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.
 

The Good, the Bad, and the Gracias's – Colombia

Here I am! Yeh, I know it’s been a bit too long. I left you without a Drop Me Anywhere ending. I seemingly went under the radar and, for all you knew, decided to go live with a lost tribe in the Amazon (would you be surprised?). Or, perhaps Tarantulina Jolie decided she no longer wanted to be friends. In an effort to improve my editing skills, my challenge is to tell you about it in 5 sentences. Here goes: Immediately after returning from Colombia, I began leading a couple of tours (writing isn’t famous for its livable salary) which had me working 80-90 hours per week. During this time, my friend Rose had an emergency back in the Congo. I’m head of her foundation (yeh, I have a few secrets but, now that you know, check out www.RoseMapendoFoundation.org) and we had to gather some money for her to return. Then to New York, for meetings and to London for a conference (with a stop in Norwich, UK to, you know, sleep). Immediately following the conference, I flew to Vienna because, when you’re location independent and have to be somewhere anyway, why not Vienna.
So, Vienna is where we’ll finish talking about Colombia with our traditional final article on a location, The Good, the Bad, and the Gracias’s. This is where I let you know what was good in Colombia, what was not so good, and who I have to thanks for helping me along during my visit. I’ll also tell you how much things cost me, so you can figure out your budget should you decide to do a similar trip, as well as rounding up all of the various links to hotels, restaurants, local tour companies, and more, which were included in the serious. Yup, they’re wrapped up in one nice package (with the receipt attached should you wish to return it for something you really like).
First, a couple of small things to note. It is Colombia, not Columbia. This is not Washington DC (District of Columbia), but a whole different place. It’s even pronouncedd Co-lōm-bia. And, as I learned, Medellin is pronounced Me-de-jzean. Traditionally “ll” is one letter in the Spanish alphabet which would be pronounced as a “y”. This is why most of the world pronounces it as Me-de-yeen. For some reason, nobody could explain why, but Colombians don’t pronounce it that way. And, for those who would argue, might I just bring up Arkansas, Worcester, and all of those UK “shire” places pronounce much differently than they’re spelled. Medejzeen it is!
 
The Good
Where to begin? There was so much good!

  • Let’s start with the people. Colombia makes it into my top three places with the nicest people. Ireland comes in at number one, and Colombia is now tied for second with the people of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Hell, it might just pull in front of St. John’s. Or perhaps that’s only because it’s been a while since I visited there. Regardless, I’m reassured that there are extremely nice people all over the world.

 

  • Corcora ValleyThe beauty. Colombia is beautiful. The green mountains, the jungle, hell, even the birds (I’m really not a bird person) are gorgeous. The Corcora Valley has made its way into my top 10 travel experiences and the striking beauty is a big part of it. And Medellin, that’s the big city which doesn’t just lie in the base of the mountains but is part of the mountains. As my taxi climbed over the hill from the airport it gave me a spectacular first view of this city in the mountains, which literally took my breath away. And the taxi driver was so proud of it that he insisted on pulling over so I could take a photo.

 

  • That’s another good thing; the pride of the people in their cities and the country as a whole. They remember how bad things were and are so very proud of how far they’ve come. It wasn’t all that Restaurant Ownerlong ago that Colombia was a place which must not be visited. And, if you did, you might as well have bought a one-way ticket as there was a good possibility of you being murdered by a drug lord. From the people who were anxious to show me around their cities to those who simply shouted out on the street, “Welcome to my community!” their pride in their homeland is both remarkable and a joy to experience.

 

  • Their games. ‘What?’ you say. ‘What’s this about their games?’ The Colombians are full of From the men playing chess at tables set out on the street to Carambole, the three-ball billiards game I somewhat learned in Salento, it’s clear that a sense of play is part of the culture. And, Tejo, what Colombians call their national sport, involves beer and gunpowder. What could go wrong? The game is played by throwing a hard, metal disc at a rectangular board filled with soft clay which has been set at an angle on the ground. A circle of small, triangular packets of gunpowder is set around the center. The object is to land your clay disc in the center. Should a player miss by just an inch, the disc will hit the packet of gunpowder and, boom, well, that’s even more fun. Oh, and drinking beer while playing is part of the game. Now, who couldn’t love a country like this?

