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A Colombian Dream – La Cabaña Eco Hotel – Review

Green Acres is the place to be.
Farm living is the life for me.
Land spreadin’ out so far and wide.
Keep Medellin and give me that countryside.
 
Sometimes you return to a place which you loved, only to find it a disappointment. Perhaps it’s no longer trying so hard. Or maybe it’s under new management. Or, most often, the memory is just somehow better than the reality. This is not the case with La Cabaña Eco Hotel.
You may remember this place from last August when you voted that I visit Colombia. While there, I’d heard about Salento from locals and travelers alike. Still, many of those travelers seemed to be staying at hostels in town and I was looking for a bit of peace. I searched on one of the many online booking sites and found La Cabaña Eco Hotel.
One of the toughest parts of traveling non-stop is the decision-making. Every day, one must decide where to go, how to get there, in what area to stay, which flight to take, which hotel, Airbnb, guesthouse, pension, or other accommodation in which to stay, how to pay, who to trust—oh, so much. This is the reason I appreciate you so much for telling me where to go; one less decision. Because of this, it’s such a great feeling when you realize you’ve made the right decision. This place was one of my victories.
When I found myself back in Colombia, specifically in Medellin, to research an article which I hope to sell, I knew I’d need to find a little peace after a month in my very noisy Airbnb. A month of listening to (or trying not to listen to) the ruckus from the event space and three bars located below my fifth-floor apartment and wafting through the windows, which didn’t quite fit their frames, had me craving the quiet, natural surroundings of Salento. When my work in Medellin was done, I hopped a bus headed for Salento.
Thanks to construction along the way, I arrived in Salento after a six-hour bus ride which took nine hours. Apparently, flag-men make up 60% of the workers in Colombia (don’t quote me on this, as I truly have no idea). When I visited in August, I was dropped on a street corner without any clue how to get to La Cabaña. They’ve now built a bus terminal. Well, it’s actually a parking lot with a few cement buildings selling snacks as well as a kind of cool modern art sculpture. I texted Hector, one of the owners of La Cabaña and, within ten minutes, a dark SUV pulled up with a familiar face behind the wheel.
Main BuildingLess than ten minutes later, we arrived at La Cabaña Eco Hotel. La Cabaña is divided between two red and white wooden buildings situated across the street from each other. The main building, with five Porchsleeping rooms, some with lofts so you can throw the kids up there and forget about them (though you’re required to take them with you when you leave), also houses the kitchen, dining room, and various outdoor seating areas which are nice places to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner or a beer after a hike. Being in the coffee region, there’s River Housecoffee available 24-hours-a-day (also tea).
At my request, my room was not in the main building, but in the River House across the street. I planned to be here for a month and it just seemed as if it might be a bit quieter in the four-room house (five, if you count the couple who works here and lives in the room next store with their two daughters) away from the kitchen. If I chose to cook my own meals, the River House had an outdoor kitchen with a four-burner stove, a full-size refrigerator, microwave, sink, and all of the pots, pans, and accessories you need to cook a fine meal. I just needed to supply the ingredients (there’s a small supermarket and fruit stands in town) and the wine. Always the wine.
ManureAfter driving through the wooden farm gate and up the tracks cutting through the grass we arrived at my building. As I stepped out of the car I immediately landed in a soft pile of cow manure. (TOMS were not made for this.) As Hector apologized, I laugh it off. After all, this is a finca which translates to “farm” in English. To be more specific, it’s a dairy farm, producing approximately 2,000 liters of milk per day and, on a dairy farm, well, shit happens.
I entered my room and though it seemed smaller than the one I’d stayed in previously, with a king-size bed, there was plenty of room for an enjoyable month-long stay.
CowsI awoke the following morning to noise. Sure, I chose to be away from the kitchen, but some things are unavoidable. Approximately 132 different species of birds live in this area and their morning songs created an orchestra filled with a variety of instruments which were joined by the base of the cows mooing while chomping their way through the grass field outside my window. Comparing this to the cacophony coming from the downstairs bars in Medellin might be like comparing Acid Rock to the Boston Philharmonic.
