Category Archives: Columbia

Vida Tranquila

March 15 – March 22
Costeno Beach Surf & Ecolodge

Sometimes after a hectic and bumpy road of traveling you need a little space and a little sand to clear your head. We have determined that there really is a difference between traveling and vacationing, but we did this by by accident. We hadn’t even seen the ocean yet, its been 6 weeks here in Colombia, so finally we scheduled some beach time on the Caribbean Coast at a small hostel located west of Parque Tayrona.

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As soon as we got there, it became very evident that we hadn’t been properly relaxing yet on this trip. Suddenly we were at Costeno Beach Surf & Ecolodge, not wearing shoes, sleeping in hammocks, playing in the waves, and not having any reliable access to wifi. The beach also happens to have possibly the only surf on this coast (messy but constant beach break). We made great friends with the volunteer staff and other travelers, because really what else do you do without wifi?!

The first joke we learned, and was often repeated, “What exciting things did you do today?” replied with “Nothing!”. The second joke is that everyone, and we mean everyone, showed up planning to stay maybe 2 nights and then ended up staying as long as their future plans would possibly allow. Ours ended up being a week.

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We only have good things to say about this beach. If you are reading this, please go. We literally didn’t put on shoes for 7 days. Besides Brett’s birthday when everyone partied hard (…bedtime 1am) everyone mainly drifted to sleep by 11pm and was up with the sun at 6am. Rest assured for Brett’s big day there was lots of dancing, costeno shots (rum shot followed by a lime, dipped in ground coffee and sugar) and skinny dipping involved.

Brett is old now, 27. This is how managed to cope with the following day.

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At some point he also fell asleep without fully bug proofing himself in a mosquito net. There are over fifty on this area of his body, we’ve counted.DSC01368

During our stay, day 5 or so, Beach fever started to set in. Chris (from Washington State) and some Germans collected a giant tire from the beach with which they developed many beach games for the rest of the day. Seeing grown men in a frenzy over a tire was a once in a life time experience.DSC01353DSC01322

Since we all extended our stay so long, we really built a little family with some great people. We commiserated over our bug bites, extensively discussed food, and compared our tans. Their laughter and skills tranquillo-ing will be sorely missed.

(Bro row: Steve, Mogali, Chris, Brett. Babe row: Vanessa, Virginia, Jessica)DSC01373

Although we may have missed some of the key aspects of Colombia due to Easter Holy Week, being distracted by other awesome aspects and late planning (we honestly haven’t even been to Cartegena – don’t judge) being able to stop and do nothing for a time was really good for our souls. The ability to contemplate life and its many intricacies exponentially increases with an ocean view and no internet. In only a few days we will be off to Panama for Adventure Part II and we will begin the overland portion of our journey.

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PS. Beach Kitty Update: there were some. They were great.DSC01367IMG_20160317_142010

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Mompos(x)

March 11-March 14
Mompos(x)

Getting to Mompos requires a few modes of transportation, and by a few we mean a taxi to the bus station (Medellin 30 mins), bus from hell (Medellin – Sincelejo 12 hours), shared taxi (Sincelejo – Maganque 2 hours), boat ride into the river (20 mins), collectivo (to Mompos 1 hour). It was a marathon by all accounts, especially the bus from hell which may or may not have had a coked out driver and caused Jessica to throw up 3 times, and have 2 panic attacks. Brett also, for once in his life, wasn’t able to sleep due to the shear G-force.

In any case, we made it and promptly had a giant nap. Tranquillo por favor.

Santa Cruz to Mompox is located on an island in the Magdalena River and has held on to its colonial character since its founding in 1537. It was an old stomping (and recruiting ground) for Simon Bolivar a Colombian hero. Nearly all gold was held in Mompos prior to being shipped to Cartagena and off the continent during the rape and pillage of the land in the 15th and 16th centuries. It also was some location inspiration for One Hundred Years of Solitude. The history is thick here and the lighting is always great.

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You can walk Mompos in a day. Which is sort of why we went here. The streets are bustling but the town is peaceful. There are many key squares to visit, many cathedrals and churches to admire, and not much else to do. Time is slow.