 
The Bad
 

  • The travel warnings. I’ll be honest, my sister really didn’t want me to go to Colombia. She’d read the travel warnings put out by the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, and was so concerned that she had her family and friends voting for another location. Still, some out there really wanted me to go to Colombia and, for every vote she and her family cast, there were two or three votes for Colombia. Sure, Colombia has its dangerous areas and cities like most other countries, but I felt as secure heading out alone after dark as I have in most other countries and even more comfortable than in some.

 

  • The coffee. What? So here’s the thing; it’s not that the coffee is terrible, it’s just that it isn’t the Coffee Growergreat coffee I’d expected to find in a country known as being one of the top coffee producers in the world. I like my coffee like I like my men – strong and bitter. Their coffee (like many men) disappointed me. It isn’t terrible, just a disappointment if you expect to drink some of the best coffee in the world. I learned that the excellent coffee which they’re known for is exported to make money, while the crappy stuff stays within the country.

 
The Gracias’s
 

  • New FriendsBig thanks to my new friends Fabian and Marcella. Fabian, for telling me so much of his story and the story of his country, as well as inviting me to the 130th Anniversary party of El Espectador and introducing me to Marcella. To Marcella for taking me shopping and introducing me to new areas in Medellin, and for allowing me to have some much-needed girl time. I’m often asked if it gets lonely being location independent; these are the people who help that loneliness subside.

 

  • Gracias to El Espectador, for allowing me to come to your party and meet the very handsome mayor of Medellin. May you continue telling the stories of your country for another 130 years.Newspaper
  • Gracias to Hector and the entire staff at La Cabaña Eco Hotel Your lovely place showed me what heaven on earth looks like, and your dining experience by the fire will always be a memorable night for me.Hector
  • Thanks to the Volunteer Hostel for the good work you do and for hooking me up with FEM who are also doing good work helping to educate the kids in more economically challenged villages. And thanks to Kristy from Cartagena Connections for showing me the Bazurto Market, as well as hooking me up with these folks. Please click on the links below to read more about these wonderful organizations.

 

  • Thanks to the wonderful people of Colombia. From the lady on the airplane who invited me to stay at her farmhouse (perhaps next time when I have more time) to the people in Medellin who taught me Colombian blackjack, to Jean Paul at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana who offered to give me a lift to a town two hours Seriously, these Colombian people are so darned nice.

 

  • Finally, as always, thank you to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. For reading, for traveling along with me, and for patiently waiting for the ending of the story. I hope you find it useful and worth the wait. I plan to return to Colombia this winter to write, work on the Drop Me Anywhere book, and enjoy the beautiful people and scenery. I hope to see you there.

 
The Budget
Should you ever decide to do a similar trip (mine was 27 days), here’s the breakdown of my costs so you can have an idea of a budget:
Airfare/Bus – $709.81 (Airfare from Phoenix to Cartagena and Bogota to Phoenix; bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta; flight from Santa Marta to Medellin; bus from Medellin to Salento; flight from Periera (Salento) to Bogota.
Accommodations – $1,119.96
Food/Drink – $368.84
Taxi’s, Mass Transit, Bike Rental, Motorbike rental, etc. – $114.27
Admissions and activities – $97.50
Tips, Luggage Fees, other Miscellaneous – $80.69
Total cost – Approximately $2,490.27
 
The Links
Accommodations
Eco Hotel La Cabaña
Estelar Blue
Hotel Lomas 10 (Medellin)
Hotel Minca la Casona (Minca)
Old Town Premium B&B Cartagena
Volunteer Hostel  (Cartagena)- Stay here or even check out their place to purchase crafts made by, and supporting local indigenous communities.
Activities
Cartagena Connections
Comuna 13 Tours
Corcora Valley (hiking and beauty)
Free Tour Cartagena
Hollywood Casino
Museum of Antioquia (Medellin)
Oviedo Mall (Medellin)
Palace of the Inquisition and Historical Museum
Santa Fe Mall
Vergel Tours
Air
Jet Blue
LATAM Airlines
Miscellaneous
El Espectador Newspaper
Orbitz
Restaurants
La Mulata
Lazy Cat
Salon Malaga
Transportation
Flota Occidental Transportation
Marsol Transportation
Medellin Metro
Volunteering
FEM (Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional)
 
 
 
 
 

Fifty Shades of Green

HammockFollowing yesterday’s long hike, I wake expecting to feel more sore than I do. With just a little tenderness in my quadriceps, I choose to have a relaxing morning hanging on the farm and writing. A light on-and-off rain is falling and the various chairs scattered on the porch surrounding the building are very comfortable. I’m sure the hammocks also are but I have yet to perfect the skill of hammock-writing.

