How Green Was My Valley

Stop what you’re doing! Seriously, stop right now and get on your computer – oh, I guess you’re already on it. Ok then, leave this page and immediately book a trip to Salento, Colombia. You can fly into Periera or Armenia (yes, Armenia, Colombia) or, if you want, you can fly to Medellin or Bogota or Cali and take a long, curvy bus ride.
Still unsure? Here’s a taste of why you should do it:
 
Following the long and winding road I took from Medellin to Salento, and after finally arriving at the Eco Hotel La Cabaña, I enjoy a brie, apple and prosciutto sandwich while sharing a bottle of wine with the French family staying in the room next to me. They’ve also arrived today but, as they came earlier, they’ve taken a dip in the river behind our house. We’re all hungry and the owner’s daughter, Maria Camila, has brought us dinner to enjoy on the porch in front of our rooms where we chat about our Colombian adventures thus far and our plans for the next couple of days.
The Eco Hotel La Cabaña consists of two houses across the street from each other with a combined total of nine rooms accommodating 26 people. As I settle into my room, a few flying creatures welcome me. This is a leche finca or dairy farm, and, though only a five-minute drive from the town, it’s still in the countryside and, though there don’t seem to be mosquitos, there are moths and other random bugs. This is no reflection on the cleanliness of the place, it’s just my room has lights and these types of insects are attracted to them. After unpacking and catching up on the news (yup, it has cable TV), I settle under my down quilt for a good night’s sleep.HotelWhen I  awake in the morning I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s a bit cool, not cold, but after the heat of Cartagena, the change in temperature (low-60’s Fahrenheit in the morning) is a shock. Climbing out of bed, I open the curtains and consider the possibility that my bus through the Andes might not have made it to its destination safely and I may have died and gone to heaven. The daylight allows me to see what I couldn’t last night; large black and white cows roam the pasture just outside my window chomping on perfectly green grass looking as content as I feel.
 
PuppyI dress and walk outside, immediately hearing the splash of the gently rolling river behind the house. I now get my first real look at the two houses of the finca. The white buildings with red trim are built in the local style with railed porches surrounding the entire structure and Dogwhich remind me of the Antebellum homes found in the southeastern United States. Walking over to the main house I say hello to the very friendly and very-well taken care of dogs who belong to the ranch owners and some staff before settling in a seat in the small dining room where I meet some more fellow travelers and staff.
Breakfast is fresh fruit, tamales, eggs, toast, homemade cheese from the cows on the farm (well, the cows didn’t make the cheese, but they did supply the milk and the farm staff made the cheese), juice, yogurt (the yogurt in Colombia is in the form of a drink), and, being in the coffee region, coffee is available 24-hours a day.
During breakfast, I speak with Maria Camila about the options of activities here and, as the weather is nice today, both Maria and I decide it’s a good day to hike the Corcora Valley.
The Corocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and is known for its Quindío wax palm trees which, growing as high as 150-200 feet (45-60 meters), are the tallest palm trees in the world. It’s also filled with other incredible flora and fauna, as well as lots of mud.
JeepThere are a few ways to see the Corcora Valley. 1) You can drive there and enjoy lunch, coffee, or a beer while contemplating the incredible scenery. Oh, and by drive I mean you catch a ride on one of the many Willys. These Jeeps, which were left over after World War II when the U.S. government no longer had a need for so many, found homes in the coffee region of Colombia. These workhorses are normally outfitted with some bench seats lining the sides of the back and can carry up to 10-or-more people using the front and back seats, as well accommodating four people standing on the back bumper while holding onto Jeep Insidebars on the roof. 2) Grab a Willy to the entrance and take a 2-hour hike into the Valley. 3) Grab that Willy (wow, this is beginning to sound dirty and perhaps you should do that in private) to the entrance and take the 4-6-hour hike through the jungle, up the mountain (up even further if you want to go see the hummingbirds and parrots), and then down into the Corcora Valley. Choosing option number 3, I grab my Willy (wait, do I even have one of those?) and head off.
The first step is to find a Willy. I’m staying just out of town between Salento and the Corcora Valley and most people find their Willy in the town square. (Please excuse me as I need to take a moment to bang on my ear to force the Willy jokes out of my head.)
Okay, I’m better now. On a normal day, I could wave down a Willy with an empty seat, or back bumper to climb on and bring me to the hike. Unfortunately, today is a holiday and many Colombians have come to the area for the long weekend. (I’ve been here for three weeks and this is the second holiday, though I don’t really understand what either holiday has been about.) Maria Camila calls a Willy for me which, as it’s now private, costs me 10-times as much as a shared one would (COP31,000 versus COP3,100 or about US$10.00 versus US$1.00).
I arrive at the park about fifteen-minutes later and find my way through the blue gate to begin my hike. I’m told the hike is well-marked and I shouldn’t have a problem with getting lost. I later find this to be true as I get lost without any problem. Before long, I arrive at a small wooden structure next to which stands a man pointing to a map painted on a wooden sign. He’s giving instructions in Spanish and eight or ten people from various countries who don’t speak Spanish are nodding their heads pretending to understand. The man collects our COP2,000 entrance fee and we move on.