Directly outside my door, the picnic table provided a desk with a beautiful view to sit and work each day (or cruise Facebook and pet dogs). Oh, yes, that brings up Dogthe dogs; Lassie and Bimbo. Lassie belongs to Hector, Lina, Maria Camila, and Alejandra. They’re the family who owns this farm (it’s been handed down from Lina’s family), as well as nearby avocado and coffee farms. Lassie is the most amazing dog I’ve ever known. She’s not just a pet, but a worker; herding cows and horses, and sometimes people. She knows her job and goes to work with no prompting. And when her work is done, she appreciates a good belly rub. (Don’t we all?) Bimbo belongs to the family next door to me. He’s a younger and smaller black and white dog who Other Doglikes to follow Lassie around on her herding chores with the understanding that, as it’s not really his job, he can leave at any time. His favorite hobbies are chasing horses (not herding, just chasing), eating bugs, and biting at my shoelaces as I walk across the street to the main house.
A breakfast buffet is included here. Depending on the day, it may consist of eggs, cheese, toast, cereal, tamales, rice and beans, arepa (a ground corn flour circular-shaped bread), fresh fruit, pancakes, french toast, juice and, of course, coffee (this is the coffee region).
Horseback rideAfter breakfast, you can to go hike in the Cocora Valley (the main reason people come to this area) amongst the Quindio Wax Palms, the tallest palm trees in the world. You may also want to go visit of coffee farm to understand the entire coffee-making process from growing the beans to brewing the perfect cup of joe. Horseback riding is a great option and can be done directly from the farm. The wrangler will take you up into the surrounding hillside or to a nearby waterfall. Another half-day tour will take you by car to the cloud forest where you’ll enjoy the most amazing views of the area, including a forest of Wax Palms, and a visit to a finca where you’ll be served a local, non-alcoholic drink called Agua Panella. This area is a wonderful place to watch the colorful colibríes (hummingbirds) native to this region.
TreesFinally, another option is to simply hike the green hills surrounding the finca. While doing just this, I happened to pass the pasture where the cows were being milked. Stopping to say hello to David who was handling this process, I was invited to do some milking myself. David showed me the pull and squeeze method (wait, that sounds dirty, but you understand) and then held a cup while I milked. He then invited me to drink it and, with some hesitation, I agreed. I’m not sure why I was surprised when it tasted like, well, milk. Nothing like a fresh milk break in the middle of a beautiful hike.
SalentoIf you choose, you can walk the just-over two kilometers into the town of Salento (one of the family members will also be happy to drive you) for dinner and a game of Tejo—what Colombians like to call their national sport—which involves beer and gunpowder.
HammockStill, even with all these activity options, one of the best things to do while staying at La Cabaña is to lie in a hammock and read while listening to the birds and the rushing river in the background. You can also enjoy watching the frenetic flight of the hummingbirds from here.
Should you choose to stay at the finca for dinner, La Cabaña serves a small menu with some traditional Colombian specialties including trout (grilled or in a garlic sauce) and bandeja paisa, what I like to call the Heart Attack Special, which includes rice and beans, chorizo (sausage), chicharron (fried pork belly), fried egg, and patacones (smashed fried plantains). This is Colombia’s twist on the phrase, “To see Paris and die.” There’s also pasta, a nice sandwich, and grilled chicken.
HectorIf you happen to be here during a busy time, you may have the great luck to enjoy their Lomo al Trapo. Hector or Maria Camilla prepare beef and pork loin by coating it with salt and tightly wrapping it in cotton cloth. They then place it in the hot coals of the campfire burning on the front lawn. Dinner is served under a canopy on the lawn with the meat, potatoes, a tomato salad, sauces, and wine (always wine). After dinner, there are marshmallows to roast while Hector pulls out his guitar and serenades the crowd with traditional Colombian songs in a beautiful baritone voice.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’d planned to stay for a month. Well, we all know how I feel about planning and, as I saw no reason to leave, I stayed for two months, only leaving because, after a total of three months in Colombia, my visitor’s visa was expiring and instead of renewing it I decided it was time to explore more of the world.
When you stay at La Cabaña, you become part of the family.
If you’d like to more information about La Cabaña Eco Hotel, you can visit their webpage at: https://www.lacabanaecohotel.com/, like their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lacabanaecohotel/, or follow them on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lacabanaecohotel/
This stay was not hosted and no special rates were provided in exchange for a review. I just really love this place.
