Quito by: Anik

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Considering that big cities haven’t been our favorite places to visit, objectively speaking, Quito has been the most beautiful city we’ve seen.  It’s old, warm, and it makes for excellent camera shots.

Our primary reason for going to Quito was that my mom was flying in for a 2 week visit and we were to fly to the Galapagos islands from the Quito airport.  We found a hostel named “The Secret Garden”.  It hosted a rooftop terrace that greeted us with panoramic views of the city which made us question if our eyes were playing tricks on us.

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The owners were Australian and had a 10 year old boy, Thomas, who became Simon’s instant friend.  Over the next two days, we would spend a fair amount of time up on this terrace, sipping weak coffee, sipping wine from a box, and reading and writing as the kids were taking spanish lessons.

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My mom flew in late the first night and I convinced Darin that I would drive the hour through the city to go pick her up as there was no need for all of us, including car sick prone Marco to spend over 2 hours in the van.  Simon and I set off and almost immediately got lost.  After driving on a deserted highway which turned out to be completely closed and rolling through a neighborhood thick with the risk of danger, we finally found out way.  Once we made it safely, Simon said “mommy, you sure said SHIT a lot on that drive…”.

Just like picking Tierra up from the Cartagena airport, greeting my mom in Quito felt excitingly surreal.  After showing my Palm Springs cultured mom the bunk beds and mini electric shower heater, we went to bed laughing.

The next day, we spent hours walking through the city, with my mom strong as a bull despite the thin air which hosts the world’s second highest capital city at nearly 10,000 feet.

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We climbed to the top of Quito’s basilica and marveled at the bird’s eye view of the city.

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We had a basic almuerzo of comida tipica, which once again, consisted of chicken, rice, plantain, and homini.  It’s so good, but that ship has sailed and we’re craving something different.

We bought coca leaf from a street vendor yelling “coca! coca! coca!”.  Apparently the dried bay leaf looking coca works miracles for altitude sickness and acclimation.  Cotopaxi’s 19,000 ft (and change) summit push might serve as our double blind study.  The vendor sell coca candy, coca tea and pure leaf that you’re suppose to chew, which is what we went with.  We figure it should be best in its’ purest form.

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We decided to go out for a nice dinner that night, as another chicken meal wasn’t gonna cut it.  We went to the neighborhood of La Ronda, the oldest and said to be quaintest area of Quito.  It was beautiful but the restaurants were far from quaint and the food surprisingly bad.  After leaving a few restaurants, we ended up in a karaoke sort of bar, with music so loud we couldn’t talk.  Half of our order failed to come, and we ended up eating rolled up deli cheese and baloney  held by toothpicks. We were given wine that tasted like a joke and realized it just wasn’t gonna happen. At this point, we needed to head back to bed for our 3:30am wake up call and resorted to eating a cold piece of pizza and strawberry soda from a street vendor.

For those of us accustomed to the creative culinary experience that Portland provides, we’re learning to be flexible and grateful for whatever comida we’re presented with.  Our van is parked in Quito, waiting for us on our return from the Galapagos, I think we’ll take in one last glimpse of this gorgeous city and and hit the road south…if Cotopaxi’s rainy forecast makes room for us.

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Balancing between two hemispheres by: Anik

El Mitad del mundo

El Mitad del mundo

 

We let loose a bit and spent one night on Laguna San Pablo, outside of Otavalo, at a lake side lodge called Hosteria Puerto lago. We very much felt spoiled by the tennis court, paddle boats, fireplaces, and nice restaurant. My 4 mile run over to the lake seemed unusual in those parts, as a dozen people slowed down or stopped to snap a picture of my less than impressive running.

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By the time “check out” came, we were missing life in our van and looking forward to getting lost in self sufficiency for a while.

We crossed the equator in the early afternoon. We spent some time goofing around with cheesy pictures, once again, Marco’s was the picture of the day.

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Before leaving on this trip, we’d intended on naming our van at the equator but we weren’t feeling it. We’ve decided to let the van name itself in due time, at which point we’ll all be ready.

The equator was quite fascinating. A young man from the non profit, Quitsato.org, an integral project focused on studying the equatorial line’s archeological sites with the application of satellite technology, filled us in on everything relating to the Mitad Del Mundo. He spoke about the perspective of balance in relation to our future. He spoke of the line between the two hemispheres as appealing to a conscience of balance, union, and reciprocity. At the risk of sounding a bit new age, we all did feel a very good sort of “connected and grounded” energy on this site. As Latin Americans would put it, it was “chevre”.

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We continued on, to our destination, passing through a few small towns, one of which we stopped in for lunch. The only options for lunch were to step into someones house and sit at one of two picnic tables in the back. For $4.00, we ate soup, rice, chicken, salad, and drank fresh juice…hard to beat.