By 3:00 pm both the writing and the rain are finished and it’s time for a horseback ride. There’s no need to schedule the ride with a tour company as, La Cabaña Eco Hotel, doesn’t only have cows, but horses too. While my guide, Andrés, saddles up the horses, I get to know Carrot and Caroline. No, these aren’t the horses, but a couple of twenty-something Dutch women who will also be riding today. While her real name isn’t Carrot, it’s something which sounds quite similar and, understanding that non-Dutch people have difficulty with it, she throws me, well, a carrot, and invites me to call her that. Immediately, I impress them with my knowledge of the Dutch language which I learned from sailors, saying in Dutch both, “Hello, how are you?“ and, “Your fly is open, Dickhead.”

With our flies closed, we climb up on our horses (some more gracefully than others) and begin walking off the farm. My horse, a beautiful mare named Tequila, seems to have a crush on the male horse which Carrot rides, getting her nose close enough to his butt to catch a whiff of his farts the second they exit his rear, which they do quite often.

The ladies have never ridden horses before and, while I got quite good at it during my adventure tour-guiding days, it’s been some time so, when they request to go slow, I have no problem with it.

Crossing the road, we ride through a field which, like all fields here in the Corcora Valley, is blanketed by greener-than-green, soft grass. Three of the ranch dogs accompany us, running alongside seeming to Horseunderstand their job of taking care of the riders and making sure the horses behave. The field soon takes us to a trail just as muddy as yesterday’s, only this time it’s the horses’ hooves being covered by the slippery brown mess. Before long the trail skims the side of a green hill and I reflexively lean in towards the hill as, should the horse misstep or slide in the mud as I did all day yesterday, I’ll get a close-up look at the bottom of a canyon. The ride takes us through paths of flowering trees which open up to beautiful tree-dotted hills displaying every shade in the rainbow, as long as that rainbow is green. With the variable weather, the clouds which hang over the hills sometimes giving way to sunshine provide a hundred-different views of the same vista.  All the while Tequilla, my slutty horse, has her nose so far up the ass of her boyfriend in front of us that, one good sneeze and she’ll be flying out of his nose.

Horse TunnelAbout 45-minutes into the ride, we enter an old railroad tunnel. As the horses click along the partially-buried old trestles, I look to my left and see a statue of the Virgin Mary placed in a small arch carved into the wall. I’m not sure if it was placed there when the train was active, or even if it’s a tradition in all tunnels in Colombia, but she stands there now keeping watch over less-than-skilled horse-riders during the day and the jungle flora and fauna at night.

An hour into our ride, we park (does one park a horse? maybe dock?), Andrés helps us dismount and, walking with our “I just got out of the saddle and can’t seem to bring my legs together” gate, we take a short, somewhat painful stroll to a waterfall. This one isn’t like those in Minca where swimming was an option, as there’s no easy place to enter the water. Still, it takes nothing away from the beauty of it.

WaterfallAfter some time, we head back to the farm on the same trail we came in on. My horse continues to chase after the one in front even though I try to explain to her that she’s acting a bit slutty. Besides the amazing scenery, part of the fun of this trip is watching the dogs do their jobs. It’s clear which is the alpha who spends all his time bossing around the other two and sending them on missions.

“Hey, you, get back there and make that horse get a move on.”

“Check up on that redhead because I’m not sure she knows what the hell she’s doing.”

Arriving back at the farm, I hop in the shower and head back across the road to the main house. It’s a special night as Hector, the owner, is making his famous Lomo al Trapo. Coating a loin of beef in salt, then Beefwrapping it tightly in cotton and tying it with string, it looks like a Indian baby swaddled in a cradle board. He places it into a fire pit filled with gray coals emitting bright orange heat from a fire he started an hour before.

TableA long table decorated with wine glasses, bread, a salad, potatoes, and sauces is set out on the lawn under a tent next to the fire ring. There are also marshmallows which, some of my fellow travelers, two little girls from Switzerland, decide make great appetizers (who am I to argue?). We eat our marshmallows and drink our wine and, soon enough, the steaks are done.

Firepit

 
 
 
 

From the wonderfully prepared meat and the fresh salad, to tasty red wine (oh, and the marshmallows), this is an excellent meal. Of course, there’s a dessert of fresh fruit (Colombia is all about the fresh fruit and you can buy at least ten different kinds of freshly-made juice on just about any street-corner) and cream.

