How is it possible to resume in a few paragraphs all that we have seen and experienced over the past couple of weeks? Despite the relatively short period of time, we have visited many places and met some very incredible people.
The road south brought us to the start of the coffee growing region, and the town of Jardin. This small colorful town is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and 360°mountain greenery. Life is slow paced and a common mode of transport is by horseback. Cafés are scattered around the main square with tiny wooden tables and chairs painted bright colors. Laurent got the cheapest haircut he ever had in his life!
The small road from Jardin to the main highway running through the heart of the coffee growing region was rough and is a good example of us having to double (sometimes even triple) the time needed to get from point A to B. However, thereafter the highway was brand new and we were lucky to avoid the roadworks that had plagued automobilists over many months (maybe even years)!
While on the road we learned a valuable lesson which we will remember for the rest of our roadtrip: If you miss a turnoff and the GPS re-calculates an alternative route, don’t take it! Turn around whenever you can and go back to take the original route! While driving through the city of Manizales, after having missed the turnoff to avoid the city, Maps.me took us down the steepest roads we had ever been on with Tommy, through narrow streets in a run-down looking neighborhood. We prayed that the next turn would not have us stuck in a road too narrow for us to pass thorugh! It was a stressful situation and not the first such experience when taking a route that was hastily re-calculated!
To celebrate making it through Manizales, we treated ourselves to a night in a spa at 3500 meters elevation (actually it was for my birthday which we did not really celebrate earlier in December). However, nothing comes without a price and the climb up to the spa was a slow uphill crawl. Several cars had to turn back as the road was too rough, full of bumps, rocks, and holes. We rewarded ourselves with a soothing bath in the hot thermal pool and a nice dinner. The next day we climbed to over 4000 meters, the highest ever with Tommy, on the way to Salento.
It was Salento’s birthday celebration the weekend we were there and it took us about an hour to drive the 4 kilometers or so into town from the main highway. There were people and cars everywhere and agents directing the traffic along the steep streets. Music and other festivities until 4 am (Colombians love their music)! Had the best frijoles ever!
We thought we would find a bit of peace and quiet in the Cocora Valley, famous for its wax palm trees that can reach up to 60 meters in height. However, it was a long weekend and packed with people, locals and foreigners alike. This is of course understandable, given the beauty of the surrounding nature and the mythic hike through the valley and the mountains.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip down through the south of Colombia was our stop over at Kika’s place (Finca Bonanza). After travelling extensively for 3 years in South America with their family in their camper, Kika and Anouar decided to settle down in Colombia on a finca that they are continually renovating, expanding, and upgrading. They opened their doors and their hearts to overlanders and the place has become mythic among travellers. Everyone is treated like a member of the family and each evening everyone gathers around a cup of tea or a glass of wine (or both)! Our stay allowed us to meet a great family from Switzerland with whom we are sure we will stay in touch. Thanks Kika, Anouar, Mehdi, Maya, Meïssa, Pierre, Vanessa, Jeanne, and Louise for a memorable few days!
The last hundred or so kilometers down to the border was slow going due to extensive roadworks. The reward was a spectacular view of the sanctuary of Las Lajas, built over a canyon and river. Sunday is the traditional pilgrimage day and there were hundreds of devoted visitors at the site.
During the same day, we managed to cross the border to Ecuador in record time, including passport control, stamps, and papers for exporting Tommy out of Colombia and into Ecuador…..where the adventure continues!