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We had 29 km left to get to Oyacachi, our thermal spring respite for the next few days. The lovely woman, who needed a ride to her town, sat in the back with the kids and helped navigate us through the steep and slow cobble stone roads, and then she dozed off.

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The drive, which took us 2 hours, was at 14,200 feet and winded through what Darin described as being “like Joshua Tree National Park, only on steroids”. Trying to describe the fresh air here would be a futile attempt analogous to trying to describe the ocean.

Volcan Cayambe

Volcan Cayambe

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Oyacachi is a very small town in a valley in the middle of nowhere. It borders the Amazon jungle and revolves around its’ lechera route and community run thermal springs.

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Oyacachi

We camped a few hundred feet from the hot springs, surrounded by mountains and overlooking a river that played its’ music while we slept. In the morning, cold and appreciating the comfort of our van, we watched as most of the people from the area, walked long distances carrying large containers of their cows’ milk on their backs, to be dropped off at the pick up corner by our van. The lechera truck would then come by and pick up the milk to brought to the town’s lechera processing building, which was the size of a large shed. The one and only commercial business, a small tienda sold some amazing homemade drinkable yogurt, that would put any kefir I’ve had to shame.

We spent three days in Oyacachi. We played some seriously fun soccer, which at 13,000 ft, left us all loopy for a while afterward.

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We played chess, read, and spent hours in and around the hot springs. The thermal pools were emptied every morning, and refilled with spring water which as Simon put it “somehow even warmed up our hearts”. The only other people we saw at the hot springs were community members bathing and taking their showers, all while washing their clothes. Couples washed each other’s backs and women soaked around shirtless. The boys didn’t know what to do with themselves, trying to be subtle but grinning from ear to ear and pretending to look away as their eyes were stretched further then I’ve seen them. In asking Marco to try to just go with the flow, he responded “I’m trying but I can’t hold it in, I have to look!”.

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We took advantage of the detox opportunity and alternated between the hottest pool we could find and the ice cold river flowing alongside of it, over and over, all while drinking a gallon of water. I wonder how much of the fried Colombian food and beer that care of of?

Darin and Simon threw the frisbee for a while, as a man and his kids watched, fascinated. They finally joined the game and couldn’t get enough of it, laughing and squealing at the idea of the flying disc. In the end, it was obvious that we had to give them our frisbee as a “regalo”. They were thrilled. We later saw them at the soccer field throwing it around, open to the new possibilities this frisbee might bring.

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On our last morning in Oyacachi, Darin and I woke up early to go for a run. Our run never accelerated beyond a walk because the altitude made the hilly town feel like a marathon. We left Coyacachi, enthralled with this simple way of life, happy to have “soaked” in it for a while.

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Otavalo, Ecuador by: Anik

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As soon as we crossed the border into Ecuador, we realized that overlanding in Ecuador would be much faster and easier.  The roads are smooth, fast, and seem much less curvy.  The roads’ life threatening thermometer has cooled off significantly.  In remembering Marco’s 4 episodes of throwing up in the car, we’re hoping to be puke free from here on out.

Within an hour, we were pulled over by the Policia de Ecuador.  Unlike the boisterous, pleasantly curious police in Colombia, these guys were all business.  The 4 police officers approached the van and as the fist one made it to Darin’s window asking for “passaportes”, the second one was opening my door and helping himself to my door pocket’s contents.  He picked up and inspected our first aid kit, hair ties, old wrappers, my glasses, etc…how rude!  As I was biting my tongue, the third officer was knocking every few inches of the length of the passenger side.  I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be intimidating, or if he was trying to find his inner percussionist.  After wanting to know our occupation, our plan, and all the usual, the officer at my door nicely placed everything back where it came from and said “tank yo vary much!”.

The Northern central highlands are mostly farm country, with mountainous fields that look like quilts of greenery.  Their patterns and beauty seem to have the power to grab ahold of our gaze and redefine it.

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Our intention was to stop somewhere in the northern highlands but all we saw were farms and a few very strange highway side “resorts” with scary pools and waterslides that looked brittle.  We felt like we needed to just drive further south than we’d planned on, but the driving is so easy here, we travelled in 2 hours what could have taken 2 days in Colombia.

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We spent 5 days in the town of Otavalo at a hostel called Riviera-Sucre, which was basic and comfortable.

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morning view from our Hostel Riviera Sucre

morning view from our Hostel Riviera Sucre

We spent our days walking down to the town’s food market, where we ate amazing meals for a dollar.  We were so inspired by the freshness of the food, that we spent most of our time cooking meals that we couldn’t get out of our heads.

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The market had the best grapes I’ve ever had, along with corn nuts that blew our minds, and things like the most beautiful bunches of spinach for $0.25.  The meat vendors were plentiful, selling every part of the cow imaginable, sheep heads and whole roasted pigs garnished with tomatoes.

