer in my backpack…just for the five seconds it takes to dry my fringe.
But he, I can still smile!

Only end the day in the hostel, ready to pack our bags a little bit in advance – as in not at all actually, like usual – and to go to bed together, ready for a new day of travelling by bus – me – or cycling through the mountains to the next point. – Ale

More about my adventures at the side of a Mexican cyclist and ready for ‘A visit with funny faces to the National Park in San Augustin and how (not) to find the Cascada el Cinco‘ in my next blogpost!

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in Popayan, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Cali – Popayan: one way – 15.000 COP / 4,25€

Taxi Popayan bus station – hostel Colina Arcoiris: 9.900 COP / 2,81€

Bus to and from Coconuco: 10.000 COP / 2,83€

Jeep to entrance Termales and back: 6000 COP / 1,70€

Accommodation

1 night in Colina Arcoiris, Popayan: private room – 30.000 COP per night / 8,49€ per night, got a discount because they gave me the wrong room and Ale didn’t show up (breakfast included)

2 nights in Hostel Caracol, Popayan: private room – 55.000 COP per night / 15,57€ per night for two people

2 nights in Artehostel, Popayan: private room – 50.000 COP per night / 14,18€ per night for two people (coffee included)

Activities

Entrance fee Termales Coconuco: 10.000 COP / 2,83€

Free Walking Tour tip: 5.000 COP / 1,42€

Food

Menu del Dia in several restaurants: lunch menu at several restaurants, with a drink, soup and main dish – 4.500 – 7.200 COP / 1,28€ – 2,04€

Pizza in the not-so-Mexican restaurant: 9.000 COP / 2,56€

Salpicon in Mora Castillo: 5.000 COP / 1,42€

Two for one Yoghurt Ice Bucket with too many unhealthy toppings: 5.000 COP / 1,42€ – so basically each 2.500 COP

A visit with funny faces to the Archeological National Park in San Augustin and how (not) to find the Cascada el Cinco

After some days in the White Colonial city of Popayan, it was time for us to move on, direction San Augustin, where we wanted to visit the famous National Park. – The one with all the statues. I’ll explain later in this blogpost, don’t worry – But first, I had to wake up a grumpy Mexican – The only thing he disliked about me (as he says) was how I woke up too early. And since he was sleeping with me in his arms, how I woke him up too early. – and we had to get ready to head to the bus station, after picking up our laundry. Luckily, as you might remember, Ale is also an excellent cook and I had to chance to enjoy some quesadillas for breakfast AND he made me some for lunch too. Having a packed lunch for a change made me look forward a little bit to the bus ride I had ahead of me. Only a little bit.

And the bus broke down…watching how other people work while eating quesadilla’s.
Enjoying the sunset when waiting for the driver to fix the bus.

After saying goodbye to our hostel we headed towards the bus station, where I would figure out which bus to take while Ale cycled to the laundry store to pick up our clothes. Knowing South America a little bit, I knew I didn’t need to buy the ticket for the bus going in 30 minutes, instead I went for the one 1,5 hours later, calculating that Ale wouldn’t be arriving back so soon. Proved to be right, since half an hour passed and I hadn’t seen a sign of him. I did meet a nice police officer who asked me about my trip, decided to have a little chat with me while I was waiting and who bought me some sweet pastries before he went back to work. Right on time to have Ale arriving – the laundry wasn’t ready yet when he went to pick it up -, bike already in order and with my clothes clean, dry and ready to pack. Only a short stop to kiss me goodbye again, off to San Augustin, where he hoped to arrive the next day. – Hehe. This is the funny part. I always knew he was overestimating himself, I just needed to wait for the message he wouldn’t be in that evening and change my plans – So I waited for the bus, which left an hour later than expected and settled down for what would be the rest of my afternoon, watching the landscape pass by. Only to try and shout ‘Alleeeeee’ out of the bus window when I saw my Mexican two hours later, cycling very slowly up hill. – First time I was awake to see him cycling during the trip – Little did he know – or me – that the heaviest part was yet to come: more than 30 kilometers through the Puracé National Park, with literally nothing. No restaurants, no stops, not even space to park a car on the side of the road. The only thing you’d see was a road filled with potholes, heavy trucks speeding by and thick forest on both sides of the road. Ale wouldn’t ever be able to sleep or put up his tent during this part, there was literally nothing. NOTHING. Quite close to the middle of nowhere. Even closer when our bus driver suddenly stopped the bus, went to check the tires and took off without saying anything. Since he started driving again, I didn’t worry, only when we arrived back into the land of the living after crossing the Puracé Park borders, we stopped for real to get our tire replaced. I watched while eating my last quesadilla. At least I got some time to stretch my legs. The sun started to set and with a couple of hours delay I got dropped off at the side of the road, together with two German girls who also were headed to San Augustin. There we had a jeep waiting for us to drive us the last part up the hill into the city, chatting with the driver who wanted to know who we were and what our plans where. When hearing the story about my Mexican cyclist, he needed to tell me that there are two wild lions living in the National Park, after they managed to escape a travelling circus. Never to be found again, probably roaming in the woods of the Park. Being more scared of Ale being hit by the huge trucks passing by than being eaten by wild lions, I still wisely decided not to send him a message with the news. He probably didn’t have wifi anyway.

After a long day in a shaky bus and the last kilometers in jeep, I finally arrived in my hostel, where I had this double room all for myself. I discovered the hostel a bit, met some people, chatted and played ‘Shithead’ – needed to show off my skills, duh – and went to bed alone.

Streets of San Augustin.
First walk around the city.
Space to park your horse.

WALKING AROUND SAN AUGUSTIN

Waking up with free coffee in the hostel and a long chat over breakfast with Julia and Mitchell, a couple from the US travelling all around Central and South America. I particularly remember them because they were extremely excited to hear my story – apparently two people travelling together with two different ways of transportation is not quite common – and I continued to follow them on social media for the rest of their trip, returning to their favorite country Mexico and all the way home. Anyway, I spend a big part of the morning chatting with them and with Anna, a girl from Russia who decided to explore San Augustin with me. San Augustin is not such a big city, smack in the middle of the mountains and surrounded by plenty of walks, hikes, waterfalls and of course the famous Archeological National Park. Cobblestones dot the streets, a square next to the church and a range of shops is all there is to see in the city centre. An average South American city I would say, but because of all the things to do in the area, you do have quite some hostels here and the city has an overall nice vibe. It doesn’t feel dangerous, not even at night, there isn’t too much traffic, it’s actually quite perfect to relax a couple of days. Which I did the first day. Since Ale and me were planning to visit the Park together, I used the first day to figure out everything we could do: how to get to the park, what are the other things to do in the area, where’s the supermarket – I bought some milk and cookies for Ale, since he would be starving when he arrives and he adores milk and cookies apparently – , where do they sell the best batidas de guanabana… I managed all that and still had some time left to write in my journal, relax and discover that Danna and Brecht stayed also in San Augustin… so I paid them a visit in their hostel, catching up on travel stories while waiting for my Mexican to arrive…

Magnificent view from the rooftop of our hostel.

Who did arrive the second day. As he told me. To my big surprise, I was already getting worried not having heared from him around 6 pm – the time he sends me a message to see if he would be making it or not – and it was already dark, so he wouldn’t be able to cycle anymore… Being a bit stressy about it, I left Danna and Brecht and returned to my hostel’s wifi, just in time to read he arrived in the city and was finding his way to the hostel. I ran outside, eagerly waiting for Ale to arrive, and when he rounded the corner he just looked exhausted. Sweaty. And very happy. We installed the bike in the hostel and headed outside to the pizza place three doors down, were we ordered take away pizza to eat on the hostel’s rooftop terrace. Very fancy indeed. That’s also where he told me he wouldn’t have made it at all that day, having just arrived at the Puracé National Park at 4 pm, he realized he had this whole way ahead of him without any place to stop, eat or sleep. He stopped a local bus passing by, where the busdriver confirmed his suspicions and, because it was that late in the day already, he never would’ve made it out of the park that same day. Spending a night on the side of the road would’ve been suicide, so he took the only option he had, buying a busticket and getting his bike on – lucky as he was – one of the last buses of the day passing through the park. Dropping him off just outside of town, so he still needed to cycle uphill, in the dark. I was relieved to see him, since I had been travelling on that road and I was worried about him passing the 30 km in Puracé, with all those monsterous trucks speeding by. But, he was there, I was there, we had milk, cookies, pizza and a plan for the next day. Even though he had to pay for the bus, we both were very happy to see each other safe and sound again.

Not a bad place to get buried, I guess.
I would also like a tomb like this. Any volunteers to carve something for me?
More tombs, protected against the sun.
The one of the left is the creepiest ever. Doing a good job protecting is tomb I suppose?
More open spaces, more burial sites.
This little fellow was my favorite.