GuitarWe finish our meal and Hector pulls out his guitar. This is not “Karaoke Night on the Farm,” but a wonderful local experience of dinner and entertainment, both provided by Hector. It turns out, not only is he an excellent cook and welcoming hotelier, he is also a fine singer and guitarist. He sings traditional Colombian songs and, Gustavo, another guest, originally from Colombia, invites me to dance. The night is magical as, fueled by good food and wine, we dance to music under the stars. Calm down, there’s no magic between myself and Gustavo as he is joined here with his husband Leo.

In the past week, I’ve done a four-hour walking tour, a five-hour hike, and a two-hour horseback ride. All I can think is, why am I not skinnier? Oh, and then there’s the marshmallows.

 

Tomorrow – Wake up and smell the coffee.

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 Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

UniversityIt’s my final day in Medellin and I don’t want to leave. Then again, I didn’t want to leave Cartagena, or Minca so I guess you could say I love Colombia. I spend the day exploring some different areas with my new friend Marcela. We begin by visiting the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana where Marcela went to school. The campus is lovely and, as we walk through a central area lined with dozens of different types of snack bars, Marcela explains, it’s here that students gather, sometimes with each other and sometimes with their professors. There seems to be a great exchange of knowledge and ideas, as well as food.
Continuing on to a different area, we sit down for coffee with one of Marcela’s old professors (well, not old, but previous) and now friend. We have a nice conversation about this crazy world we live in and are soon joined by another professor, Jean Paul. After a nice talk, Jean Paul mentions he’s headed to Val Paraiso the following day and invites me to come. It would mean leaving Medellin a day early which wouldn’t be a huge problem as I’ve already stayed longer than I planned. I decided I wanted to spend more time in this fascinating city and, though staying meant giving up on visiting the Amazon, I also realized that I have fallen in love with this wonderful country and will soon return and can make that trip to the Amazon as well as to other South American countries then.
Salon MalagaMarcela and I leave the University and, taking the Metro to the San Antonio area (not the Texas one), stop by the historic Salón Málaga restaurant. This place opened in 1957 and keeps the feel of old Colombia alive Black and white photos of customers from days long past and signed photos of musicians cover the walls. Tango performances and classes are offered weekly. This is a place one might expect Ricky Ricardo to walk in at any minute carrying his tall bongo drum (yes, I realize he was Cuban but you get the idea).
TramAfter a drink, we head outside to the tram station. This is my first tram in Medellin and, unlike the Metro trains, the tram is thinner and travels at a slower pace on surface streets. We’re traveling a short distance to Marcela’s apartment which she shares with her sister and mother. While mom isn’t home, we sit and talk with her sister for a while. These are two beautiful, educated, and feisty women and I take pleasure in meeting them and joy in knowing that strong, smart women decorate this world. In these troubled times, they’re the ones who give me hope.
Marcela and I step outside and head back to the Poblado Metro Station, as she has an English class to teach to a 10-year old and I have some writing to do. I spend the evening checking for some sort of transportation to Val Paraiso or surrounding areas to Salento in the coffee region with no luck. There are no airports in that area and none of the buses to the coffee region seem to stop near, so I must decline. (So sad as the scenery, both Val Paraiso and Jean Paul, was sure to be beautiful.)
 