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Darin had an inkling for a rib roast.  Even after we figured out how to say it in spanish “rosti de costella”, the butchers had no idea what to make of this cut of meat.  After many attempts to explain what we wanted, Darin ended up behind the counter, holding the giant piece of meat, and helping himself to the butcher’s saw while everyone stared open mouthed.  As we walked away, Simon said “Daddy, you gotta admit, that was a bit ridiculous!”.

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Darin carefully cooked his meal and we all hungrily and excitedly sat down to eat.  The first bit of meat revealed something analogous to fresh leather.  We all sat and chewed and chewed and chewed, and still we couldn’t swallow.  We later found out that the beef in Ecuador has a reputation for being tough and not so good.

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We spent one afternoon in Cotacachi, a small neighboring town, known for it’s incredibly inexpensive leather.  We’re not really leather people but we did walk away with 4 custom fit belts.  I haven’t owned a leather jacket since 7th grade and I never thought I’d own another one but MY GOSH, I’m so excited about the one I bought.

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We drove 10 km east of Cotacachi to Volcan Cuicocha, where the volcano’s crater is drowned out by a beautiful lake.  The dome sits in the middle of the lake, like an island.

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The kids and I told stories and played for an hour while Darin ran back to Otavalo.  A tour bus of South American tourists took turns getting their picture taken with Simon and Marco, saying things like “muy lindo, que bonito!”.

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We’d been told that saturday is the happening day in Otavalo, with it’s world famous markets, apparently it wasn’t to be missed.  We woke up early saturday morning and took a one dollar taxi ride to the animal market.  Simon had heard about the animal market from a lady at lunch a few days prior, and he wasn’t gonna miss it.  When we got there, we were surrounded by the local Otavalo people who were either selling or buying cows, chickens, pigs, guinea pigs (a frequent source of food, known as “cuy”), rabbits, chics, puppies, geese, ducks, cock fighting roosters, and kittens.

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A few days prior, I’d given the kids $5.00 to spend on something at one of the markets.  They’d perused and debated and considered many things, but had decided to wait and see.  When we came across the baby chics at the animal market, Simon asked “cuanto cuestan?” and the man said 4 for a dollar.  The boys, wide eyed and bursting at the seams, were immediately pulling out their money to buy a chick.  When we told them no, they were dumbfounded.  We moved on to the puppies, and when we were told they were $1.00 each, they were 100% ready to buy one.  We left the market with Simon saying “great!  this was my favorite thing on this trip and I can’t even get a souvenir!”.

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The Artisan market was by far the best market we’ve ever been to.  I don’t even feel any animosity at the fact that someone, a particular old woman comes to mind, who cut my purse with a box knife but was unable to unload any contents.  I guess she wasn’t prepared for my lightning fast reflexes.  The local craftsmanship is outstanding and incredibly low priced.  We spent hours just weaving in and out of stalls, only to find more stalls that we couldn’t wrap our minds around.  It’s a good thing we’re very limited on space, just saying.

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Salento, Cali, and the border of Ecuador By: Anik

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During our stay in Salento, we met an American from Bend, Oregon, who had been running “Brunch”, a small restaurant with home base food like waffles, burgers and burritos.  He just happened to tap into the fact that Colombia has a serious peanut butter deficit.  Peanut butter can only be found very occasionally, and when it is, it’s usually something like Jiffy, or Peter Pan or some other hydrogenated oil filled representation.  Well, the owner of Brunch roasts Colombian peanuts and makes and sells muy excellente peanut butter…travelers to Salento should stop into Brunch and buy at least a few containers of Brunch’s peanut butter.

Anyhow, I digress.  Mike, from Brunch suggested that we stop in the city of Buga on our way to Cali to eat his friend’s pizza and sample some the hostel’s microbrews, Holy Water Ale.

On the Way to Buga, we surprised the kids and stopped at the Parque Natural Del Cafe, where we rode rollercoasters, drove bumpercars, and ate popcorn and ice cream.  Marco continued to talk about it days later, ranking his 5 favorite rides in order.

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We made it to Hostel Buga, where the pizza was excellent, and the beer may have been better.

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Our room for the night was situated between the restaurant and the kitchen.  On weekends, people wait until at least 9 to go out for dinner.  We found ourselves, coming and going to and from the communal shower, half naked, zig zagging between the kitchen staff.  The heat was so intense we had no choice but to sleep with the windows wide open despite the mosquitos, all ready for the buffet of 4 bodies too hot to use any covers.

The following morning, we visited the church in the town square.  While inside the church, Marco pointed to Jesus on the cross and said “who’s that guy?”.  I told him it was Jesus on the cross, to which Marco replied “that doesn’t even look like him!”.  Darin suggested that maybe as a result of his previous concussions, he gained some insight that we never have.