VISITING ‘EL PARQUE ARQUELOGICO NACIONAL DE SAN AUGUSTIN E ISNOS’

Our plan for the next day was quite obvious and the reason why everybody visits San Augustin in the first place: the Archeological National Park. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is a part of one of the biggest concentrations of megalithic pre-Columbian burial sites, funerary monuments, burial mounds and religious monuments in South America. It was deserted in the 14th century and discovered again in the 18th – 19th century. The most interesting part for Ale and me was of course the National Park, were a third of the known San Augustin statues is placed. There are plenty of other places around San Augustin and especially in neighbouring Isnos where you can find other ‘megalithic funerary monuments’, but the park is the easiest to reach from San Augustin.

Like a real tourist.
Like two real tourists.
Show me what you’ve got.
Almost, almost…

So, after a nice night of sleep and cuddles, we woke up, took a shower and decided to dress up with hiking boots and shorts – well, shorts for me – to walk all the way to the National Park. On our way we had a little pit stop in a local restaurant were we ate a cheap breakfast containing rice, chicken and platanos. With coffee. Yes, it wasn’t the first time this would be my morning food because we were cheap asses that couldn’t afford a European breakfast – Ale wouldn’t even have wanted to eat a sweet breakfast I suppose…I was still travelling with a Mexican, remember? – and actually I do kind of like chicken and rice. Easy as it was, we took the one street leading out of San Augustin in the direction of the National Park, which should’ve been a nice, 30 minute walk if Ale didn’t decide to do something a little bit illegal and got caught by the police. Ha. Let’s say it wasn’t something very serious, but he ended up giving them all the money in his wallet in order not to go to the police station with them. After this short intermezzo, we continued our way to the National Park where I of course ended up paying for the two of us.

One happy statue and one happy Mexican.
Monkey business.
The views were not that bad either.
Little Mr. Frog.
The Colombian countryside is just stunning.

When you visit the Park, it’s advisable to visit the museum first before you go further to check out the different mounds and burial sites. Not because they know that much about the civilisation that made the statues and the sites, but rather because you’ll get an idea of what you will see, how to recognize the animals they used as inspiration for their statues and just to get an overall feel of what you’re about to see. You’ll get a little passport at the entrance of the park, with an overview of all the different sites you can visit and a small map of the park. Every time you pass one of the checkpoints you get a nice stamp in your Park-passport, which was kind of a bonus to head out and explore as much as you can. After the museum, it was about time to head to the park. With the sun coming out after the past rainy days in Popayan, it was the ideal day to have a walk outdoors. We kept the best for last and decided to head to the higher trails first, walking past different mounds and through the forrest, up some stairs and eventually all the way up a long staircase, until we reached the most magnificent view of the park. We were at the feet of the Andes and the landscape absolutely stunning, surrounding us with green hills and mountains. Those pre-Columbian civilisations really knew which spot to pick to get buried. We decided to rest a bit there, sheltering in the shadow against the heath of the sun. I don’t know if our game already started there, but I noticed that some of the faces where kind of naughty. Angry. Scary. Or just plain funny. So I challenged Ale to do his best to be as pretty on the pictures as those ancient statues. Always in for a challenge, Ale definitely did his everything he could to excel in the funny-faces competition, as you can see for yourself. After the highest point, we left to the spot that’s for me the most iconic of the park: El Bosque de las Estatuas. Far away from the sun, as in a magical little world of their own, many of the statues they’ve found got their ‘final resting place’. Plenty of funny faces and pretty pictures opportunities, where I took the best Polariod picture ever – accidently, of my own double chin – while saying ‘Ow, fuck’. Well, I made a better one later on. Without double chin this time.

Stairs to the upper part of the Park. Still wondering how they got all the stones up…
Statues with a view.
Still life. Mexican in San Augustin.
Hello there.
Checking his new passport…
The views stay amazing.

Since the sky was getting cloudy and it seemed that it might be raining anytime soon, we decided to leave the park after 3 or 4 hours discovering it, ready to have lunch and a nice rest. We ate in the same spot as where we had breakfast – menu del dia, of course – and headed to the supermarket already thinking about our homemade diner. Made by Ale, I’m only the dishwasher on this trip. After lunch, supermarket and diner we met up with Danna and Brecht again, with a first time for the Mexican to meet another Belgian on this trip. – I met them in Cali and Salento, he’d never seen them before, besides a short ‘hello’ to Danna during the salsa night in Cali – We spent the evening chatting and drinking beers / juice – wine became too expensive and I don’t like beer, so no more alcohol for me – in Danna & Brecht’s hostel. Quite funny of all places you can choose, I met the same couple three times during the same trip in Colombia, a huge country, without even planning to head in that direction. But as always, it is nice to meet new friends and I definitely hope seeing them again, in Belgium or elsewhere. Anyway, after a day full of explorations, climbing and walking around, we were both exhausted and headed to our own bed.

I really like this one in the Bosque the Las Statuas. Seems like the big Chief.
Pretty one.
Another monkey.
Two monkeys over here.
That’s more like it.
A kiss to end the visit.

HOW (NOT) TO FIND CASCADA EL CINCO

The next morning we woke up, ready for our final day in San Augustin. We already discussed the future of our trip together at that point, while initially I would continue to the Desierto de la Tatacoa alone, parting with Ale, and start travelling to the north again. Ale himself also felt like visiting the desert, since he had had to make a decision at the beginning of his trip: see the Cocora Valley and Salento and to continue to Cali or travel down to the Desierto, heading to Mocoa. Now he could do both. At the other side, I didn’t feel like having a hasty goodbye in the middle of the road of one of the bus stations, while we each split up our ways to next destinations. It didn’t felt good. I didn’t want it. So I adapted myself again and since I started without any fixed plans anyway, I let the road and my company decide for me. The plan ended up being: going to the desert together, returning to San Augustin to pick up our stuff – we would go on a bus together, the Mexican abandoning his bike for just three days – and continuing together: Ale ready for the 4-day journey to Mocoa, me on a bus direction Tierradentro and heading to Mocoa afterwards, with the intention to arrive the same day as him. After all that, going to Pasto together as a last Colombian stop, hopefully to celebrate Ale’s birthday there. Big decisions and big plans, but we were looking forward to it.

First, the same day, we wanted to visit one of the plenty of waterfalls in the region, preferably one were we could have a swim. Eliminating the ones were we needed hours on public transport – or a taxi drive – for, we opted for the Cinco waterfall, in our hostel described as a ‘waterfall were you can also swim, 45 minutes walk from the main Archeological Park’. Ideal. As we thought. This day is known as the day we discovered you ‘don’t just go and swim in a waterfall in Colombia’. This day we realized a bit of research and a guide come in handy. Well. We went our way and stopped at the breakfast place of the day before and, as usual, ate our chicken and rice before stopping one of the buses on the road to bring us to the National Park. Once there, we asked the bus driver if the direction was correct – ‘A little bit before the main entrance you will see a road that goes left. Take this road and continue straight’ – and started our walk to the waterfalls. The sun was out, it was getting hot, I had my bikini on and we were both excited of a day relaxing in nature. The surroundings were amazing and during our walk we had some nice views over the valley. Until we came to the split in the road. According to the instructions ‘When the road splits, always keep to your right until you see a sign that says Cascada‘, so we had to go right. Which we did, after asking some of the people living there, but the road ended somehow in the garden of somebody. A bit confused, we found a path going down, leading up to a river. We went to the river, but didn’t have any clue if we needed to follow, so back up to ask. One of the men living there decided to take as down, and gave us some vague instructions about crossing the river. Hmpf. That’s where it became a bit difficult. Vague instructions, no ‘cascada’ sign, and somewhere down at the river in the middle of nowhere. The old man muttered something about crossing the river, and we could hear faraway sounds of water falling down, but no sight of where this Cinco waterfall could be. Crossing a concrete beam, as a little bridge over the river, we went to the other side and decided to go up the mountain, to check if we could see something. We ended up at a farm with a lady telling us it was completely the opposite way, we had to return our steps. A bit sweaty and demotivated, we headed back down. Only to be chased by two of the lady’s dogs, barking and running after us after we left the property. In the beginning everything was okay, but they came close very fast and Ale prepared some stones and branches in case they would attack. He also let me go first – or rather, I was so scared a almost sprinted down the mountain -, keeping the dogs at a distance with his stick. I crossed the concrete beam again and was relieved to see Ale alive and well, without a dog having eaten a chunk out of his sexy pompis. He crossed and the dogs stayed at the other side. Which left us with nothing more than trying to ‘take the small trail that goes along the river until you reach the waterfall‘. We tried again, another side, until bushes closed in around us and we were somewhere on a field filled with banana trees. Bummer. Needless to say that after 3 hours of walking, searching and getting chased by dogs we decided to give up and head back to San Augustin.

We were also quite hungry at that point. The little handwritten signs at the houses selling homemade helado were too tempting for us and we decided to dig in, as a little treat after not finding the waterfall. Oh boy. They only had maracuya flavor – passionfruit – and with the 300 COP it cost, it was the cheapest and most delicious ice cream I have ever eaten in my life. Seriously. We regretted immediately that we didn’t take two. So we indulged on some yoghurt instead, buying it off one of the sellers speeding by on his motorbike. After all, the long sweaty walk was worth it, for the views, the adventure and the best ice cream in the whole world.