 

Lord Howe Island From Land and Sea

This morning I awake, hop in the shower (it’s one of the few places I’m warm), and head out through the trees to stand on Lagoon Road and wait for Peter, from Chase ‘n’ Thyme Tours, to pick me up. Though not originally an islander, Peter is married to a Thompson girl, a descendant of one of the first settlers, and has lived on the island for twenty four-years. GuideAt 9:00am on the dot, Peter’s white van pulls up, fully loaded with nine-people, none under the age of sixty. LHI is known as a place for the “newly-wed or nearly dead,” especially in the winter. And while these folks may be of the senior set, they’re raring to go and I would even describe some as a hoot. Peter takes us down south to begin the tour as, he says, he wants to give us time to prepare for the hustle and bustle of the CBD (Central Business District). He explains that today’s tour will end at about 1:00pm, which is before the 3:00pm rush-minute. Rush-minute is at 3:00pm because that’s when the one school on the island – with thirty eight-students in total – lets out. Also, the mail comes in on the once-daily flight which lands just after 2:00pm and is then brought to the post office, sorted, and ready to be claimed at 3:00pm. There is no mail delivery on LHI; if you don’t stop by the post office for a few days , if he sees you on the street, Stevie, the Post Master, will shout, “Come get your mail!” as it’s taking up too much room. airplaneAs we drive, Peter shows us the 3,000-foot-long airstrip which they’ve just spent AUD $8 million repaving. It actually only cost AUD$2 million for materials, but it cost AUD$6 million to ship them to the island. We learn that LHI has twenty-accommodations with a total of four hundred-beds, thus, the island’s tourist count is capped at four hundred per night. Still, with this limitation, tourism is the top industry on Lord Howe. glassWe then make our way to the island’s waste management facility, also known in Australia as “The Tip”. Being an island, LHI is very aware of its trash as there’s no place to store it. We see piles of old bicycles stacked to send to the mainland on the Island Trader to be recycled for kids and others, as well as aluminum cans which are crushed, packed as a cube, and also shipped off to the mainland for recycling. We also see large bags of broken glass which is crushed into tiny particles and used as the first layer when building roads. Yes, you might be bicycling over last-year’s beer bottle. It gives new meaning to “one for the road.” (Thanks for the joke, Peter.) We stop by the weather station in order to pick up the report for the next few days, as well as what is considered a “must-do” for tourists on LHI, watch the launch of the daily weather balloon. Unfortunately the weather balloon is having a wardrobe malfunction and can’t be launched today. Still, this gives us a chance to meet Bill, the Bull and some of his non-testicular cohorts. As of cowfive-years ago, cattle can’t be used for food or milk here as, while these guys look like some of the healthiest cattle I’ve ever seen, the country’s agriculture department requires very specific things for processing of meat and dairy for public consumption. They’re very conscious that, if some bad beef got out, and forty-people became ill, it would be nearly impossible to air-evac. all of them off the island. Due to the cost involved in shipping the machinery necessary to meet government processing standards, well, it’s much less expensive to ship in the meat itself. So these cattle have a nice life of grazing in their pasture and enjoying the fresh Lord Howe air. This medical issues is also a reason that they fully enforce the national bike-helmet law as, the two-bed hospital, which has a small emergency-room, is ill-equipped to deal with closed-head injuries. We continue our tour where we see a variety of wildlife including the famous Lord Howe Wood Hen. This is the only place in the world where these are found and, thirty eight-years-ago, due to rats beings brought over on ships, there were only thirty left. Thanks to a concentrated rat eradication effort, there are now 330 of them in the world, all on LHI. We also see a whale putting on a show far off shore. While it’s not unheard of to see a whale here, it’s not all that common. In fact, this is only the fifteenth whale sighting for Peter. And this whale is breaching all over the place! Well, not really all over the place; strangely enough, this whale has breached fifteen to twenty times in the same exact place. porchWe make a stop at Peter’s house where we enjoy freshly-baked jam-muffins which Peter’s wife Janine has prepared to go with tea and coffee. This is how it goes when you take a tour on a small island; you stop at the guide’s house for coffee before continuing on. We continue on to see more island views and landmarks before Peter drops us at our desired locations. This is a great way to really appreciate all of the history and intricacies of the unique place. After hanging at the museum and taking advantage of their VEW (very expensive WiFi) – I’ve used up my pre-purchased, thirty-day supply in five-days – Kongy, Farmer Jane and I head over to the golf club to enjoy their weekly fish-fry dinner. It’s a busy night with about twenty five-people inside. After a cozy-night’s sleep, I head down the path of Thornleigh and walk five-minutes to the small building housing Lord Howe Environmental Tours. This morning I’m taking one of their glass-bottom boat tours. I enter the shack and, like everyone else on today’s tour, I turn down the offered wet-suit in case I want to snorkel. (There will be no snorkeling as it’s effing freezing!). The most clothing anyone removes are their socks in order to wade through the calf-deep, cold water. GuideLord Howe Environmental Tours is owned by Dean, who used to be a Park Ranger on the island prior to starting his own business. As is common on the island, many families work in the same business and, Lord Howe Environmental Tours is no exception. Dean’s mother, Jill, and his wife Roslyn work the desk and office part, while Dean and his father, Ken, take
the tourists on the boats. We head on out and, during our excursion, we’re lucky enough to see a green turtle tURTLEresting in the rocks, as well as a stingray lying in sand. While this cold-water coral isn’t quite as colorful as bright coral of warmer climates, the underwater views are spectacular. This may just be the least polluted water I’ve seen anywhere in the world. We see underwater creatures which Dean describes as “Sequential Hermaphrodites” and things with “jeweled gonads.” (Insert your own joke here.) FatherI’ve been told one other great sight on this tour is when Dean removes his shirt and dons his wetsuit in order to snorkel under the boat and feed the fish. Apparently, Dean works-out. Sting RayUnfortunately, just as there was no weather balloon launch yesterday, there’s no seeing of the six-pack today as Ken gets the fish-feeding duties. After a few hours, we head back in to the office where Jill has prepared some wonderful tea and we gather to chat about or various adventures on this special island.