Mud
General trail conditions

I slide along the muddy trail thankful for my waterproof hiking boots yet, as good as the traction may be, I still manage to accomplish pratfalls which leave my pants, shirt, and hands a healthy shade of brown. (It’s my own personal mud bath.) The trail winds through the jungle, up hills, and across a multitude of footbridges made from wood planks and wire which bounce and sway as I walk across. Being sure to wait for the person in front of me to exit before taking careful steps to balance on the wood while touching the thin wire along the side, I quickly learn not to grab the wire as some connecting areas on the bridges and many areas along the trail are linked with barbed Nun Crossing Bridgewire. At the first bridge, I wait for the habit-covered nun in front of me to cross. She stops for a moment before stepping on the bridge. Touching her head and chest, she first crosses, and then she crosses.
I continue on, meeting travelers from all over the world – lots of French and Israelis – slogging through mud, up and down hills (though mainly up), and crossing questionable bridges. I’d already decided not hike up to the birds as I had my fill of Hummingbirds in Minka and, as they surrounded my hotel verandah, I didn’t have to hike uphill for an extra half-hour to see them.
Top of hikeThough I was told the trail is clearly marked, there aren’t really any signs and, at the few intersections I come to, it’s a choice of one muddy trail versus another. Still, hikers help each other along the way to find the correct path. The last forty-or-so minutes are strictly uphill. Eventually, I come to a clearing which allows me to see a series of switchbacks climbing the side of a beautiful green hill. Taking a Flowers Mountain Corcora Valleybreak every twenty steps, I finally crest the hill where I find grateful people happy to have reached the top and enjoying just breathing while sitting on benches or lying in the grass. The sunshine and incredible views give us renewed energy while everyone refuels with snacks they’ve brought. Joining in, I take a half hour to simply breathe.
The rest of the hike is downhill. Along the way, I meet two Italian women who are hiking with a guide they’ve hired. We enjoy nice conversation before coming to the Corcora Valley. Around every bend Corcora Valleywe find unbelievable scenes straight out of a painting. The grass coating the rolling hills is perfectly trimmed and dotted with wax palm trees reaching high into the sky. The guide has us scraping our fingernails on the tree in order to feel the wax coating which indigenous tribes melt and use as a waterproof coating for their legs while crossing the river. She also tells us of the tradition to hug a wax palm and points us to one twenty-feet away on the side of the hill. I and one of the other women go in for the hug while the other lady introduces me to an Italian phrase, “I have arrived,” meaning “I’m done.”
Wax Palm TreesEventually, I do arrive and have a coffee at the small indoor/outdoor restaurant while sitting on a bale of hay and chatting with some locals and travelers. I walk over to the parking area and grab a Willy with one extra spot for me on the back bumper. I stand with three other women and, buzzed on adrenaline, we’re all feeling powerful after our hike and enjoying the wind combing our hair while traveling through the picturesque countryside. Fifteen-minutes later, I jump off the bumper, pay the driver (only 3,100 this time) and head straight to the shower.
Riding on the back of WIllyNow, what the hell are you still doing here? Book a trip to visit this paradise of Salento and the surrounding region right now!

The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-You's – Lord Howe Island