Ready for the Desierto de la Tatacoa. Rawr!

Once back at the Park, we took the bus to the centre, headed to the supermarket and bought some provisions for our days in the desert. And we had another ice cream. Because we could. We ended our day playing ‘Shithead’ – somehow, Ale started winning again -, cooking – the Mexican – and eating – me – a delicious pasta with a salad and we already packed our bags BEFORE leaving the next day. Improvements from the Mexican’s side. Well, he had to wake up early to catch the bus anyway…more about our trip to the desert in a next blogpost: ‘How to spend two days in the Desierto de la Tatacoa’!

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in San Augustin, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Popayan – San Augustin: one way – 34.000 COP / 9,64€

Bus to and from National Park: 2.400 COP / 0,69€

Accommodation

4 nights in Hostel Bambu, San Augustin: private room – 45.000 COP per night / 12,76€ per night – nice social hostel close to the city centre

Activities

Entrance fee Archeological National Park of San Augustin: 17.500 COP / 4,97€

Food

Breakfast chicken and rice: 7.000 COP / 1,99€

Take Away Pizza in El Faro, next to Hostel Bambu: 14.000 COP / 3,97€

Best Ice Cream in the world, bought in a house along the road to the too hidden waterfall El Cinco: 300 COP / 0,09€ – still sad I didn’t buy two

Pereira & Cali – How travel plans change and I ended up dancing Salsa in Cali with a Mexican.

Yup, still in Pereira here. Remember, I met this crazy Mexican cyclist – I say crazy because everybody tells me that he’s crazy for wanting to cross South America on a bike – and we hit it off instantly, spending a day at the Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal together.

After a day floating around in +20° water, surrounded by waterfalls and being shaken in the back of a pick up truck, we took the bus back to Pereira. Once there, the light started to fade away after the sun set and we left the hostel in search for our new home, the next two nights in the centre of the city. Me on foot with my bag firmly strapped on the back and Ale walking next to his bike with all his belongings on top of it. While our former hostel was quite close to the bus station and in a residential area, the new one was smacked right in the middle of the city centre, buzzing with traffic, lights and people looking for a nice night out. And two backpackers, a bit tired of walking twenty minutes up the hill in a darkish part of the city. – I don’t think I would’ve liked to cross that part alone. A big street filled with graffiti, dark, not many people and even less you’d want to talk to after dark. – Finally reaching our destination and…no hostel in sight. Whut? We were walking to the left and the right, passing where the address should be and still no sign of a hostel. Until the neighbour on the first floor of the opposite building kindly points at the tiny sign dangling above our heads. Fieuw. Apparently, the hostel is on the upper floors. Which means dragging a 60 kilos bike – with bags, of course less heavy without – two stairs up to the reception area, a job I left for the guys.

Nightlife in Cali – one artist working with everything he could find, open garage door and very friendly to answer all our questions

PEREIRA CITY LIFE

Once the bike safely reached the reception area, it was time for us to relax, grab something to eat and enjoy the city life. Haha. I think I had a jetlag during my whole 3 months in Colombia and Ecuador, since I was dead tired every day by 8. Well, I did manage to survive long enough to shower, get to know every corner of our – yeey, private! – room with Ale and go grab a pizza for dinner. Yes, we both like pizza with pineapple on top of it. Yes, every pizza we ate together had pineapple on top of it. You can hate me for it later if you want to. Next day was spent in the city centre, – which I already wrote about, I won’t do it again – avoiding people who wanted to a. Sell us love potions and b. where asking for our blood – to donate, of course – while we we’re sitting and chatting at the Plaza de Bolivar, looking at the same Bolivar naked on a horse. Later on we spent some time getting know each other better while sharing an ice-cream in a cheesy 80’s style heladeria, even though it felt like I’d known him already for years in stead of days. Just enjoying time with each other. So much that we both agreed visiting Cali together would be a good idea. – bye bye plans for Medellin, hello salsa in Cali!

Cali, as seen from San Antonio. Obviously by daylight.

The biggest discovery of the day for me still needed to come at that point. Both backpackers on a budget – even though his was a tiny huge little bit smaller than mine – we decided to cook a pasta in the evening and hopped into the supermarket to buy everything we needed. What I didn’t know then, is that I would start to love these moments a lot: him telling me what we need and me looking for the cheapest – jup, we were on a budget… – and tastiest options in the supermarket. Always buying papitas, since we discovered we both have a small addiction to potato chips. Woops. When I wanted to start cooking later on, Ale managed to wriggle the knife out of my hands before I started killing the onions in a very rough, painfull way. Surprise: apparently, I had managed to find myself a professional cook. One that can make everything he touches taste like it came straight out of heaven. Lucky me. Sadly, from then on, I was degraded to dishwasher and vegetable cleaner. Worse things can happen in life, I guess. After stuffing ourselves with a delicious bolognese pasta, we started making plans for the next day and the next destination: Cali.

Here comes the odd part: travelling together, but with a different type of transport. Mine obviously faster than his, but also more expensive. The plan was me going to Cali by bus and sleep one night in a hostel reserved in advance, while he would arrive a day later, by bike, at the same hostel. Well said, well done and the next morning we took off together from the hostel to the crossroads where our ways would separate: he back on the road on his bike and me the opposite way, ready to walk 40 minutes uphill with my backpack strapped on my back. – Not that I knew about the uphill part at this point – When we kissed goodbye, I surely hoped we would see each other again. Yes, we had this connection and just spend three days of pure bliss together in Pereira, but you never know. Things might happen. I hoped not to be disappointed the next day.

First day in the hostel – unexpected birthday drink and chocolate cake

ARRIVING IN CALI

Since we were heading in the same direction, I thought I would see him pedaling forward along the side of the road once I left Pereira by bus. Not counting on the fact I fall asleep within 3 seconds once I’m on a bus. – They call it driving, but most of the times it’s just being shaken around. I don’t mind, it has something soothing and makes me fall asleep in no time. – Sleeping Anke and no sign of Ale, but when I woke up, I did see a lot of palm trees and plain, straight roads with the odd cyclist or a cow along the side of said road. All the way to Cali. There I took a taxi to the hostel, since it was definitely not located in one of the tourist areas in the city and I had no clue which bus to take, not even how the area was called. Which was why the hostel was so cheap, probably – Remember the being on a budget thing and still wanting some privacy? – After a little chat with the driver and a small search for the right house – no signs, nothing…I seem to choose the very, very hidden gems – I did arrive at the right hostel and I could relax a bit. Apparently, the hostel was brand new, as there were no other guests and Erika, our super friendly host, shoved a plate with chocolate cake in my hand, immediately making me a part of the ongoing birthday party inside. On top, she also invited me for a night out with her friends, ready to show me how they dance salsa in Cali. This visit to Cali promised to be very good…

Streets of San Antonio

But first: the quest for internet! The new hostel didn’t had the internet installed yet, so I visited the old school internet café in order to send Ale a message about the hostel. – And to check him out on facebook, didn’t had the time for that yet before. Hey, don’t tell me you never do that? He might’ve been a serial killer and I wouldn’t even know! Or worse, he could have a girlfriend. – After my internet-session I returned to the hostel, only to discover they’d managed to install the internet. Hmpf. Well, I was ready for some sightseeing anyway, and after Erika’s friend arrived we were good to go. First to San Antonio – jup, this is the area where all the other hostels are, I discovered – where the sun had set, tiny little lights covered the trees of the park and streets buzzing with people, in for a quick snack before a night out or just hanging out and watching some street artists doing their thing. Fruit vendors selling the green mango, which ought to be eaten with salt and lime. People arriving on motorbikes, people laughing and eating, people nosing into the little shops still open late at night. And who did I see right in the middle of all? Brecht and Danna – the Belgian – Colombian couple I met earlier in Salento – walking hand in hand in my direction. Obviously, I went over to say ‘hi’ and obviously, they were very surprised to see me, since I was supposed to be in Medellin and going to Choco afterwards. Woops. Since I had some explaining to do – not really, but I had a story to tell -, we all grabbed some food together in one of the little restaurants, where Erika told us about the local delicacies on the menu and Danna declared her love for champú. – not the one you wash your hair with, but the Colombian drink – After stuffing ourselves, we all left for our first salsa-experience in a bar / club called ‘La Topa Tolondria’. Luckily, La Topa is a mixed experience: a lot of locals loving their daily dance in the evening, but also a lot of tourists and travelers who don’t know how to dance. – like me! – Ideal for a beginner to set its first steps on the dance floor and get the hang of it, before the same floor gets taken over by professionals – just the inhabitants of Cali, they can dance salsa before they even start walking – and you’re just staring in awe at the speedy feet and numerous twirls of the dancers. Erika’s friend Jonathan managed to teach me a couple of steps, before I decided to just sit down, have chat with Brecht – whose feeling of rythm is worse than mine, sorry Brecht! – and watch the other dancers. All in all, a perfect first night out in Cali.

