Skyscrappers, mountains, the rolling andes hills, coffee plantations and the world's once most murderous city...this is Colombia!!!
09.03.2011 - 20.03.2011 28 °C
I think it's fair to say I didn't deal very well with leaving Brazil. After the final all you can eat breakfast in my hostel in Copacabana I started on the chocolate and coffee at the airport in an attempt to stay awake and cope with the situation. Nine hours, three plane meals, two donuts, a monster hotdog, large bar of Lindt chocolate and a McDonalds later I was in Bogota and not sure whether my feeling of sickness was caused by the altitude or my over indulgence in e-numbers. I had also developed a sore throat and was feeling pretty run down. Fortunately I was in for a couple of days break from hostels due to getting an invite to stay with a Colombian couple, Juan and Carlos, in their apartment in Bogota. As I mentioned in my last blog I had a great time with them both, their apartment was stylish, spotless and full of delicious food which I was encouraged to eat at my leisure. I particularly appreciated being left freshly squeezed juice and welcome notes by Carlos when he left for work each morning. However despite the amazing hospitality I was feeling really below par health-wise and had to accept that I just needed to rest for a couple of days and not cram in sight-seeing. Two days later and I was restless, frustrated and cold (Bogota weather is a lot like England). However Devi arrived from London on the Friday and things were instantly better, it was so good to see someone from home. I had now developed a cold and my voice was starting to fade but after checking into a hostel in La Candelaria (the old town) we headed into Zona Rosa and went to an expensive restaurant/club called Andres Carne de Res which blasted out the Salsa, Cumbia and Reggaeton in a pretty impressive building. By Saturday I had completely lost my voice. Devi and I spent the day walking around the beautiful La Candelaria which was full of colonial buildings, impressive graffiti and museams. We took the cable car up to Monserrate and saw impressive views of Colombia's capital which is by all accounts, huge. Even though we had heard some bad stories from fellow travellers about problems they had experienced in Bogota, we both felt pretty safe. There are a LOT of armed police officers around the city, particularly in La Candelaria as this is an area with a lot of hostels, hotels and foreign tourists. They did make me feel safer despite the majority looking no more than 16 years old, although I have since found out military service is compulsory for males here from the age of 18 (unless your family are rich enough to pay for you not to do it).
On the Saturday night in Bogota Devi and I were invited to go for a meal with Carlos and Juan who were both equally welcoming towards Devi as they had been to me when I arrived. We were given drinks in their apartment and then taken to a very trendy restaurant for dinner where we weren't allowed to pay for anything (since we were guests in their country). Juan then refused to let us take a taxi to the area where we wanted to go out and dance and instead drove us all the way across town showing us good places to eat and drink along the way. Sunday was our last day in Bogota and we had a lazy day eating traditional Ajaco soup and visiting the Botero museam. On Monday we took a 9 hour bus ride North to Armenia followed by a 40 minute bus to Salento which is a beautiful little town set in the hills and coffee plantations of central Colombia. On our bus ride to Salento the locals took a particular interest in us and started asking where we were from, how we were enjoying Colombia and offering to show us around the area. We arrived pretty late in Salento and didn't realise there were no taxis at all in the town so were concerned about how to get to our hostel in the dark. A lovely guy in a restaurant in the town square took pity on us and drove us to our hostel which was an eco farm around 2 kilometres out of the centre. We stayed in a room with three very funny guys from Switzerland, Holland and Canada. Their sarcastic sense of humour was just what we needed after our long journey from Bogota. We were also very happy that the weather was much warmer here than the chilly days and cold nights in Bogota.
The next morning we woke up to a spectacular view. La serrana hostel is set in a very beautiful location, you can milk the cows if you are willing to get up early enough and breakfast was coffee with fresh cows milk, fresh eggs and lots of smoothies. We stayed for two days, the first involved visiting a local coffee plantation around 40 minutes walk from the farm. As a fully confessed coffee lover, and addict, I totally loved the visit to the plantation which was family owned and charming. Most coffee plantations are also banana plantations so we had freshly picked bananas and coffee as part of the tour. Walking back to the old town we saw locals riding around on horses and the whole thing felt very quaint. In the afternoon we walked up to the Mirador look out point and saw spectacular views of the rolling green hills of the Andes. In the evening we ate popcorn (the farm had a popcorn making machine!) and watched a film. I needed a relaxing one as my throat infection had developed into a chest infection and I was finding it difficult to breath without wheezing and choking. The next day we took a jeep to the nearby Valle de Cocora, a spectacular wildlife santctuary set in the Andean mountains. This place was absolutely stunning and covered in the tallest quindio wax palm trees which are apparently the national symbol. We trekked for 5 hours, a lot of it up hill and the views were amazing. We crossed waterfalls, saw humming birds and hundreds of the 70 metre high wax palm trees. After two days and three relaxing nights in beautiful Salento it was time to travel north to Medellin.
Medellin: once the world's most murderous city, which the locals who are evidently proud people, seem keen to forget. My first impressions of the city were positive, people here are friendly, passionate and amazing dancers. There is a great buzz around the place and its fantasically placed in the mountains with warm weather and pretty surroundings. However you can´t ignore the history of this city and the mark of Pablo Escobar, the biggest cocaine trafficker in Colombia. His numerous white buildings, a lot of them derelict (so that the Government who own them don´t have to make a social monetary contribution to the poor) are all around the city. On Friday we took a tour with a couple of local Colombians and it was really interesting to learn about his life, as well as being pretty scary. I can´t believe one person could hold so much power, apparently before it collapsed the Medellin drug cartel had more than 3 million members and Pablo had enough money to pay off Colombia´s foreign debt with America as well as the death of 800 police officers in one year. One of the tour guides was a similar age to me so can remember what life was like in Medellin when Pablo was alive and in constant conflict with the Police, Government and other cartels. A lot of innocent people lost their lives through the many bombs that went off in the city during the conflict and when the cartel collapsed Medellins economy was hit hard. We visited the place where he was shot dead in 1993, together with his grave which is the second most visited in Latin America (after Evita´s in Buenos Aires). We also drove through some very poor neighbourhoods in the city where drugs were openly being smoked in the street. Welfare provision is very basic in Colombia and the political corruption widespread, some local projects exist but the disparity between the rich and poor is very evident although the majority of poor areas are too dangerous for us to visit so we arent really experiencing it first hand.
Today is Sunday and we are probably going to do some more exploring of the city today before going out tonight, tomorrow is a public holiday so we are hoping for some good Colombian dancing! Tomorrow we are going to head north to the coast, probably Tolu first before Cartagena. Hoping for some good weather so we can tan it up! Thanks for everyone´s messages and comments, really cool to hear from you all xx