Small-town Colombia

OK kids, it’s that time again. Put away the heavy stuff and join Lori and Bruce on their adventures featuring, art, culture, history, geography, language, and calisthenics. Sort of like grade school but even more fun. And the lunches are better too. The rest of the blog entries will be sort of a how we spent our winter vacation mode. And based on what we’ve seen of the weather back home, anything short of being kidnapped by FARC would be an improvement.

So, we’ve been on the move, having started in northern Colombia, we are now in the town of Popayàn, situated 2.4448 degrees north of the equator. Here’s how we got here.
We’ve given you the Medellìn story. As we hung out there and raved about the place, it appears that the New York Times was hot on our heels, rating Colombia as the #2 travel destination for 2018. But don’t take their word for it; take ours. When you and your travel party show up, under no circumstance, miss a meal at El Cielo in Medellìn. A 12 course multi-sensual experience that will leave you amazed at taste, presentation, experience, and creativity. Bring your wallets. 

Morning Lori
Guatapé was our first day trip away. The village, like so many parts of Colombia, has recently re-invented itself as a tourist haven. Villagers realize that a fresh coat of paint and inflated souvenir prices beats the hell out of rising at 5 in the morning, getting into a leaky boat, and returning 10 hours later with a sunburn and three fish. The homes and shops have received fresh coats of paint. There is a unique style to the architecture here. With both necessity and Frank Zappa being the mothers of invention, continual erosion of the adobe buildings resulted in the villagers applying a coat of cement to the exteriors and then further solidifying the lowest meter with an additional coating of cement, carved into bas relief panels that either reflected traditional designs or represented the nature of the commerce taking place within the heretofore crumbling walls. A plethora of pictograms, a display of diagrams, a raft of reliefs, a host of hieroglyphs, all there for the viewing. 

Look at all familiar, Montrealers? Guatapé’s symbol.

And probably the best coffee experience at La Vigne made Guatapé a place to remember. Oh yeah, just remembered. Prior to the town tour we scaled a massive rock situated on the edge of town. Count ’em, all 675 steps. You may have noticed the GI inscribed on the face of the mountain. It wasn’t a college prank. Seems that there was a dispute between neighbouring villages as to the ownership of the mountain. After Guatapé began painting its name on the mountainside. El Peñol, the adjacent village claimed ownership. The branding was halted. Upon further investigation turned out Guatapé had the territorial rights. Sadly, the completion of the project never happened. Something about painters plummeting to their deaths. I couldn’t make out the finer points of the story.

A distant relative to Machu Pichu, it was there; we climbed it.

Salento was our next destination. A popular spot with backpackers and other forms of life, Salento is on the edge of an expansion to accommodate the burgeoning tourist trade. Still unspoiled, the small town with two main streets offers up the usual fare of Ponchos and Villas. Also present are trinkets and coffee. Apparently obtaining marijuana and cocaine is not extremely difficult. Just slightly more difficult than we were able to do. 

I don’t get it; what’s the big deal?
Staying at an ecolodge at the edge of the village, located up a dirt road, we had to learn a few local ropes. Firstly, Salento is where the Willy’s hang out. They are four wheel drive jeep-like vehicles capable of handling semi-washed out, wet, slippery, steep, muddy slopes. 

They are the only way to get around. Secondly, the dirt road that gave access to Gran Azul, our guest house, was a part of Camino Réal, which is Spanish for the Royal Route, a 16th century path that connected all of the towns in Colombia and other South American countries to allow the Spaniards to murder, desecrate, rape, plunder and kill. Nothing like a solid infrastructure I always say. Cocora Valley is a kilometre or two away. It is a historic area featuring the Colombian national tree, the wax palm. 

Big Tree
Which is a whole lot better than the national symbol of many other countries we’ve visited – the greased palm.
Hilltop of Big Trees
Valley of Big Trees

These arboreal behemoths grow to a height of 60 or so meters (200 feet for our American readers). A walk up the hill that culminated at 8,500 feet (2,600 meters to our rest of the world readers) that had us feeling a bit of altitude, in addition to my regular feeling of attitude. 

Cool fact, when you bleed at 8,500 feet, there is less oxygen so your blood comes out darker. Anything for science.

Many people rode horses up the trail. An obviously easier option, but looking at the way that some of the horses were treated, I was tempted to have one of the equines climb on my back to carry him up. Just as a form of penance for our delightful specie. 

Interesting murals abound

Yesterday featured a tour of the local villages. Coffee dominates. Colombia being the third largest exporter after Brazil and Vietnam. In addition to coffee, there was no shortage of plantain, a cousin to the banana, as well as a newly developing cash crop, the avocado. Yes, in Colombia lawyers do grow on trees. Part of the switch to avocados results from the realization that cows erode soil, eat all the vegetation and produce more methane than a pork and beans festival in Memphis. Here’s hoping. Other towns are working toward biodiversity and a few have adopted civic policies that prohibit neon signage, limit vehicular traffic and enforce recycling. The first world can learn. Our tour day terminated with a visit to the local botanical garden, an area where I thought they grew botanicals, both for export and domestic use. Imagine my disappointment when all they had were a bunch of plants, trees, birds and butterflies.

Not attacking alien creatures; rhizomes of bamboo plants

Is there no Disneyland in this Godforsaken place?

Carnivorous butterfly. I killed it and escaped.

No Comments
  • Julian
    Posted at 14:03h, 17 January Reply

    You sure have a lot of altitude!

  • Terry F
    Posted at 16:41h, 17 January Reply

    I like Morning (g)Lori. Simplistic realism. Hope it starts a new fashion here. Also Bruce, the snorting cola thing is passé.

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