Streets of San Antonio

CALI BY NIGHT

After a first night comes a first day which consisted of eagerly waiting for a message from Ale to know if 1. he would still be coming and 2. he would make it that day. Starting with breakfast made by Erika and a chat about Colombia and Cali in particular, which lasted basically the whole morning. Around noon I finally got a first message of my cicloviajero telling me he would arrive in the afternoon, around 4 pm. Same message had a couple of pictures added, so I wouldn’t forget how he looked like. Which was very cute but completely unnecessary, given the fact I was shitting my pants hoping he wouldn’t forget me in Cali. No need to be worried apparently. It gave me the time to check out a local restaurant and discover its menu del dia, something I would survive on the next couple of weeks. – well, survive on during lunch, at least – A Menu del dia is a set lunch menu you’ll find all over Colombia – I assume all over South America – where you’ll get a bowl of soup, a plate with rice / vegetables / arepas / fish, chicken or meat and a fresh juice for a fixed and very reasonable price. I went back to the hostel afterwards, where I had no specific plans besides filling in my journal, which I hadn’t written in since Salento – we all know why – and ask Erika what Ale and me could do during our time in Cali. We ended up checking out my blog, pictures of places in Colombia and watching a movie instead. Until Ale arrived, right on time, at 5 pm. – yes, my stomach was in a knot the whole time, thinking he’d changed his mind – Sweaty, exhausted and very hungry, happy to be there and – hopefully – to see me is how I remember him arriving. Where I had it easy chillin’ and sleeping in the bus, he had a bit of a struggle the first day, covering only 70 km of the 210 he was supposed to ride. Camping in his tent on the porch of a house. Catching up the next day with 120 km straight to Cali, looking for a hostel without a name outside. But he loves cycling…

After his arrival, we went out to eat something together to fill his empty stomach – mine was still full with the delicious fish I ate before – and took off to shower together and spent the rest of the night in our room, chatting about the past two days and checking out how much energy exactly Ale still had left. Quite a lot, apparently.

Enough energy the next morning to start exploring. – After doing our laundry, yep, has to happen as well, especially when cycling clothes tend to get a bit smelly after two days of sweating in them – While I really enjoyed seeing San Antonio by night, when everybody is outside, chatting and socializing, warm air, lights everywhere and music on the streets, I thought we could also visit San Antonio by day. About one hour walking that passed by as if it where five minutes, admiring the trees loaded with Frangipani flowers, who leave a delicious scent in the air. All the way talking about those flowers, trees, our families, his love for cats, the Belgian government, Mexican food, name a topic and we were talking about it. That’s mainly what we did that day, talking effortlessly, as if we’d known each other for years and not only five days. Climbing the steep streets of San Antonio to the square where my first evening out in Cali started…just to be a bit disappointed. The magic of two nights before had disappeared. Apparently, the atmosphere and the people, the lights and the vendors are a night-thing. In the daytime, there’s not much to do besides taking the odd picture about the view upon the city, before trodding off to Parque del Gato – Just next to the San Antonio area -, a quirky little park with a bunch of cat statues, like a tiny cat-lovers amusement park. Well. Since I also love cats and I was accompanied by a Mexican crazy about cats – Although a bit more about bicycles. Even though I saw enough pictures of Sebas to be thinking I’ve been to his house and got the know his cat myself. – , we spend quite some time strolling around, looking for our favorite statue and of course, forgetting to take a pictures of it.

Still in San Antonio

After lunching in a vegetarian restaurant in San Antonio, we made our way back to the hostel for a little siesta before the evening. We would be so ready to tackle the Cali nightlife and become the best salsa-dancers this city had ever seen. Ha. Until it started raining at about 6 o’clock. Waiting out the rain, was the plan. The plan failed a bit, since the rain didn’t stop and before we knew it, the street resembled the Amazone river and I was affraid we would have to call for a taxi boat instead of a regular car to bring us to the club. And I kind of didn’t want to get that wet. And we kind of wanted to eat first in San Antonio – catch that vibe again – before going dancing. And we kind of cancelled our dancing plans after seeing the little river running through the street. Instead, we put on something that looked like a huge pink garbage bag – me – or a raincoat – Ale – and risked our lives crossing the street to get a pizza. With pineapple, of course. In the meantime getting a reggeaton lesson on the television blasting music inside the tiny pizza place, while we decided to take it away and eat it in front of Erika’s television. The hostel had Netflix and we were the only guests. So pizza + netflix + zombiemovies – Obviously Ale’s choice. He likes cats, bicycles and zombies. – replaced our salsa night out in Cali.

Getting ready for the picture.

Biggest cat-lover.

More cats…

RAINY DAYS

Next day: rain. What else can you do besides staying in bed when each other’s company is more than enough? There you got it. Spending the morning in bed ‘getting to know each other better’ is not something I regret. Neither do I regret traveling together with a Mexican cook making you the very best pasta you’ve ever tasted in your life that same day. – I could die a happy woman after eating that pasta one more time – And I already wrote here how much I loved going to the supermarket with Ale and just discovering the things that would form our lunch / dinner, especially when the result is this finger-licking good. This rainy day in Cali is also known as the day were we started our ‘Shithead’ – a card game – competition. During our quest in the supermarket, scanning the shop for the most delicous food at the cheapest prices, we were also searching after some playing cards. Not finding them in this gigantic warehouse filled with tons of stuff, but luckily seeing them in one of the tiny street stalls along the road on our way to the hostel. Ale thaught me the card game during that rainy day. After a couple of times I got a hang out of it, and started beating him every time we played. – To be continued. –

Frangipani flower.

A day with a lot of doing nothing, ended very energetic: yes, we finally went dancing together! Again in ‘La Topa Tolondra’, were we arrived a bit early, to find the dance floor rather empty. Never too shy for words, we were chatting and waiting until I found the courage to step onto the dance floor. Courage that I needed after Ale told me he got classes when he was 22, being quite good at dancing Salsa. Help. My nerves got the overhand at the first passes I set – Come on, who would like to be seen as clumsy and a bad dancer in front of somebody you really like? -, but later on I started to enjoy myself and relax a little bit more. Until the real pros started dancing and watching them and their fast feet was suddenly more enjoyable than being on the dance floor myself, struggling with twisting around. After the big dance battle, we called it a night and went home – as a traveller, I guess home is where your backpack is -, just to fall asleep together. One of my favorite parts of sleeping with Ale were his hugs, abrazos empanadas I used to call them, completely surrounded by his arms, refusing to let you go. It’s one of the things I miss the most.

Early in the evening, ready to dance.

Somewhere during those rainy Cali days, we must’ve decided that our time travelling together wasn’t over yet. Plans were made, bicycles were being prepared – well, one bicycle – and our next destination was known: we would see each other again in Popayan! Read more about my adventures in Colombia in the NEXT blogpost: Popayan – What to do in the whitest city of Colombia?

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in Pereira and Cali, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Pereira – Cali: one way – 27.000 COP / 7,71€

Accommodation

2 nights in Coffee & Travel Hostel, Pereira: private room – 32.500 COP per night / 9,73€ per night for two people (breakfast included + comes with a ping pong table on the terrace. You might even find our names on the wall…)

4 nights in Alma Viajera Hostel, Cali: private room – 25.000 COP per night / 7,48€ per night for two people (breakfast included)

Activities

Entrance fee La Topa Tolondria: 5000 COP / 1,43€

Twenty minutes of internet in an internet café: 800 COP / 0,23€

Food

Menu del Dia in Pacific Coast restaurant: lunch menu at the restaurant across the street of my hostel, with a drink, soup and main dish including fish – 11.000 COP / 3,09€

Pizza + drink on the rainy-night: 10.000 COP / 2,81€

Menu del Dia Lasagna in Vegeterian restaurant San Antonio: lunch menu with soup, fresh juice and vegetable lasagna – 16.000 COP / 4,49€

Ingredients for the most delicious pasta ever made by personal chef Ale: 35.000 / 9,91€ – for two people, two servings – yes, we ate it for dinner and lunch, and we drowned it away with a bottle of wine

Pereira – Meeting a cicloviajero and how to spend a day at the Termales de Santa Rosa

After saying goodbye to Mr. X – who showed me the way to the right exit and where to walk, to a ‘good part’ of town – I was on my own again, direction to my hostel somewhere in a city I barely even heard of. Where I definitely didn’t know what to do or to see. A real adventure I guess.

Since modern times have us all traveling with iPhones and iPads, the adventure was a bit further than expected, and I found my hostel in no time thanks to maps.me – a very handy app, it lets you download maps so you can use it without internet – in a nice quiet part of town. A local barber on the street corner, the typical lot of Spanish ‘new’ colonial type houses with bars in front of windows and doors, a tiny plaza with some trees where the elderly sit and chat the whole day. Nice and quiet and definitely not what I expected from the most populated city in the Eje Cafetero. – not realizing I was at least half an hour walking of the city centre – Well, I was about to find out soon anyway.