May we recommend a wander through the cemetery? It had a bucket load of kittens and an eerie mash up of old and new graves.DSC01209

Another highlight for us was the nightly fiesta and food cart bonanza in one of the central squares. Literally some of the best food we have had in Colombia, including juices, pizza and pork BBQ. This was the place to be most nights, especially on Sunday when entire families would rally in the square and spend some quality time together.

DSC01281This was all that was left of our pizza before we decided to start documenting the food glory.

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We also enjoyed some tiny rums and cokes. Strong ones.

Just like in One Hundred Years of Solitude the magic is real here. The people are genuine, and the setting to die for. We could have easily kicked up some more entertainment if we had stuck around longer (especially if we had stayed for Easter as this town apparently goes off the hook) but we had beaches to lay on and sand to get in our ears!

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Colombian Essentials

Wifi – 4 / 5

Our opinions may change as we travel (its been a few years for both of us to see the affects of wifi on traveling), but Colombia has wifi everywhere.  Literally. Buses, bus stations, nearly every hostel or hotel, even city parks have wifi. The quality is not always consistent, but wifi is ever present.

Transportation – 4 / 5

From our wide range of international experience, Colombia has efficient, uncrowded and extremely friendly transportation options.

Buses for example are nearly always on time. Most have wifi, none have been over-crowded. The classic chicken buses do exist here, but generally most people take privately owned and operated buses/collectivos between cities. Or for longer travel, fancy aircon mega buses. Drivers of all these options are less crazy then we have encountered elsewhere, but there have been a few who are causing nightmares for us still.

Transportation terminals have been clean, safe and everyone is very willing to help you figure out where you want to go and how – even if Spanish is not your forte.

City transportation as well has been easy to figure out and efficient (save Medellin, which I am sure if efficient but operates on privately run city buses which have no schedule or map as far as we can figure out…. and therefore we  literally just did not figure out the buses).

Road Conditions – 3.5 / 5

Although we are not overlanding yet, we have been on a lot of roads, so we might as well report on them. Road conditions are relatively good. Highways are smooth and fast. There are many tolls (sometimes our bus crosses upwards of 5 in a 6 hour journey). Seem to cost between around $5CDN on average.

But there are so many god forsaken speedbumps, sometimes in the middle of a highway that was otherwise traveling smoothly. Colombians care more about their shocks then their breaks, be warned! But, drivers mainly follow a set of common rules, and traffic patterns are pretty easy to grasp.

Not many military/police checkpoints on the roads, for example you may encounter one on an all day journey. However, in regions where there is more guerrilla activity the police activity also increases. We have not encountered any problems, they will check your info maybe your bags but leave you alone. Police here are someone you want to run to not away from in 99% of cases.

Food  – 2.5 / 5

As reported before, the food in Colombia is great but limited. Mostly the same mixed plates (which are really good) but consistently chicken/pork/carne, rice, platain, ensalada, aprepa. Repeat. Also, if spending the day in transport or on the move it becomes more restricted to deep fried everything, mostly bread.

Fruits here have been spectacular and would get a 5/5 on their own right. That being said, if you are a vegetarian, or worse a vegan, you will basically need to cook every single meal yourself. Even if you are not, you will likely end up cooking many meals simply to avoid scurvy. Love you Colombia! But Veggies in restaurants are not your strong point

Safety  – 4 .5 / 5

If we were reporting on only our time here, we would report a 5/5 . We have never encountered a thief (yet), a corrupt official (yet), or a threatening situation (yet). We have been very mindful of going out late at night and what we bring with us, and avoiding some higher risk areas.

That being said we have heard from friends about a terrifying trip across the Ecuadorian border where the bus broke down and the entire bus spent a few nail biting moments screaming at the driver to “GO GO GO” to avoid any attention from guerrillas (this was at night, not traveling in a convoy which is not the norm). We have also heard of a friend of a friend being robbed at gun point in Cali (thankfully he literally just dropped his pants to show he had nothing), and we have also been warned by literally everyone in Medellin to get out of Centro before 6PM before the real sketch creeps in.

Street Dogs – 5 / 5

In her many years of loving, and petting street dogs around the world, Jessica has never come across as happy and as healthy of dogs as run around Colombia. The dreaded mange is seemingly absent, dogs love all people and seem to be loved by most. Restaurant owners take the scraps right off our tables to feed their favorites. We’ve even come across happy street pigs (Mompos) and happy street roosters.  Interbreeding between dog breeds has led to some amazing creations here, but street dogs can also be of a high pedigree. Many friendly pit bulls, or retrievers roam the streets and you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the feisty little chihuahuas marching up and down the road like they own it.