Here it is, my end of location article. This is where I tell you what was good about Lord Howe Island, what was not-so-good, and who I need to thank for helping me along the way in Lord Howe. I‘ll also provide all of the links to accommodations, restaurants, and activities which were listed in the various articles, all here in one handy list. It’s a great article to bookmark should you every have the good fortune of visiting Lord Howe Island.
I normally also include a budget, listing what I spent and where I spent it but, have you ever heard the expression, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it”? Well, this might refer to Lord Howe. Also, as I stayed with Farmer Jane and Kongy for at least a week, well, as the commercial says, that’s “Priceless.” Suffice to say that,a s expensive as LHI is this time of year (it’s winter here), prices pretty much double in the summertime.
First, let’s begin with The Good:View pointThe beauty – well slap my bum and call me Gladys, this place is unreal. You know those cartoons where they draw the place in such a way that it could only exist in a cartoonist’s eye? Yup, this is. UNESCO had the right idea when, in 1982, they named this a World Heritage Site.
Oh, and that’s another thing; they care about their UNESCO listing. I’ve been to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and so often, the people and their governments take it for granted. Lord Howe Islanders will go to extreme measures to see that they don’t lose this. Check out one way they’re working to maintain their beauty on Rebel-With-A-Cause.
BonfireThe people – this island of 350-people is a community. They may gossip about each other, but they also care about each other.
Lack of WiFi and cell phone networks –  What? That’s good? Well, it can be.If you’re looking at having a vacation where your kids aren’t glued to their phone texting, or your wife isn’t looking for things on Pinterest, or where you can truly escape from work, this is the place.
Porch
The ease of getting around – Yup, it’s small. While you can walk to many places, it’s best to rent a bike during your stay and use pedal-power. And just think of how fit you’ll be when you leave.
The simplicity – While some things are difficult – WiFi, good hair-products, specific foods, furniture – other things make up for it. If you’re a local, you can walk into Joy’s Shop, buy some groceries and, if you’re short on cash, ask them to write it in the book. Yup, just like Nellie Olsen’s mom’s store, locals can just put it on their store credit (no interest) and pay-up every month-or-so. And going to the historical movie which the school-kids put on is part of this too.
HikingFishThe hiking – if you’re a hiker, you’ll find some of the best day-hikes in the world.
The fishing – See hiking.
The Bad
The prices – as most things must be shipped in, the cost of even basic food items is pretty darned high.
Availability of things – Yes, you can buy some clothes, some toiletries and some souvenirs, but your choices are very limited and, again, it’ll cost you. (For god sake, someone open a sushi restaurant!)
Rainy-day options – should the weather not cooperate, your rainy-day options here are very limited. The only movie theatre is set up with folding chairs and shows one movie per-week; the one of the history of Lord Howe Island and the flying boats.
Lack of WiFi – Yeh, I know I put it on the “Good” list. It simply depends of your individual needs The museum paid a huge amount of money for a satellite dish and pay’s each month too. This spend is passed onto those who choose to buy it. It looks like others will have to consider purchasing dishes as, just prior to my departure, it was announced that the island’s only internet company was pulling out due to lack of people using it (again, there are only about 350 people living on the island).
The Thank-you’s
Farmer Jane
Ukelele
A HUGE thanks to Farmer Jane and Kongy. I can’t find the words to express how grateful I am for your hospitality (and I’m a writer!). You invited me into your home, showed me your beautiful island, and helped me to experience all it has to offer. (And Farmer Jane, you let me beat you at golf.)
Glass Bottom BoatThanks to Chase ‘n’ Thyme Tours, Lord Howe Environmental Tours and Leanda Lei Apartments for the amazing tours and wonderful place to stay. GuideWhile they offered me comps and discounts, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie, these activities and accommodations offer a great product. The tour companies helped me get to know, and see the beauty of, this amazing place on land and under the sea. And Leanda Lei offered me a comfortable place to lay my head and, if I chose to, cook a meal.
Weed teamThank-you to the Weed Team for allowing me to tag along with you. I learned so much about the flora and fauna of the island, as well as how hard you work. It was nice to see the pride you take in your job and your island. Curious about this project? Maybe want to volunteer with them? Read about the on Rebel-With-A-Cause.
Thanks to the students and teachers at the Lord Howe Central School. I appreciated the opportunity to speak with you, maybe inspire you, and meet you. You live in a special place and I hope you appreciate it. Still, when you get older, don’t be afraid to go out and explore the world; you can always come back home.
Finally – thanks to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. Thanks for choosing where we travel to, following along, and sharing the articles. You’ll never know how much your support for this project has meant.
The Links
Accommodations
Leanda Lei Apartments
Activities and Interests
Chase ‘n’ Thyme Tours
Lord Howe Environmental Tours
Lord Howe Island Golf Club
Lord Howe Island Museum
Restaurants
Anchorage
Coral Cafe
Transportation
Qantas Airlines
Volunteering
Lord Howe Weed Team
Miscellaneous
Lord Howe Island Visitors Bureau
Lord Howe Island Central School
Thornleigh

Fore!