Another new day and it’s time to leave Medellin for greener pastures (literally) in Salento, Colombia. The area is part of the coffee triangle which, to this coffee lover, sounds like heaven. And though I’ve been looking forward to visiting this region, I’m not looking forward to the six-hour-ish bus ride to get there. I’ve booked a ticket directly through Flota Occidental Bus Company at a cost of COP40,000 ($13.49). I was able to reserve my seat on the website and, as the bus travels through the winding roads of the Andes Mountain Range, I choose seat number 1; up front where I stand half a chance of not losing my lunch.
I catch a cab to the city’s South Bus Terminal and wander through the mall it’s connected to (yup, another mall). Checking in is a complete 180 from my troubles at the Cartagena bus station as all goes smoothly and I’m handed my ticket and pointed to the door from which I will board.
Buying some goodies for the bus (always a good idea to have to calm your hunger pains or to share with others and make friends) and taking one last bathroom stop (also a good idea because, well, because), I walk over to door number seven and, after a few minutes, we’re called to board.
Our driver loads backpack after backpack in the rear as I walk up with a smile, introduce myself (winning some friendliness points), and say, “lo siento” as I present my one large bag (actually smaller than some of these huge backpacks) and one roll-aboard carry on. He smiles and replies, “no problemo” as he finds just enough space in the storage area. I climb aboard and find my empty seat at the front on the left as I enter. I’m happy I took the time to reserve it. I’m also happy I remembered to wear my Sea-Bands (wristbands which use pressure point technology to help prevent motion sickness) and to buy a green apple in the bus station (this can also help prevent motion sickness. My cruise ship employment history sometimes comes in handy).
Before long, we’re off. I play with the TV screen in front of me, happy to see both the individual screens and the listings of some movies in English. Also, there’s Wifi on this bus! No, it isn’t British Airways, as almost all of the English language movies are some sort of action or science fiction films (not at all my favorite types). Finding Dori is also on, but I’ve seen it (don’t worry, Dori gets found, though I’m not sure she even remembers getting lost). The only other option is The Shack. I read the book and enjoyed it but not enough that I think they should have made a movie about it.
As we exit the city and enter the curvy roads, I quickly realize that I can neither type or read if I have any hope of keeping my breakfast down. Suddenly The Shack seems like an excellent choice. I don my earbuds and spend the next two hours with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Oh, and aStreet sign guy named Emil. Following the movie, I fall asleep for about ten minutes before the bus begins to slow and the driver announces, “Quince minutes por comer y baño.” (Fifteen minutes for food and bathroom).
I happily exit the bus and head to the bathroom. Unlike the bus station in Medellin which charged COP600 entrance fee (there’s even a turnstile) plus another COP200 if you want toilet paper, this one is all-inclusive for COP1,000. I then head over to the lunch counter where a guy named Dave mans one section and seems very proud of the food he’s cooked. I can’t resist his hot, mini-casseroles which seem like some good comfort food in the middle of this long drive.
Before long, my fellow-travelers and I gather outside the bus waiting for the driver. Thirty-minutes into our fifteen-minute stop, the driver appears and opens the door.
As we head out for the second-half of our journey, it’s clear that the worst is over and, though we still travel on two-lane roads, these are not nearly as windy as the please-don’t-let-me-vomit road which brought us here.
Finally, just after dark, at about 7:00 pm we arrive in Salento. I had doubts about staying in Salento as I was just coming from a big city and was looking for the peaceful beauty I had heard the coffee region offered. Three-days-ago, when I began looking for a place to stay, it seemed like Salento might have some hustle and bustle. I considered the town of Filandia (supposedly beautiful and smaller than Salento) but was convinced by Marcela’s friends to go to Salento and maybe stay at a place just out of town. I found a finca (farm) to stay at called Eco Hotel La Cabaña – this is quite popular outside of the big cities in Colombia – and booked it, all the while wondering if I was making the right decision.
The bus driver unceremoniously stops the bus in the middle of a busy intersection in the small town saying simply, “Aqui!” I have no idea where to go. I know my place is at least a few kilometers outside of town and Google Maps tells me it’s a thirty-one-minute walk or a five-minute drive. Walking there while dragging my bags behind is not an option so I ask the driver, “Taxi?”
“No taxi.” He curtly replies.
I ask the lady who seems to be directing traffic at the intersection who repeats the driver’s words. I ask the driver if he can drop me and he laughs while shaking his head from side to side. Standing there, unsure of what to do, the crossing guard indicates for me to get the hell out of the street. This is upsetting, as the people of Colombia have been so ridiculously nice so far and I’m unprepared feeling shunned. Stepping into a delicatessen, I ask about a taxi and, though much nicer in their response, it’s still negative. I call the hotel (I’d put the name, address, and phone number in the notes in my phone) and begin jabbering about how I E-mailed the previous night providing my approximate arrival time and letting them know I would catch a taxi. As I received no response, I assumed all was well. Seriously, I probably should handle it better and I’m sure the man on the other end thinks I’m nuts as he instructs me to call another number, which turns out to me his daughter, Maria Camila, who calms me and tells me she’ll be here in five minutes to pick me up. (Not my proudest moment.)
True to her word, Maria Camila arrives and we drive along a very dark, very curvy and hilly tree-lined road (no way could I have walked) before pulling up to a red and white building. It’s difficult to see much in the dark but, as she shows me to my two queen-sized bedded and very spacious room, I’m relieved.
Tomorrow, the big hike.