CHRISTMAS TREES & CITY LIFE IN PEREIRA

Arriving at my hostel awaited another surprise: the owners had already set up their Christmas tree! Being only the 9th of november and suprisingly hot after spending some time in Bogota, this was just one giant mindfuck. Christmas trees and hot chocolate and cold weather and dark days and tiny little lights and presents are something for the end of december in Europe…definitely not the beginning of november when I’m sweating just thinking about stepping outside. Especially not in a country where you don’t even have pine trees, snowflakes and snowmen, as to be seen on ALL the decoration hanging off almost all the houses in Colombia. – Seriously, I would love to have the opportunity to decorate my house with pineapples and palmtrees for Christmas…but I guess that ruins the atmosphere a lit bit? Baby Jesus with sunglasses and swimshorts on, anyone? – Anyway, I had to chuckle and take a picture while I was being led around the hostel by Julio, the Argentinian volunteer, and where I met the only other person in the hostel at that moment, Ester, from the Netherlands. – Jup, only three different places that I visited in Colombia and I could already speak Dutch in all three of them. I need to work on my Spanish guys, I already speak Dutch! – Apparently I was sharing the only dorm with them and one still unknown ‘ciclo viajero’, a guy traveling by bike. Who was off cycling somewhere at that moment, but left a pile of bags next to both sides of his bed. Hungry as I was, Ester offered to accompany me to the supermarket and even better, make diner for us that evening if I provided the lunch. Well said, well done. And I even bought a bottle of wine, which is ridiculously expensive in the Northern part of South America, but I was in the mood for a drink at the roof terrace, where you had a fantastic view over the mountains and the rest of the city.

I saved the wine for the evening and took off with Ester and Julio, ready to explore this new unknown city a little bit. Pereira doesn’t have as much to offer as colonial Cartagena or famous Medellin, but it definitely is alive. Where other Colombian cities are known for their beauty, colonial heritage, dance – yep, Cali is coming up soon! – or awesomeness, Pereira is mainly made for business. Centre of trade in the Eje Cafetero, the city is booming and filled with restaurants, squares, markets and a lot of shops. Somehow they managed to build a big neo-gothic church to top it up. A long story short, Pereira is buzzing with daily life: people going to work, childeren walking back from a day at school, though guys doing their daily push-ups in the park, sellers yelling loudly on the streets to get rid of all their avocados. While any other city has you frantically looking around to thick everything off your to-visit-list, Pereira is perfect to sit down on a square, relax and watch Colombian life pass by. – Which you can do in basically any other city as well, now that I think about it. – The lack of a main ‘what-to-see-in-Pereira’ list just gives you the time to get a feel of normal Colombian life, which is actually the reason why I travel, to experience life and places in other countries, how average and normal they might seem. – I don’t know how to describe this, but just people watching, visiting a market with unknown fruits or just getting handed over a note in the streets that advertises love potions is just something that gets me excited – Big plus for Pereira is the environment: even in this city without mindblowing highlights, laying in the heart of the Eje Cafetero, it is surrounded by so many beautiful things to see and to do.

MEETING A CICLOVIAJERO

After a couple of hours exploring the city life of Pereira, clouds started to gather above our heads and it became time to hurry ourselves back to the hostel before the big downpoor came. We arrived, just on time before getting soaking wet. But apparently, somebody else arrived as well in our dorm.

Now, this person is the reason why I’m a bit behind with these posts, since I have been doubting a lot about what to write exactly. My blogs about Colombia are a travel journal, where I am as honest as can be while I’m trying to give you an insight on how I see the world, and what you could experience when you plan a trip to Colombia. Of course, you could just read it because it’s amusing. – Or you just want to know everything about my life and you’re secretly stalking me, so this blog really helps you a lot. – Which means that I have to get personal from time to time, hopefully without losing my privacy. Well, you might already guess that this person has been very important during my travels in Colombia – not only during my trip, but also to me, more than I expected or wanted him to be – and in no way can I leave him out of these blogs, since I simply couldn’t write any blog about Colombia any more. I’ll just try to make it not too emotional, alright?

I got contact with Ale – even though his name is longer and I call him by another nickname, let’s call him Ale – the day before, when I decided where to go, since I didn’t got a clue. As all travelers, I use some apps to help me during my travels and one of them is this app where you swipe left and right and hopefully meet somebody who doesn’t send you a dickpick after two seconds of conversation. This time, I got a nice ‘hola’ and a tiny introduction of a fellow traveler who was looking for some company and who invited me for an ice-cream or a drink. Always in for an adventure – maybe you do remember this post when I decided to go camping to Sweden with this guy I met 15 minutes before – I said ‘yes, I would like to’ and ‘I’m off, do you know a good hostel?’ and that’s how I ended up in this specific hostel in Pereira. Since Ale got the crazy idea to travel by bike from Colombia to Argentina, I didn’t meet him upon arrival in the hostel, but a couple of hours later, after he finished a little bike trip to the Termales de Santa Rosa and after I got back of my discovery tour of Pereira.

The moment we met, was strange. I could call it awkward, but rather a mix of 15% awkwardness because of the situation and 85% of…instant connection? An instant click. A day later he would call it chemistry – ‘chimica‘. The only thing I truely remember is that we started talking and didn’t stop, as if the world stopped spinning around us and we were in a little bubble of our own. Heading off to the roof terrace, where the rain was still gushing down but we were dry and cosy and confident enough to open my bottle of wine. Soundtrack of the evening ‘Chilanga banda’, because somehow when traveling you always start talking about languages and guess where he comes from… – even now, when I hear this song, I’m still on that roof terrace, watching the rain falling down upon the city, enjoying a moment of nice company – Almost forgetting the food, that Ester prepared for us, but I don’t remember any conversation but the one I had with this Mexican guy, who I barely knew and already was intrigued by. Still in our own world, we continued the conversation from the roof terrace to the diner table to my bed, where we were sitting and talking and finishing the wine, not noticing anything going on around us. – at least I didn’t – Needless to say we spent the night together, deciding the next morning that one evening together definitely wasn’t enough and we reserved another hostel for the night, one in the city centre and with a bit more privacy.

LOS TERMALES DE SANTA ROSA DE CABAL

Even though Ale just returned from a bike trip to the Termales – hot springs in english – he didn’t mind visiting again, this time by bus and with a white Belgian girl accompanying him instead. – Jup, very white as you can see on the pictures. And yes, a blow dryer always comes in handy when you have a fringe – Now, I told you Pereira is surrounded by beautiful nature and if you stay in the city, you simply can’t miss a visit to the hot springs, which are easily reached by local transport. I already knew the way to the bus station from the day before, when mr. X showed me how to walk to the hostel and as easy as it is, we immediately found a bus going to Santa Rosa. – As always with the radio station blasting reggaeton. Which I really like, to be honest – Once in Santa Rosa it is a bit of a hassle to find the bus, which is cheaper and goes every two hours, but you can also take one of the collectivo-jeeps that go when they’re full. Opting for the bus – Ale is traveling very low budget -, we walked a couple of blocks before finding the right stop – after asking twenty times and being pointed in twenty different directions -, to mistakenly jump into one of the collectivos instead, thinking it was the bus. Sitting in the back of this jeep/pick-up/no-clue-what-exactly-it-is turned out to be much more rewarding, the views from the back were absolutely stunning.

Hot springs are something you can find all over Colombia – at least the part I visited – but the ones in Santa Rosa are by far my favorite. Not only for the excellent company I had when visiting them – hehehe – , even more because of the beautiful waterfalls on the background. You can spend hours going from one hot bath to another slightly hotter bath and then decide to cool down beneath the freezing water of the ‘cascada‘ thundering on top of your head. Or one of the showers, the choice is upon you. To be honest, visiting hot springs is something I prefer doing when having company and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more than with a travel partner who I could push under water, almost drowning, who got me as a monkey hanging around his body and who ate the potatoes from my soup during lunch. – Yes, I don’t like potatoes. Yes, we started a bit of a habit right there and then – Oh, I shouldn’t forget to mention, someone who supports me when I’m almost sliding down the wet slopes of the hill we are climbing, just because I’m good at almost falling down. I kinda need the support once in a while. After a couple of hours swimming, relaxing and getting to know each other better, we had to get back to Pereira city and switch hostels…

More about the adventures of Ale and me in the NEXT blogpost: Pereira & Cali – How my travel plans changed and I ended up dancing Salsa in Cali with a Mexican.

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in Pereira, I wrote down how much I spent while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Pereira – Santa Rosa: one way – 3700 COP / 1,06€ (2 ways of transport: bus – jeep combination)

Bus Santa Rosa – Pereira: one way – 2600 COP / 0,75€ (twice the bus, with a change in Santa Rosa)

Accommodation

1 night in Parceros hostel, Pereira: dorm – 16.000 COP per night / 4,57€ per night (basic accommodation, but comes with a Christmas tree in November!)