Australia - Kira - Jungle hike
Farmer Jane playing in the jungle

It’s a bit of a lazy morning and, when the afternoon arrives, Farmer Jane and I venture out to enjoy some of the fresh air of Lord Howe Island. We head off on the easy Transit Hill hike which takes us through the jungle (yet actually on a trail and not through the jungle where the trees were conspiring to trip me as in Kids Say the Darndest Things). The trail periodically opens up to beautiful views of Mount Lydgbird, Mount Gower, and the turquoise Tasman Sea. LHI is undeniably one of the most beautiful places in the world.
LHI - Beach View from hikeWe hike down from Transit Hill and take a seat on various benches which are placed in strategic locations around the island in order for visitors and locals to simply enjoy the spectacular views and each other’s company. Lord Australia - LHI - Carole and Kira HikingHowe Island is a place where you can awake with absolutely no plan and enjoy a day just going for a walk.
We’d planned to go to one of the island’s lodges for dinner but, as Kongy has had a horrible day at work and will be late, we decide to drink a lot of wine and cook some pasta with fresh vegetables. Yup, a full day going for a simple walk, enjoying the beautiful views, and drinking wine. Lord Howe is full of simple pleasures.
We awake the next morning and I pack up my bags as, for the next two nights, I’ll be staying at Leanda Lei Apartments, a lodge where Farmer Jane works and which I’ve decided to try on to see how visitors to Lord Howe Island normally live. While Farmer Jane and Kongy have been most hospitable, it’s time to leave them in their house to do what young (and old) couples do.
Bags packed and ready to go, Farmer Jane and I ride our bikes down to the jetty to take a look at the Island Trader, the semi-weekly supply ship which is anxiously awaited by residents as, besides bringing supplies for local businesses, most residents order food, clothing and other supplies off the internet, which are delivered via the Island Trader. Farmer Jane normally earns some extra money unloading the supplies but, as she’s working through a pinched nerve in her back, we simply watch the small trucks come and go.
Island TraderWe ride over to Thompsons Store where we enjoy a burger on the front porch and take advantage of the warmth of the sunshine, hidden from the winds along the coast. Afterwards, we stop back at the house for a change of clothes. We’re going golfing today! With the exception of Putt-Putt, neither Farmer Jane nor I have ever golfed. It might be a hoot. And, we’ve decided to dress the part, so we Golfcreate some makeshift knickers and don caps so, if our golf game sucks, we can at least offer comic relief to anyone who might be watching. We ride to The Pines Lodge where Kongy is working hard installing brick walkways and landscaping, grab the keys to the “Ute” (utility trucks which are used by many on the island) and head over to the Lord Howe Island Golf Club, with a quick stop at the liquor store in order to pick up a few small bottles of champagne to quench our thirst on the course.
Golf
Yes, the cigarette helps

We place our envelope with our greens fees in the self-pay honor-system box, grab some clubs and a golf-bag carrier from out back, and head off to the first tee. Kongy has given us a few notes on which clubs to use where and we grab the big, fat driver from the bag after placing our tee on the green. We can’t see the flag marking the hole, but have an idea that it might be far down the fairway and up into a hill between some trees. Farmer Jane swings first and is, well, not too impressive. In fact, she completely misses the ball. Her second attempt is nearly as good as she takes a large chuck of grass and dirt out of the ground. Try number three is slightly more successful as the ball moves forward about forty meters. Unfortunately, the distance of this hole is three hundred twenty eight-meters.
It’s my turn next and I bend down and confidently place my ball on the tee. It takes me four tries to get my ball moving forward and, both Farmer Jane and I go slightly above the par four, as she hits a seventeen and I top her with a twenty-two. Knowing that this will be a long game, we crack open our individual champagne bottles and enjoy the spectacular view.
Golf
Harry’s a swimmer

The next hole goes much better as I’ve decided the problem with our game is that we haven’t named our balls. I name mine Harry and Farmer Jane names hers Blue (yeh, we know). The naming of the balls seems to help and Farmer Jane shoots an eight and I hit a nine, only three-times the par three. Hole number three nearly has me down on my knees laughing as Farmer Jane seems to be using a trick-ball as she keeps hitting it but it only travels about five meters each time. The F-word tumbles out of her mouth countless times as I lean over my club laughing in hysterics. Still, it doesn’t go much better for me as I lose my ball and have to continue on with Harry-2. The par is three and we both hit fourteen.
Australia - LHI - Kira Golf Course jungle
Jungle walk from hole 5 to hole 6

Holes four, five and six have similar success rates as the first three and, by hole six, I’m hitting Harry-4 and she’s moved on to Blue-4. Moving from hole five to six has us walking down the hill and through the jungle to finally reach the tee-off location. (I have no idea of the official term for it.) It’s taken us two hours to play six holes. We decide to call it a day as Farmer Jane has hit a seventy-six and it appears I’ve won with a seventy-five. The total par for these six-holes is twenty so maybe neither of us actually wins. We each drank two small bottles of champagne and I’ve not laughed that hard in a long time so perhaps, we both win.
We head on back to the house, pick up my bags, and head over to Leanda Lei where I enjoy an evening in my lovely room with great kitchen facilities. I have a four-burner stove on which to cook, along with a microwave, refrigerator, small appliances and dishes. I simply enjoy some bread and brie accompanied by a nice glass of wine.
Coming next, Lord Howe I’ll Miss You.
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