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.