Flight of the Jungle Bee

Today I head out of Auckland. I’ll be back, but I have to go meet another man. His name is Frank and he’s an older man. He’s sixty three-years old; well, in dog years. In people years he’s nine. He’s a white, furry terrier and I’ll be staying with him in Taupo, while his parents are away traveling in Africa.
Frank the DogFrank and I met in a round-about way. When I knew I’d be traveling to Australia or New Zealand, I started checking out various locations in those countries for dog-sitting opportunities through two of the house-sitting websites I belong to (Trusted Housesitters and HouseCareers). I found one who was looking for someone with hospitality experience (that’s me!) as they own a short-term rental place. Unfortunately, they found someone before we had a chance to Skype. A few weeks-later, they E-mailed me letting me know that a friend of theirs was looking for a dog-sitter. We spoke via Skype and they were very flexible and, if the vote didn’t go for New Zealand, it wasn’t a problem for them if I didn’t come as they had another option. Well, you voted for Auckland which, at only a three-hour drive from Taupo, gave me a chance to live with Frank for a week. He’s got to be easier to deal with than Friday was (see Sleeping with the Enemy).
So now, I’m picking up my rental car. I’ve reserved it through About New Zealand Rental Cars. I found them through the New Zealand tourism website and got a great deal. About New Zealand rents cars which have aged-out of Apex, their other car rental agency. As I don’t believe in age discrimination, I’m all for supporting these older models and, at NZ$220 (US$148) for twelve days, it’s a great deal. Sure, there are a few bumps and scratches, but I like to think of them as scars; and I love scars as they mean you did things and had life experiences. I turn down the rental insurance as I’ve checked with both American Express and Citicards regarding the included auto insurance. While the basics are online, it’s great to call and check about these things. I used Skype to dial their toll-free numbers and found out that, while American Express has worldwide coverage, their auto insurance policy excludes six countries, one of which is New Zealand. I’ve confirmed with Citicards that there are no countries excluded.
I drive out of the place and head back to my AirBnB to pick up my bags (no need to pack nice as I just have to throw it in the car). I navigate the busy freeways heading out of Auckland to drive on the winding, hilly two-lane highways which weave through the rest of the North Island. As I’ve started later than I’d planned, and hope to arrive before dark (remember, it’s winter and gets dark early), I head straight for Taupo with only a stop for a quick lunch. The scenery is beautiful, even if it does rain most of the way. While I love rain, today it just feels cold and depressing. I’m homesick and have financial concerns, and the radio stations here are just bad. As my my mini speaker seems to being having some issues, I shove my iPhone into one of the small storage nooks in the car and turn on the music. The small space amplifies the music and I’ve McGyvered a speaker. (You can also drop your phone in a cup for the same effect; just be sure the cup is empty!) I sing along with familiar tunes to help lift my mood.
Steam VentsI’m driving on the Thermal Explorer Highway as I enter Taupo. This area is a geothermal area which provides wonderful viewing of steam vents popping up all over the place. It’s much like Yellowstone Park, only these go through towns and cities. Though I’ve heard about the smell of sulfur which supposedly permeates the place (and I’ve smelled this in Yellowstone), I don’t experience it on my drive in.