 

 

Expedition Rio Verde

Happy one month of traveling to us!

There are some adventures that will stick with you for a lifetime, and our whitewater trip down the Rio Verde is one of them. We spent 3 days with our friends Expedition Colombia, who put together a special adventure for just their amigos.

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One raft and 6 kayaks in what felt like the deepest corner of Colombian jungle but what was really only 3 hours from Medellin. Day one, loaded up the official Expedition Colombia Vehicle, added in the kayaks then squeezed the entire crew in as well.


On the way to San Francisco (our starting point) we stopped at a small Colombia Queso & Charcuterie along the side of the highway to stock up on good cheese. We have a love/hate relationship with Colombian cheese, which is very soft, has a nice crumbly texture, and goes well with many dishes. However, it is very bland and after nearly a month of it we are craving a bit more depth in flavour. This tiny cheese store sold only Colombian made cheeses, but they replicated all the classics from Europe – buffala, Parmisano, soft goat, wine rind. The entire crew went a little crazy.

Once in San Francisco, a tiny mountain town which has a dark and bloody history as the entry point for some of the regional coke production, we needed food and mules. The boys went off to find the men with the mules, and then we took off down an increasingly shoddy mountain road to the school to off load the trucks and reload the pack animals.

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Since no other raft companies explore this region, the children at the school (photo above) were very interested. Watching shyly from the jungle gym, then creeping ever so slowly to the fence,  then under the fence, then crowded around us asking so many questions. They thought we were pretty crazy.

I’d like to point out we were still on top of the mountain, and we needed to go to the bottom where the water was. The mules took most of the group equipment (ex: Raft and food) but the kayakers had to carry their kayaks (which slowly made me realize that there definitely will be some rivers that I cannot kayak because I simply couldn’t get my kayak to the river) and the rafters had to carry the additional gear. Mules and kayaks don’t mix, they’ve tested this theory.

2 hours later, down hill, on a donkey trail, which has apparently gotten much better then a the muddy death trail from before. But despite the heat (it was HOT), and despite the rocky down hike, each turn brought spectacular views of the jungle valleys. It felt like we were going into the center of the earth.

At the bottom, as the crew slowly trickled across the small bridge, everyone immediately jumped into the river. Supposed to be one of the cleanest in South America, but we would have jumped into a parking lot puddle if we had to. From this location, we were to set up camp about a 20 minute hike away but this time on a legitimate jungle trail. Mud, pack mules, & the most incredible leaf cutter ant super highways.

We set up camp amongst the bamboo stand along the river. Hammock city! Then proceeded to gorge ourselves on our cheese. It was entirely consumed. Dinner was served and we spent a wonderful night by the fire. At night, the humidity, the deafening insect chorus and the frog chirps  didn’t necessarily rock us to sleep but they added to the sense of remoteness. It felt like the jungle was smothering us.

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Rest assured, Dan isn’t a Colombian farmer come to massacre us for trespassing, although Brett thought he was Mexican for the longest time. He’s making dinner.

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In the morning, it was river time. What a day. The water was a bit low, but made for a bit more of a relaxing day for the people a little nervous about whitewater or just getting their feet wet with kayaking. Jungle surrounding us on all sides, toucans, giant river spiders, and beautiful class 3-4 rapids.

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We even explored a secret waterfall.

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Our camp for the second night, closer to the water and more scenic. We ate like kings!

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Adele and Lisa – which have become Jessica’s trifecta here in Medellin, and our fearless river guides Jules, Mael, and Mika (Owner of the rafting company & River guides).

All along this river there are small encampments of gold miners who pan for gold and use floating contraptions loaded with motors which suck up the sand at the bottom of the river for separation. A man literally swims around with an airtube digging holes to suck up with this machine. Their entire livelihood is endangered due to the looming creation of a 130 meter  dam by Celsia, a member of the Arbus Group. Supposed to start in 2016, but they have now been encountering environmental licensing issues. This dam threatens last clean free-flowing river of Antiquia.  You can watch Jules, of Expedition Colombia and more on the dam project here. He is heavily involved in trying to stop this project.

