Minca – A Gem in the Jungle
After a long day of traveling to Minca, Colombia, I tear myself away from the spectacular view from the terrace of my hotel while I’m shown to my basic twin bed room (though there’s one bed, no twin). It’s simple but has all I need – a bathroom, ceiling fan, and nightstand. No air conditioning as it’s not really needed up here at a cooler temperature and no TV. Each room in the Hotel Minca La Casona is named after a type of tree here in the jungle. Mine, room number 5, is called the Guayacán. This area,, and particularly this hotel, is known as a bird-watchers’ paradise. Most who know me know that I couldn’t give a flying, uh, bird about the bird watching. To clarify, I enjoy watching them and even appreciate the different music they provide to accompany a day in nature, I just don’t care what they’re called. The way I figure it, they don’t know what they’re called, so why should I? I’ve been on safari in Africa when I’ve spotted a giraffe and a lion, yet all the bird watchers wanted to know was, “What kind of bird is that?” Perhaps it also involves a bit of jealousy as I’ve always wanted to have the ability to fly; not in an airplane, but just me, levitating freely above the earth. Still, I consider that this place might increase my appreciation for our fine-feathered friends.
As I unpack my bags (I fully unpack if I’m staying in a place three nights or longer so I feel more settled) I notice a black spot on the wall near the floor. As I approach to see what it is, it uses its multiple legs to begin moving. I inhale and hold my breath. The front desk closes at 6:00pm and I arrived just before. The owners live in a house down the driveway which you can go to in case of an emergency but I’m not sure a tarantula in your room in the jungle qualifies as an emergency. I decide to take a shower and hope it will just disappear.
When I step out of the shower (yay, hot water!) the tarantula is still there. I decide the only way to come to terms with it, is to consider it a pet. I name her Tarantulina Jolie (I’ve used this technique before when I worked on a ship and had a pet cockroach named Fred). Keeping one eye on Tarantulina, I quickly throw on a dress and head out to enjoy the view from the lobby balcony. I get just a few minutes of light as the sun sets early here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At 6:45 I head out for dinner.
It’s tough to navigate a town in the dark when you haven’t seen it in the light. I bring my flashlight which, though not vitally needed, helps me navigate down the long drive to the main street. On the way, I meet some other tourists who point out the main area of town. It’s about a block long and it’s here that I find the Lazy Cat Restaurant. One of the hotel owners has told me this place has a nice atmosphere so I walk in. There’s a back porch sitting high above the Minca River which seems like a lovely place to eat. Unfortunately, many have the same idea and there’s not a seat to be found. I wander down to a lower balcony which, with its one light bulb, reminds me either of an interrogation room in a third-world prison, or that time I sat in the hotel restaurant in the Indian jungle. This is where my flashlight comes in handy.
After a dinner of a fine hamburger (I had a craving) and an even better passion fruit margarita, I walk the ten minutes back to the hotel. As I enter my room, I notice Tarantulina Jolie has moved to the wall just outside the bathroom. I grab one of the many brochures of the region I’ve picked up and attempt to entice her to climb aboard so I can relocate her outside. Apparently, I startle her and she jumps; so I jump and scream. I look for her and she’s disappeared so I decide my best move is to climb into bed and hide. I place a pair of shoes on the nightstand so, if I have to get up in the middle of the night, I won’t step on her nor will she be in my shoes.
After enjoying breakfast on the main balcony while watching the hummingbirds enjoy theirs from the many feeders hanging around, I walk down to the main road and find the gathering of motor-taxis at the bridge. These motorcycle taxis are the way one travels in Minca as they can navigate the muddy, steep mountain roads better than any other type of vehicle. I’ve heard of a coffee plantation in the hills here as well as some wonderful waterfalls with pools to swim.
Luis Alberto, one of the many drivers, has offered a ride up the mountain to the coffee plantation COP15,000 (about US$5.00). He offers me a helmet (unlike Cartagena, they mostly use them in Minca) and I hop on the back of his bike (actually, the hard beds have exacerbated a hip issue and his bike rides high so I not-so-much hop on as I do negotiate my way from the side of a curb).
We ride a few-hundred-feet down the road before we hit dirt and begin climbing into the mountains. Jungle surrounds us on both sides and, the more we climb, the worse the “road” gets. In most parts, it’s simply mud, surrounded by rocks, with deep holes. Sometimes there’s a strip of firmer dirt or even cement which Luis Alberto traverses like a tightrope-walker working without a net (remember, we’re climbing up a mountain with steep drops on the side). With the incredible jungle and views surrounding us, I would call this a dangerously beautiful ride. At one point, dozens of bright blue butterflies flitter around accompanying us on our ride.
Twenty-minutes-later, we arrive at the coffee plantation. A tour in English has just begun so I join in. We learn about the coffee bean process from picking to bagging. It’s fascinating that most of the movement of the beans throughout the process is done through a combination of gravity and water. It’s on this tour that I meet two Irish lasses, Ailbhe and Caoimhe, pronounce Alba and Queensly, I think (those crazy Irish names). They’re on a day tour of Minca from Santa Marta with their guide Luis. We enjoy good conversation over a cup of coffee at the end of the tour and decide to stay and have a beer and chat some more.
The next stop for Ailbhe and Caoimhe is Pozo Azul which is partway down the mountain. As this is also my plan, we decide to go together. Luis calls a mototaxi for me and we head back down the muddy path, through a gate, and onto a rocky path. Ten minutes more and we’ve arrived. Walking down some dirt and rock steps, I catch my first glimpse of Pozo Azul. As “azul” translates to “blue,” Luis tells us the name came because some people hiking at night saw it and, in the moonlight, it was a striking color of blue. As we look at it, it’s a murky marrón (brown). It’s not dirty, just colored from the soil and rains.
Removing our clothes (we have swimsuits on underneath, get your head out of the gutter) we wade into the frigid waters. The bottom is sandy and there’s no need for water shoes. Within a minute, the Irish girls have dived in. Being Irish, they’re used to cold, wet places. It takes me a few more minutes to wade in but, once in, I slowly warm up (or, perhaps, I just become numb). Luis joins us as we play in the water and under the falls. He then climbs up the side of the waterfall and jumps in. The Irish lasses soon follow. For me, I already have prior experience cliff-jumping, as well as both climbing up waterfalls and repelling down, not to mention jumping off, backwards, into a tube in a cave (read about that blackwater rafting experience in New Zealand here), and decline the invitation as I’m just not feeling the climb in me today.
Luis soon appears in the water with a fresh pineapple and begins slicing off pieces for us to enjoy. After an hour of hanging out at the falls, dried off (well, sort of), we say our goodbyes and the girls and Luis head off down the mountainside on their motorcycles, while I decide to walk down, enjoying the jungle at a leisurely pace.
On the way down, while enjoying the beautiful views, I stop at a restaurant (actually a wooden shack with picnic tables) and ask to use “el baño.” Walking through the curtains, I find a toilet next to a large bucket filled with water in which to wash my hands. The guy running the place seems to be around seventy and wears a straw cowboy hat and a big smile. I can’t resist him and we jokingly trade hats while I sit down to enjoy a beer and some chorizo sausage.
I say my graciases and adioses and hike the rest of the way down the mountain. A light rain begins to fall yet I hardly get wet given the cover from the jungle flora. Between the friendly beauty of the people and the glorious natural beauty, I’m pleased to have found this gem in the jungle.
If you’d like to book a tour with Luis, you can book contact the company he works for here.