Lake Taupo
A view from Frank’s house

I arrive at about 5:30pm and wait a few minutes for Lauren, the homeowners’ daughter to return from work. She lets me in and introduces me to Frank (I think he likes me). Being further south, and with the winds coming across the mountains and over the large lake – the largest lake (in surface area) in New Zealand – Taupo is colder than Auckland. I’ve just spent four months in Southeast Asia and anything cooler than seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit feels cold. To add insult to injury, they’re having an unusual cold-snap, with it getting below freezing during the night. Oh, and I forgot to mention, there’s no central heat. My room has a space-heater, and other rooms have wall ones (not the good radiator kind they have in Europe) which I’m instructed to turn off during the day or when I’m out. The frigid bathroom ensures that my showers will be limited. Seriously New Zealanders, it’s the twenty-first century. I can get by without the jetpack I was promised as a child, but heat?
Lauren spends part of the next day showing me around the place, explaining how appliances work and Frank’s regular schedule. She’d planned to take the bus back to school but the bus can’t get here as the road from Wellington, where the bus is coming from, is closed due to snow and she must drive. As I stop at the grocery story, small flakes of snow begin to fall. Seriously New Zealand, central heating is awesome.
The next morning, I wake up early, stop by the freezing bathroom, quickly dress and, by 7:15am, I’m out the door and in my car heading out to Rotorua. Just about an hour away, the Rotorua-Taupo corridor is the Moab of New Zealand. Any adventure activity you could possibly want can be found in Taupo, Rotorua or somewhere in between. Today, I’m ziplining!
The drive is crazy beautiful, with a thick, white layer of frost covering much of the ground, and steam from the thermal rising up all around me. I drive through mountains and fog and, though it looks colder than cold (it is), it’s also surreal in its beauty.
Morning BeautyI’m scheduled to fly at 9:00am with Rotorua Canopy Tours and, with a quick coffee stop along the way, I pull up at their headquarters at 8:35am. (It’s literally a home-office, as the building is a house)
ZiplingAfter completing our paperwork on their iPads (this is becoming more common and, you heard it hear first, I predict the term “paperwork” will disappear from human vernacular by 2030) and agreeing not to sue if we do something stupid and die or get hurt, we step outside to get suited up. As my pretty, wool-coat which I had made in Vietnam is, well, pretty, it didn’t seem like appropriate attire to swing in the jungle so, between the fleece, sweaters and thermal shirt, I’m wearing four layers of clothing. The folks at RCT graciously offer another layer with a water/windproof jacket, a hat and gloves. More importantly, they offer harnesses with a variety of carabiners (the claspy, hooky things) and some other metal bits attached.
GuidesAfter getting all strapped up, we grab our helmets – a few of us are asked to attach the company GoPro’s to our helmets (do they not know how badly I want one of these? Big mistake) – and pile into their van. There are ten of us, ranging in age from low-twenties to sixties, plus our two guides, Abby and Dan.
After twenty-minutes, we reach the top of the hill and, following a fifteen minute walk through the jungle, we reach our first platform. Being the first, this one is on the not-too-long and not-too-high side, in order to ease us into this. Abby hooks me into the main cable and tells me to step down the stairs on the end of the platform which lead, well, nowhere. (The song, If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof comes to mind as Tevye sings about staircases, “And one more leading nowhere just for show.” Apparently Tevye had gone zipling.) I hold onto the straps which attach my harness to the cable, confidently step down the four steps (it’s all an act), lean back into my harness and pick my feet up. I scream and zoom (multitasking) and, a few seconds later, I arrive at the next tree with Dan applying the brakes so I don’t, literally, become a tree hugger.ZipliningWe next step up to a swing bridge, a bouncy bridge high above the forest floor. It looks scarier than it is, though, if you’re like Nan, one of the women on our trip, and afraid of heights, I’d imagine that it’s just as bad as it looks. I’m incredibly impressed by her, not only confronting her fear, but overcoming it.
BridgeYoga on BridgeWe continue on to more zips with names such as Robin’s Hood, Plight of the Kakapo (sounds like something a mother potty-training her child might say), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. We also cross another swing bridge, this one with no cables along the side and which some hang over the side while I do a bit of yoga – a tree-pose in the trees (Namaste y’all).
EnvironmentalBefore, during and after, we have a chance to walk through the jungle with our guides, who show us some of the environmental issues within the jungle as well as the Forest Restoration Project which Rotorua Canopy Tours has developed and runs.
When we complete the course, we pile back into the van and head back to the office.
Tomorrow – Hiking to waterfalls