Activities

Los Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal: one day entrance to the hot springs – 23.000 COP / 6,57€

Food

Menu del Dia – lunch menu at the Termales, with a drink, soup and main dish – 14.000 COP / 4,00€

My highlights of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero – Part II – Coffee tasting and Pereira’s surprise

After two days in Salento – hotspot number one on the backpacking route in the Eje Cafetero – I didn’t even got as far as taken as sip of the black gold that is known as Colombian coffee. Well, I did in my hostel actually, but is that really the same coffee as the super-de-luxe high priced I-don’t-know-how-roasted delicious Colombian coffee they sell in every tent in Europe with a bearded barista behind the bar? I was about to find out.

But first: after the early morning and 5-hour long hike of the day before, I only wanted one thing – TO SLEEP IN. Which I did. Which made me miss the departure of my newly made friends. Which I regretted. Luckily Facebook and WhatsApp are always there to come to the rescue…even though saying virtual goodbyes aren’t as good as the real thing. Not that I had a lot of time to think about goodbyes, since I was promoted to translator between Lili and the two new Dutch guests that arrived only minutes after my sleepy head showed itself in the kitchen. Seated with a cup of coffee, we discussed the usual where-are-you-froms and where-have-you-beens, until we realized that we all had the same plan for the day: visiting a real Colombian finca. Ready for some more coffee.

A little hour walking from the city centre lays Finca Las Acacias, a small family-run coffee farm. The best about Las Acacias is not even the finca itself, but how to get there: a 45-minute walk through the town of Salento and along a muddy road that takes you deep inside of the hills. Every once in a while to be passed by a Willy tuffing slowly to its destination or one of the always present scooters. – Seriously, I’m surprised I’ve never got hit, half Colombia is born on a scooter I think – Only to be surrounded by blanket of green hills changing with every step you take, from grassland to farms to rows and rows of coffee plants. – Which I didn’t know yet where coffee plants, but hey, we travel to learn, don’t we? And maybe sometimes to get a tan on a beach. Wich was a bit difficult in the coffee triangle – After admiring the views and snapping some pictures, we arrived at the finca and were welcomed – of course – with a steaming cup of Colombian coffee. You don’t need an appointment or make a reservation to tour the farm, just show up and wait a while for some other people before you start the tour. Waiting with a cup of coffee and surrounded by magnificent views is not so bad after all. Anyhow, after half an hour 10+ people had showed up and we were more than ready to learn where our daily dose of caffeine comes from. I’ll be honest. I’m not going to explain the whole shebang to you here and now. First of all, it’s much nicer to experience it all than to read about it here. Second, I forgot half of the tour. – The fact I’m writing this blog with a couple of months of delay might be the reason, even though I do have a pretty lively and detailed memories of most of my trip. Only not of the coffee tour, sorry! – What I do remember, is that it’ll be very hard to find the best Colombian coffee in Colombia. Yes, I drank some pretty decent cups, but all the high quality beans are shipped to my own continent – Europe, in case you forgot -, the US and A,… to be roasted according to the tastes of each country. Which makes me a bit sad, to know what’s considered one of the best ‘coffees’ in the world is mostly exported and for other countries to enjoy…

After an hour touring around the finca, getting to know every stage of the coffee plant and two whole cups containing enough caffeine to reach double my daily dose, I headed back to the hostel to get rid of my now muddy walking shoes. – Not so much luck with the rain that morning – To my surprise I wasn’t the only Belgian in the hostel anymore, instead Brecht from Gent – hurray Gent! – and his Colombian girlfriend Danna arrived, with whom I started chatting almost immediately after arriving back to the hostel. Who also invited me to join them on a discovery tour of Salento. And guess what: that day is still known as the day I climbed the Mirador for the third time, luckily each time I need to take less and less “photo-stops” to make it to the top. Still a magnificent view though. At least I deserved a treat, so I didn’t feel too bad going out eating a little bit more fancy than I was used to so far…which was still in a restaurant in a garage after all. Even though the interior was interesting – uhum, garage -, the food was good, the atmosphere and the talks where even better and it was just nice to chat about Gent and the story of Brecht and Danna. – it’s their story to tell, but I have to let them know somehow much I admire them choosing to be together, even though it musn’t always be easy – With full bellies and sleepy heads we headed back to the hostel, where I still had one thing to do before going to bed….pack my backpack again.

Actually, I had been busy with a decision earlier that day, as in: where next? I wanted to head to Medellín north from the Eje Cafetero, but I had the feeling I was rushing too much, even though nothing was keeping me in Salento anymore. I got some great tips from Lili and Brecht & Danna to definitely NOT miss Chocó and the Pacific Coast, which I could easily reach by plane from Medellín. But something was holding me back, I had the feeling I wasn’t finished with the Eje Cafetero yet and wanted one more stop before heading to famous Medellín. One stranger made me decide, and the next morning I headed for the bus station and the city of Pereira.

Now, I love taking the bus in Latin America. It’s just always an adventure, or you’re propped up in a tiny mini-van with 30 people where there’s place for 10, or the speakers are blasting reggaeton while Jesus is watching over you, making sure you don’t get drilled out of your seat on the beat of the music, or you just meet the nicest people chatting away until you reach your stop. Exactly what happened to me that day. – not the Jesus part, that only happened the next day – Generally, when I was travelling in Colombia, I just went to the bus station, bought my ticket and hopped on the next bus already waiting for me at the stop. This time was no different, only that the bus wasn’t there yet and I appeared to be one of the only ‘strangers’ – yep, let’s call me white even though I’m not that fluorescent illuminating white that some other people tend to be – going in that direction. So when I came to sit next to mr. X – I call him mr. X since I never got to know his name, but I flashed him a smile and ask if the seat next to him was taken – I got to know the famous Colombian friendliness. Curious about where I was from, he started asking me a couple of questions which leaded to a deep conversation about both our lives, his work and life in Pereira, the differences between our cultures and ended with him telling me to be careful travelling on my own and showing me the right way to my hostel so I wouldn’t accidently walk into the wrong neighbourhoods. People go out of their way here to help somebody, doesn’t matter if it’s a fellow Colombian or a stranger, without expecting anything in exchange. – most of them are nice, but of course, there’s always exceptions. Just trust your guts and you’ll definitely meet the nicest of people

Hopping off the bus, headed in the right direction straight to the hostel, I had no clue what was waiting for me. Little did I know I would meet somebody in that same hostel that would change my plans, my trip as a whole drastically, without me ever even thinking about it.

More about what happened in Pereira in the NEXT blogpost: Pereira – How to spend a day at the Termales of Santa Rosa.

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in the Coffee Region, I wrote down how much I spent while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Salento – Pereira: one way – 7000 COP / 2,0€

Accommodation

3 nights in Casa Lili: dorm – 22.000 COP per night / 6,6€ per night (with the luck of having a private room for 2 nights, while the dorm was full)

Activities

Visit to Finca Las Acacias: one (or if you’re lucky, two!) coffee included – 8000 COP / 2,29€

Food

I don’t really include food here, since it really depends on how you travel, but I will make a monthly roundup where you can see how much I’ve spend with all the homecooked meals, fancy diners or fast papitas-y-nada-mas lunches counted together.

My highlights of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero – Part I – Salento and hiking Valle de Cocora

After four mostly rainy and jetlagged days, I decided to leave the capital for what it is and make my way to the very photogenic – at least, according to the tons and tons of pictures I saw on pinterest – coffee region. Salento apparently being AND in the middle of El Eje Cafetero AND startpoint to the magical Valle de Cocora – the Cocora valley, known for its wax palms, growing more than 60 meters tall – AND again, hyper-photogenetic according to all the pictures popping up during my research online, I decided to go for Salento. With the night bus.

Now, I’m a person who can sleep everywhere. I slept several times in the tiny Charleroi Airport in Belgium on the floor. – you know, budget travel and early flights and no late trains – I managed once to fall asleep on a plane before take off, to wake up when its wheels touched ground again in my destination. Usually it takes me five minutes in a bus before my head starts nodding up and down, almost drooling on myself while driving to my next destinations. Not on the bus Bogotá – Armenia. What was supposed to be an 8-hour drive from 10 pm until 6 am the next morning, became a race against the clock and our driver definitely broke the speeding record. While I installed myself with a blanket and the warmest sweater I own – Yes, you better put on a layer or five if you want to spend a night on the bus in Latin America. I learned my lesson the first time I travelled through Central America. Overall temperature outside the bus: 35° C. Inside: -10° C. Be prepared! -, nothing special happened. Until we reached the mountains and the driver decided it was time to show us his Formula-1 skills. Sitting in one of the front seats, I had perfect view on the road. Or at least, a view on the houses and trees buzzing past us, one big blur due to our high speed. The bus started swaying dangerously from left to right when cutting the corners and at one point I guess we went from 100km/hour to a full stop. Did I already say we were in the middle of the mountains, on a well-used road, in the dark?

Nevertheless, I reached my destination in one piece, two hours earlier than expected. Of course, the local buses to Salento only started their services at 5 am. Somehow the hour passed quicker than expected and once on the road, I didn’t even want to close my eyes anymore. The sun started to show itself, throwing a golden-pink glow over the green hills rolled out in front of us. Driving an hour past the most beautiful green landscapes made me think that crazy bus driver did a good job after all, bringing me early enough to enjoy the rising of the sun over the Eje Cafetero.

