Colombia: Viva Colombia!!
The Holidays: Christmas and New Year’s went by in a frenzy. I arrived to my grandparent’s house, and a full house it was. There were, and still are, 13 of us, ALL staying under one roof. Of the 13, 11 of us are women, so try and imagine. It seems that the only way to get a word in, is to talk louder than the person sitting next to you…. So it’s LOUD around here. I went from always being by myself, to complete over stimulation and absolutely no way to be in a room without a few other people in it. But that’s what the holidays are about. We have all become a bunch of polyglots around here; any given conversation is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, & English, which has led to lots of interesting and comical conversations! Days were spent out walking around, shopping, and checking out all the Christmas lights and decorations. Nights were spent at home in front of the fire with an evening Chinese checkers battle.
Both Christmas Eve and New Year’s were spent at the house. With all of us and a few friends, it becomes quite the party. Both nights turned into late night dance parties that would have made Renee proud. On New Year’s we were treated to a 4 piece band that played all the music our hearts desired….never mind that they sounded slightly like the 5th grade marching band. We were also surprised with the arrival of my dad on the 30th. I guess he couldn’t handle mom and I having all kinds of fun without him, so he decided on a whim to come down and join us for New Year’s. He packs up and leaves tomorrow though.
On the 2nd of January, Mom, Dad and I took off for a trip to Medellin and to explore coffee country. We decided to fly to Medellin, as it is a cheap 28 minute flight versus a 12 hour bus ride…hum? I’m guessing that would have been one torturous bus ride, enough to make even the strongest of stomachs motion sick. Medellin was the home of Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who has helped to give Colombia such a bad rap. For years it has been considered too dangerous to visit, but recently has begun to redeem itself. We found it to be a great city, easy to get around as it has a fantastic metro system, and very tourist friendly. The first thing we did was take a city tour which showed us all of the main sites and gave us our bearings, and the remainder of our two days in Medellin were spent walking around, riding the metro and enjoying the warm weather. My favorite part of the city was the plaza dedicated to Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist. Everything he paints is in exaggerated proportions; obese men and women, large fruits and animals, etc. And so the plaza was filled with huge bronze statues of some of his most famous pieces.
We managed to select a hotel that was conveniently on what had to be the loudest street in the city which allowed for nothing more than a few minutes of sleep between the car alarms and people yelling in the streets below. Thankfully, it was just a one night thing and the next morning we continued on to Armenia, a smaller city which we decided to make our home base for exploring the region, as it’s right in the heart of coffee country. The first afternoon, it was off to a small town called Salento. They happened to be in full fiesta mode, as it was their annual town festival. Instead of the quaint mountain town we were hoping for, we instead joined thousands of other folks in the festival activities of the afternoon and evening. My guidebook had talked about a valley further up into the mountains called Valle de Cocora, so we hired a Willy (a jeep wrangler that they pack up to 12 people into) and headed out to check it out. I absolutely loved this little journey!! The views were amazing and I immediately felt like I was in my favorite scene from my favorite movie Love Affair – when Warren whisks Annette through the hills of Tahiti to visit his aunt. I’m sure no one has any idea what I’m talking about, but hey, this is after all MY diary!! 🙂 My sources tell me that this valley is home to the world’s tallest palm trees, which also happen to be the national tree of Colombia – who knew? They were amazingly tall. The picture doesn’t really do the palm trees, or the entire view, much justice.
Hotels in my guidebook are rated “A” through “G” – “A” being fancy and “G” costing around 3 bucks per night. In my journeys, I’ve been sticking to the E-F range, but since the folks were along, we decided to step it up a notch to a “C”. I was so excited to stay in a “C”!!! As it turns out, we have a knack for choosing crappy hotels located above insanely loud streets. Our hotel in Armenia was one catastrophe after the other. The first night I took a shower which flooded our entire room and the hallway and since the hotel was full and it was already late, we had to just deal with it. In the morning they graciously moved us to another room that was on the street side of the building and that night we found out quickly that the billiard hall right outside our window was not going to allow for ANY sleep again. Several other small things happened and after 3 days in this hotel I left it fuming with a vow never to return.
The second day we went to the Parque Nacional de Cafe, a sort of educational theme park dedicated to coffee and the industry that is such a vital part of the Colombian economy. The park was beautifully laid out and imbedded into the woods, so that it didn’t seem like an amusement park at all. Every available piece of ground was filled with coffee plants of all species. My parents, true coffee addicts, were in heaven!! Although we weren’t there for the rides, we enjoyed the day and went to some of the other attractions they had and visited the coffee museum.
Our last two days on the trip were spent with more sightseeing. We went to many of the small villages that dot the area, to the botanical gardens and my moms favorite – the butterfly farm (I on the other hand, found out that I’m kind of scared of butterflies, when they are swarming around your head). We took another Willy ride up to a newly developed ecolodge with more amazing views and on our last night managed to finally find a decent restaurant in town because that had been another challenge. We ended up having to stay one day longer than we’d planned, as it was the last day of the holiday vacation for most Colombians so the buses were all jam packed headed to Bogota. It was an excellent trip and my new favorite area in Colombia is the Department of Quindio. The cities themselves don’t have much to offer, but the countryside and smaller towns made it more than worthwhile. Beth & Amber, I may have found us a little villa!!!
I have two more weeks in Colombia before Lani arrives and my adventures continue. I’ll be sure to post again before I leave, but don’t expect anything for a couple of weeks. I’ll post lots of pictures today to make up for it. Until then…