On the second morning we found the river had risen significantly. Apparently its not unheard of for the river to rise 20-30 feet over night. Don’t worry, our hammocks were perched high up the river bank! This meant the second day on the water was really exhilarating, class 4 big water. Huge rapids with big stretches of gentle cruising in between.

It was a shorter day for our final raft out, but the biggest waves. These nerds are totally happy.

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We want to thank Expedition Colombia with all our hearts for this amazing trip. It opened our eyes to the adventure potential in Colombia, and will always remain one of the best memories from this trip. We are sensing a bit of Colombian property along a river may be in our future.

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Rest and Relaxation in Medellin

Feb 25 – March 7
Medellin

We have been in (or around) Medellin now since Feb 25th. We’ve moved into Envigado officially, a neighborhood perched on this hillside of the city. We have a side suite to ourselves and are spending out time with the Expedition Colombia crew. Not only do these guys know how to host, they know how to build one hell of an adventure.

Medellin is big. So big that we are trying not to get overwhelmed with all the touristy options available to us. We are here to reset, take our time and breathe from what has been a bit of a hectic travel schedule. Medellin will be our longest stop in Colombia, so we want to make sure we balance the exploration and the relaxation. Also the eating, this city has some great food. Chorizos, Chicharrons, Roscons, crossants, Pollo Broaster etc. There is so many delicious new things to try and very few vegetables.

All the girls in the house went on a shopping expedition last week to El Centro. Some highlights include buying croc decorations for the croc wearers, sweatpants with “Yeezus” across the crotch, blinged out overalls, and addidas kicks for 20 bones. Are they real? Who knows!

Every night brings new people to the house, so every night is a bit of a party here. That also means there are always new people to explore with. On Thursday last week we did an epic adventure via public transit up the mountain to Santa Elena. I am talking epic: Taxi, Metro, Cable car #1, Cable car #2, bus and 1.5 hours later we were in a picturesque mountain town. Just like that….. and just in time for us to turn around and come back before the last cable car. It was beautiful, and a feat of public transportation made only slightly nauseating by rush hour and sweat.

The cable car has literally transformed the barrio’s they service, for the first time they brought mass-transportation to poorly serviced areas and made it easy for these growing neighborhoods to access the rest of medellin. IMG_20160303_135432

Shortly after switching to the second accent cable car, the city completely disappears.

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Did I mention that all the public transit cost us was $5 CDN?  A cheap way to access the mountains, and breathe some non-diesel fumed air. This is the center square of Santa Elana, I’d love to tell you more about it but we literally had to turn around and leave.DSC01017

Chugging juice and looking exhilarated during our brief stay.DSC01031

Sweaty and not one bit excited for the long trip home.DSC01038

Next time, we will plan better, leave earlier and stay awhile.

Cocorna Adventure

Cocorna
Feb 26-28

We’ve arrived safe and sound into the city of Medellin and found it much more agreeable to our senses then other larger cities we’ve experienced in Colombia. Not that the other cities were not-agreeable, but Medellin is just so great. It has a great metro system, great food, its clean and again as in all of Colombia the people are just so nice.

The city is nestled within a valley, surrounded by mountains and the city climbs up all around you. It makes you feel comforted. Its lovely and green in this city.

We stayed in the Laureles Barrio for the first few nights while we explored the center and met up with some of Brett’s friends. The center of Medellin is a warren of wheelers and dealers, mostly dealing sneakers. If you need to up your sneaker game, seriously this is the city for you. There is some great style here, mainly jeans, sneakers and ridiculous english on t-shirts (“EggNog made me do it”)

We visited the Museo de Antioquia, located within the Parque Berrio and surrounded by more Botero’s then you can imagine. Our affection of Botero has only grown as we have seen more and more of his work.

We like the dirty bits the most.

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During the height of the violence here in Medellin, this dove was blown up by guerillas (1995). It killed a few dozen and injured many more. Botero wanted this to stand beside the replacement Dove in testimony to the violence the city has over come.

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Although only in the city for 2 nights, it was time to head out into the mountains to a finca (aka farm/cabin/rental house) for a big weekend fiesta with a huge crew of kayakers and adventurers here in Medellin. The small mountain town of Cocorna is one of our new favorite spots here, so many activities to do and not many gringos to distract from the view.