View of Salento - stairs to the Mirador

SALENTO

At 6 am, I still had the whole day in front of me, aching to wander through the colorful streets of Salento. While making the climb up to my hostel, I could already admire a part of the city and from what I saw, I knew it was a good idea to leave Bogotá: I felt much more at ease and full of energy to visit my surroundings. But first, getting rid of my big backpack at the hostel.

Hostal Casa de Lili was definitely one of the best choices I could’ve made, being welcomed by Lili herself, straight out of bed, who offered me a cup of coffee and a chat in the kitchen. – Something she did with everybody that decides to stay in the hostel, being curious about what brings them to Colombia and helping out wherever she can. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll learn it fast with Lili. – Being very very early, she urged me to visit the Mirador now, before all the Colombians on a holiday would climb out of bed and go en masse to the viewpoint. And my bed/room wasn’t ready yet anyway. After another cup of coffee I took off to climb the steps at the end of the street, all the way up to the Mirador. My body clearly wasn’t ready for that. After little to no sleep, only 5 days in the country and still not yet adapted to the heights, climbing the stairs like a mountain goat was a big no-no. Luckily, I’m good at stopping somewhere to take pictures of random flowers, while I’m actually faking a photo-opportunity in order to catch my breath again. Or just to pretend I’m not stopping THAT much only because I can’t breathe. Actually, it was not that bad. Just a little reminder I’m not as good with heights as I thought I was. The view was amazing though, the mountains stretch all the way to the Valle de Cocora and if you’ve got good eyesight – ugh, clearly not me – you can see the first wax palms in the distance.

Sweaty and a tiny little bit tired after a night-bus-without-sleep and my early exercise, I decided to go for breakfast and take a shower, just to freshen up before I would continue my sightseeing. It was there, at the hostel, that I would meet Julieta – bonding over the wifi-password – and after saying our nice-to-meet-you’s, we went each our separate ways, just to bump into each other again a mere 20 minutes later on the street. So she did what any other backpacker-who-already-made-friends would do – or at least, I hope they would do –: she invited this solo-traveler to have a cup of coffee with her and her friends, which was the beginning of a long day sightseeing in Salento. Starting with another climb to the Mirador – sigh, this time luckily in good company – to take pictures and going down to a part of the village I hadn’t seen yet. Besides the fact that it’s the main gateway to the Valle de Cocora, Salento is known for its colorful colonial houses and artisan shops. Picture perfect streets, with a big town square or Plaza in the middle acting as the number one meeting point and views upon lush green hills, the heart of the Colombian coffee region. Since it was a Saturday and a holiday, the streets and shops were alive with people, eating, drinking, dancing, music in the background. So I found out the best way to discover – as it always is – is just to go and see, go wherever your feet take you and be curious. Get lost. Take pictures. Watch people.

VALLE DE COCORA

Number one reason why most people go to Salento in the first place – no, not for the many beautifully colored houses, the many restaurants and bars or the nice Mirador – is because it’s the gateway to Valle de Cocora. A green blanket of sloping hills, dotted with the national tree of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm, growing up to 60m high. Background for some pretty spectacular pictures – as seen on the internet before I left – I definitely wanted to see this mysterious Valley. More, I read about a hike, taking about 5 to 6 hours to complete, crossing rivers and watching colibris until you’ve reached the heart of the Valle de Cocora and find yourself surrounded by the tallest palms in the whole wide world. Sounds pretty good, no?

My newly made friends and I decided that the day after our little trip in Salento City would be perfect to discover the Cocora Valley. We jumped out of bed and ran to the main square to catch a Willy to the valle. Well, not necessarily ‘jump’ and ‘run’, rather drag ourselves out our very comfy beds – King size, booked a dorm and got a private room upgrade for the same price. Happy Anke – at the unholy hour of 5.30 in the morning to frantically look for a breakfast before catching the Willy to the valley. I scored an almost black banana and a very crumbled cupcake, which I lost somewhere in my backpack earlier. For your information, Willy is not a guy, it’s a jeep from the WWII era, sold by the American army. When the locals saw you could drive up and down a flight of stairs, they were sold and those Willy’s as well. Now the ideal vehicle to ride on unpaved roads, preferably with whole swimming pools of mud, in the mountains. And to the Valle de Cocora, of course. In the Willy – I really like to use that word – we met with Annaëlle, a French girl obviously also going to conquer that Cocora hike. Before we knew it, we were dropped off at the entrance and ready to start the day, upcoming sun already illuminating the mountains surrounding us. While Julieta & co preferred to visit the Valle de Cocora first, we split up in two groups: Annaëlle and me doing the long hike, the rest doing the shorter version. Basically, go to the left at the blue gate for the short one and to the right for the longer hike. Apparently we didn’t need to pay for the entrance to the National park, since it was not yet 7 o’clock – we left Salento at 6.15 – and nobody was sitting at the entrance. Lucky us.

First part of the hike slowly leads you to higher grounds, walking besides grasslands dotted with cows waking up from their sleep. Sun starting to shine, illuminating the valley in front of us. Clouds and mist surrounding the Valle de Cocora on the mountaintop. The further we walked, the more we were surrounded by forest, crossing bridges and going higher and higher up. Well….do you remember Bogotá and me having a cold? The Mirador and my not so coincidental photo stops? If I thought I was prepared for this hike, I was mistaken big time. Annaëlle was very fit, already having travelled for a while – probably not living off of potato chips and having a sedentary lifestyle like me when not on the road – and I was catching my breath after every steep climb. Somehow, I managed to wrestle myself to the colibri reserve AND to enjoy the sights along the way. Colibri reserve meant a place to rest and have a hot drink before heading for the hardest part of the hike: the Mirador at a height of 2860m above sea level. Sigh. After stopping every two steep curves, I told Annaëlle to leave me behind and wait at the top. Struggling with legs that wouldn’t walk more than 50m at the time – a result of less oxygen in the air I guess – I still managed to reach the top, maybe half an hour later than my hiking partner. Sweaty, red and still breathing for air, I felt king of the world. The view was simply stunning.

What followed was walking down into the Valle de Cocora, by far the easiest part of the day: from one moment into the other being surrounded by the tallest palms in the world is an incredible feeling. I’ll just let the picture speak for themselves this time.

HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in the Coffee Region, I wrote down how much I spent while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Nightbus Bogotá – Armenia: 8 hours normal / 6 hours with a speedy driver – 53.000 COP / 15,04€

Bus Armenia – Salento: 40 minutes – 4200 COP / 1,2€

Willy to Valle de Cocora: one way – 3800 COP / 1,08€

Accommodation

3 nights in Casa Lili: dorm – 22.000 COP per night / 6,6€ per night (with the luck of having a private room for 2 nights, while the dorm was full)

Activities

Entrance colibri reserve: one hot drink included – 5000 COP / 1,43€

NEXT: My highlights of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero – Part II – Coffee tasting and Pereira’s surprise

How I spent 4 days in Bogotá

After a couple of months – caugh* caugh* almost a full year – without writing more than a single blogpost, the voice in the back of my head started speaking up louder and louder every day, until it was screaming ‘WHEN WILL YOU FINALLY WRITE AGAIN’. Well, I guess now is the time. Not that I didn’t have anything to write about, like six months working in the more than popular Split area, Croatia, and a three-month backpacking trip to Colombia & Ecuador. I might even have some interesting things to write about Panamà and Serbia, which I visited in winter 2016. Oops.

Even if I have some catching up to do on former trips, what I want to talk about now is Colombia. A country that stood firmly as the number one on my to-visit-list, ever since I traveled from México to Panamà and met too many people describing Colombia as their absolute favorite country in Latin America. After some research – as in: reading every single guide book and blogpost about Colombia, spending hours and hours scrolling through pinterest in search of more and more and more blogposts – I decided: Colombia would be my next big destination. Just a couple of months later, you could find me on a flight to South America.

Bogotá. Capital of Colombia, aproximately 8 million inhabitants, located somewhere high up in the mountains at an altitude of 2640m and about as rainy as Belgium. At least, the 4 full days I spend in Bogotá it didn’t seem to stop raining, which didn’t improve my not-so-sure-if-I-like-this-city mood during my stay in the capital. I confess: I still don’t know wether to like Bogotá or not. Sure, I visited some nice museums and the Graffiti walking tour is one of the best free tours I ever took, but… I still have this gnawing feeling inside that makes it impossible to pronounce the words ‘I like Bogotá a lot’. At least for now.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT MY TIME IN BOGOTA

The weather. Yes, I know, as a Belgian, I shouldn’t complain about weather in other countries, especially not since 99.9% of the times it’s better than in my homecountry anyway. Well, I tell you: it sucked. Maybe it doesn’t suck all the time, but I had my fare share of tropical showers and early spring temperatures during my short stay in the capital. Even though I read up a lot about the city in advance, I definitely underestimated the low temperatures and amount of rain that met me there. If you would travel to Bogotá, be prepared: just in case, take an umbrella / good rainjacket – even though I think I would prefer both, since a rainjacket alone might not be enough…don’t worry, if you’re ever stuck in the portal of a church or around the Plaza Bolivar, it takes about 6 seconds before you are surrounded by streetvendors trying to get rid of their umbrellas – and a warm sweater. You’ll thank me for that later.