On Saturday Brett finally got his kayak on. It has been a long road of slogging his gear around, but it was worth it. The Rio Cocorna was a great intro into Colombian rivers. It was a steep creeky boulder garden with the low water that was running. Tons of fun drops with beautiful surroundings, only made better by the beers at the take out. Success! Brett is eagerly awaiting the next river – potentially the Samana.

Not to be out-done, Jessica also got her adventure on Saturday. (Mom, you need to stop reading here). She headed up the mountain to the mirador with the other half of the party to fly over the valley and city of Cocorna. Medellin region is a paragliding mecca, and with so many experienced flyers in the party… why not? After all it was only 100,000 pesos or $40 CDN. Running off a mountain isn’t as terrifying as you would think. Its entirely peaceful floating with the birds, catching a thermal up a mountain and gliding a km above the earth. especially when your pilot only speaks spanish. Just don’t think about the strings, fabric and science holding you up.

A little peek at the take off location.

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(Not Jessica) Flying.

IMG_20160227_122203IMG_20160227_142203The crew!

The kayaking division and the flying division met up for a sexy waterfall hangout afterwards. Beers, swimming, a natural waterslide and excellent company in the most beautiful place on earth. Dreams do come true!

Cocorna Company, straight chillin’… everyone secretly getting burnt but that would come later.

IMG_20160227_163755PANO_20160227_163845The natural waterslide kicking everyone’s ass.

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Really we cannot get enough of how beautiful it was here.IMG_20160227_163702

The Real Coffee

Feb 21-23
Salento

The funny thing about Colombian coffee in Colombia, is that it is absolute garbage. They ship nearly all of their good beans outside the country to get roasted.  The second class beans stay for Colombians to drink. The general rule of getting coffee in Colombia is that you will receive Nescafe. Always get cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and add heaps of sugar so you can’t actually taste the coffee.

Due to this strange but true fact, we were extremely excited to visit the Zona Cafetera south of Medellin. This is heart of coffee in Colombia. We stopped in Salento for three nights, stayed at Estrella Sin Frontiers, a hostel recommended to us by friends located just outside the main streets of the town. A bit of a bamboo jungle with the most genuine french owner.

Coffee in this town was amazing. Dark, Strong and Cheap. Also more gringos in this town then we have really seen in most of Columbia, probably drawn in by coffee too, we are very predictable.DSC01000

We walked a few hours outside the town down a winding dirt road through the coffee plantations to go see what actually happens from start to finish for coffee production. We met up with our new best friend Pollo, one of the many happy town dogs, along the way. He spent the whole day with us.

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Coffee farming is highly manual. All the way from planting, to picking, to sorting is done by hand. A single bean must be touched by a human so many times before it even goes for roasting. We picked our own beans like good little gringos, saw the separation process, planted a few beans, and then tasted delicious delicious tinto at the end. Pollo came to, and angrily barked at all the local pickers ( I think he is racist).

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This is our tour guide Hilary. She explained that when coffee first came from Africa to Colombia, it was giant. This made it hard for pickers to access all the beans. It also wasn’t hardy to some of the local diseases, and therefore they have since created a hybrid plant that is both more hardy to certain diseases and “Colombian Size” ie. Short. You can see that both Hilary and the plant are Colombian Size.DSC00889

DSC00914This is a small version of the separating machine that separates the shell and inner fruit from the coffee seeds.

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The weather cleared up (it had been on and off raining for a few days), just in time for us to visit the Valle de Cocora. This valley is a protected by the Colombian government in order to preserve the national tree the wax palm. We had to do some research after about why it was going extinct, but it was used to make wax candles and also palm leaves were used on palm Sunday.

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The valley is very powerful, we did the 5 hour hike up the mountains and around through the valley. After getting out of the cocora’s, there were very diverse ecosystems all packed closely together (pastures, jungle, cloud forest, cedars, etc). It was a great place for photography, the landscape did not get old just more breathtaking as the clouds rolled in.

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The best part of this story is we were reunited with Pollo on our final night. He was hanging out in the square, and when we yelled his name is ran all the way over to us and played very excitedly with us one last time. If we had our truck, we would have brought him home.