The altitude. Since Belgium – and especially Flanders, the region I’m from – formed once a part of the Low Countries or Low Lands, now called ‘The Netherlands’, you might already guess it…I’m not used to high altitudes at all. Arriving in Bogotá asked an adaptation of my lungs to thinner air, which wasn’t made easier by the cold I caught a couple of days before. Add having a late night drinking red wine – the 5+ amount of bottles that my 4 hostel-compagnons and I drank in Madrid might not have been the best idea, especially not when you’re taking an intercontinental flight the next morning – and you might find yourself a bit sick and exhausted the first days in the capital. The high altitude really needs some days to adapt to, only just take a bit more care of yourself than I did before arriving. I’m pretty sure that without having a cold, I wouldn’t have felt that miserable the first couple of days, when breathing was a little bit difficult and my body exhausted after a day of sightseeing with a jetlag. Take your time to adapt.

The feeling of insecurity. Hold on. Stop right there. First, I want to make it clear that Colombia is a magnificent country where it’s perfectly fine to travel alone, as a couple, in a group or with your family. I traveled both alone and with a partner in Colombia, with no big problems whatsoever. However, it’s good to take a couple of precautions when traveling, which are linked to the good old ‘common sense’ everybody should have: don’t walk alone on the streets late at night, especially not in dodgy areas; don’t show off your precious Iphones/giant cameras/the golden earrings you got from your grandmother for your 18th birthday/all your money; preferably spread your money over different places and don’t take everything with you all at once;… Pretty basic stuff. Now, Bogotá. During my 3 months in Colombia and Ecuador, this was the only city where I always had this indescribable feeling of insecurity in the back of my head, while walking on the streets. Candelaria, the historic district and one of the oldest parts of the capital, is one of the most popular areas to stay in, with a lot of hotels, hostels and restaurants. When I arrived in my hostel – yep, in Candelaria, sometimes I am a big tourist -, they showed me the areas on the map where I definitely SHOULD NOT go and I got the advice not to take my phone or bank cards with me when I wanted to leave the hostel after dark. – Dark being in this part of the world around 6 pm – Hmm. Robberies were quite common and continuous warnings by both the hostel owner and fellow backpackers didn’t make me feel more at ease. But maybe too many warnings is what’s causing the insecurity in the first place… Although a small incident with a drunk homeless guy waving around a broken bottle because somebody didn’t give him a cigarette, didn’t help either…

Next time I’m in Bogotá, I think I’ll do my best to couchsurf more and meet more locals, who can show me another side of the capital, one I might not have seen yet. – I should better say ‘definitely haven’t seen’, since I’ve only given the city 4 days to appeal to me, before moving over to Salento. Sorry Bogotá, but I’ll give you another chance, I promise! –

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT BOGOTA

Sundays. In Belgium, Sundays are always a tiny little bit boring where I live. Not a big city, so no museums or theaters or cinemas to visit and shops in general are closed. While in Bogotá most of the shops are also closed on Sundays, the city is still buzzing with life: families go outside to take a picknick in one of the numerous parks – not only in the capital, saw this as well in Medellín and other Colombian cities – andthe main streets are packed with people, artists and streetvendors trying to sell everything from empanadas to umbrellas. – you know, sudden rainshowers and all that – Traffic is blocked off in a lot of streets, so people can walk, skate and cycle all over the city without risking their lives. – it has a name, Ciclovía, every Sunday and on holidays from 7 am until 2 pm – It’s a nice way to discover some other parts of the capital and ideal for one of my all time favorite activities: people watching. I love to walk around in a city or sit on a square and watch people doing their daily thing, admire their different clothing styles or just the way they walk and be happy that the world can be such an interesting and diverse place. Yup, happiness can be quite simple sometimes. Another big plus about Sundays: a lot of museums are free!

Museums. Which brings me to my number two of things I liked about Bogotá: the museums. Of course, I didn’t have the time to visit aaaaaall the museums, but I picked – like every rightful tourist would do – the two most popular ones to start with: the Museo de Oro and the Museo Botero. The first free on Sundays, the second free every single day. – yeeeey – The Museo de Oro or the Gold museum is a highlight on many people’s Bogotá -trip and known to hold the biggest collection of pre-Hispanic gold in South America. Since I love history and some bling bling, I couldn’t miss a visit to this museum. Only a short walk from the Candelaria district – in about 10/15 minutes you’re in the city center and at the museum – and an entrance fee of 4000 COP – about 1,2€ – before you can drool above showcases filled with golden artifacts. From teeny tiny frogs to a ceremonial Muisca offer boat, the museum takes you back to times long before the Spanish arrived on the continent and the different indigenous tribes still crafted their beautifully detailled works of art. – I spent about 3 hours in the building. I guess it’s quite clear I liked it, no? – Museum N°2, the Botero museum, is dedicated to Colombia’s most famous painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero. Before visiting Colombia and during my ‘I-need-to-read-everything-I-can-about-Colombia’ frenzy, his name came up a couple of times and I got a bit curious. After visiting his museum – hey, it’s free, so why not? – I can call myself a fan. I loved his characters who are always out of proportion – Or you can call them a bit chubby – and the sense of humour that seeps into his paintings. A lot of works are donated by the artist himself and even more, you can see works of big masters known all over the world: Chagall, Picasso, Dalí and the Belgian Paul Delvaux. Did I already mention it is free?

Bogota Graffiti Tour. One of the things I like to do when I visit a big city, is check if they have a free walking tour. Not only are those tours tip-based, which means the guides generally do their very best to show their city to you, but to me it’s the ideal way to get a general feel of a city and what (not) to visit during the rest of your stay. The Bogotá Graffiti Tour however doesn’t show you the highlights, but gets you to know all the hotspots for some serious graffiti-watching. During the tour we visited both the Downtown and Candelaria district, with in Downtown the more politically tinted murals and in Candelaria a bigger focus on art about the indigenous population. I particularly loved this tour because they really talk in depth about the murals: who made it, what does it mean and why did they paint it. Furthermore, the guide isn’t scared to talk about difficult political topics and you get to know what Justin Bieber has to do with the current graffiti policy in Bogotà. If you love street art, history and want to get to know the city in a slightly different way, than this graffiti tour might be a good idea.

WHAT I JUST DIDN’T DO

While you can read what I’ve been up to in the parts above, there’s still a lot of city that I didn’t cover. When I wasn’t busy visiting one of the museums, strolling around the Candelaria district or franatically taking pictures of some gorgeous murals, I was probably lying in bed with a headache, trying to blow every single blob of snot out of my nose. Or hiding under the drainage pipes of one of the Candelaria houses / playing card games in the hostel while waiting for another sudden downpour to stop. Four days in Bogotá clearly isn’t enough to visit everything there is to see – duh, you always need a lifetime in a city for that, and even then it won’t be enough – but there are a couple of things I would’ve liked to do while there:

Climb Monserrate mountain. I love myself some nice views, especially if you have to do an effort before you can take that perfect selfie with ama-zing background. – not that I’m a selfie girl, I tend to have this horrible double chin in every selfie I take and I prefer to avoid that – Monserratte is one of the most popular places in Bogotá to gain that ama-zing background and you can reach the top both on foot as with a cable car – or bicycle for the crazy ones among us – but sadly, I didn’t reach the top. I didn’t even do the effort to try and visit, since a view is non-existent when rainclouds dot the sky at every single moment of the day. Next time.

Mercado de las Pulgas de Usaquén. Or any other market, actually. Nothing better than walk in between rows and rows of fresh produce, discover different smells and colors and simply be overwhelmed by the surrounding chaos. I absolutely love this. How you can be anonymous in a big crowd, taste new fruits and listen to the yelling of vendors trying to sell their goods to you. Just walk and look and smell and be there, without necessarily buying anything. This particular market also is known for its arts&crafts and its indigenous products, but I missed out on it. – sad emoticon – Another reason to give Bogotá another chance.

Visit/sleep in another district. Yes, visiting La Candelaria isn’t really seeing the whole capital. Exploring other areas as Zona Rosa, Chapinero and fashionable Usaquén – you know, from the market I also didn’t visit – is still on my to-do-list in Bogotá.

As I’ve already written, four days isn’t nearly enough to say you know the capital of Colombia. – or any capital whatsoever – All the nice activities I did, the Graffiti tour, discovering La Candelaria and roaming around Downtown on a Sunday, where overshadowed by the continuous rain, my cold – hurray for snotty noses and jetlags – and my struggle to adapt to the altitude. After four days I decided to give it a break and head to a greener and – hopefully – sunnier destination: Salento & the coffee region.

More about Salento and how I survived a busride from hell in the next post!