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Big cities are a bit complicated.   With any city,  we can’t stay in our van, and can’t leave it parked on the street.  We have to secure overnight parqueadores with appropriate height clearance, which are hard to come by because everyone drives smaller vehicles.  We also usually spend a lot of time trying to find lodging, in the form of hostels, which are acceptable and affordable to stay in as a family.

Because of our city challenges, we considered bypassing Cali but decided we should check it out.  After the usual routine, we found a stylish french hostel, Hostal Todasky, where we made a snack and walked to the local green space.  Here, the kids spent their time in a large tree, testing how high up they could climb and jump without succumbing to multiple fractures.

Hostal Todasky was in the neighborhood of San Antonio, not far from the Centro.  It was the type of neighborhood I would choose to live in if I were a big city dweller.  It was quiet but not drab or boring, the cafes and restaurants seemed small but quality driven.  The streets were short and looked after by the mountain at its’ feet.

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Cali is known for its’ salsa and even during the day, the city breathes a rhythm that can be felt all around.  Salsa dancers go out at 11 or midnight without children and they wear clothes that aren’t found in a bag that’s travelled 7 weeks in a Eurovan.  Salsa being out, we walked down to a beyond budget Italian Trattoria, where we succulently wined and dined ourselves while Marco slept on Darin and Simon slept in his chair.  It was delightful.

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The following morning, we hiked up to Los Tres Cruces, the three large crosses on the mountain, which overlooks the city.  It was a hot and sticky climb, half of which was over large boulders.  We had a blast.

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Pance is a small town, in what’s analogous to “cottage country”.  Cali residents drive to Pance on weekends and flock to the river to frolic and cool off.

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We’d seen on another blog (To The Next Journey, TTNJ)  that if we drove to the very end of the road through Pance, we’d find Reserva Castellana.  When we got toward the end of the twisted and rutted road, we could see the closed gate for the finca in question.  The kids and I, outside the van watched Darin attempt to drive it up the “driveway” 4-5 times, while slipping, skidding, and tearing up the yard.

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After about 40 minutes and with 4 people pushing, we finally made it up to our camp spot.  The outdated, amazingly located finca was taken care of by one man, who loves it to pieces but can’t keep up with the work.  Our 2 nights and three days at Reserva Castellana were spent without seeing anyone other than the man who ran the place and his esposa.  We shared a meal and wine with them one night, and in return they loaded us up with limes, lemons, and bananas freshly picked on the property.

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We swam in the river, read, did laundry, and cooked chicken cacciatori and chorizo over an open fire.  The kids spent their time in the swing set and “ butt sliding” down the diverted river flowing over the slanted hill.  It was beautiful, secluded, and relaxing at its’ core.  The local dogs, once again, with the help of a few leftovers, guarded our camp day and night.

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We left early in the morning, with the collective mission of safely making it across the border into Ecuador.  Over the past 7 weeks, as we’ve made our way through Colombia, we’ve repeatedly been warned against driving in the department of Narino (between Cali and the border) anytime after dark.  We’ve learned that despite the seemingly short kilometers on the map, Colombian roads make for unpredictable travel times.

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After driving 300km, 9 hours later,  at sunset, we pulled into a national park parking lot overlooking El Volcan Galinas.  The security guard (and his dog) made us feel very welcome as we made our camp and cooked rice, beans, and veggie burritos.  We fell asleep reading the never-ending story, all while appreciating the cool breeze that we’d missed in and around Cali.

We woke up at dawn, to the chirping of birds that sounded like they were intentionally trying to crack us up.  We enjoyed our first cup of Don Elias’ coffee.  We’ve wondering why we didn’t buy much more of it.  For the sake of saving time, we stopped in Pasto for breakfast.  Simon went to the restroom and came out saying “that’s a very cool bathroom!  It has toilet paper, it’s clean, and it has an air freshener!”.  He’s becoming so easy to please, just a little toilet paper will do it.

We drove to the border, and stopped in the seedy border town of Ipiallis, where we bought some last minute Colombian goods and got the kids a few empanadas con pollo.

Unlike the very pissed off and unprepared french travelers next to us, “Ils sont tous des connards!”, after some time, red tape and several stamps, we crossed into Ecuador.  As we crossed over, we were stopped by the Ecuador border patrol army, who wanted to know what was on top of the van.  Knowing that produce is a no-no, I conveniently mentioned the surf board and the camping gear but forgot to mention the giant bag of bananas and citrus fruit that our Castellana amiga had given us.

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Within a few kilometers, we were engulfed by the dramatic Andes.

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Salento by: Anik

 

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We woke up in Salento on Sunday morning to a panoramic view of the mountains of the Zona Cafeteria, where they grow Arabica and Colombiana beans.

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Based on our overlander friend Francoise’s recommendation, we were camped at Serrana Eco Hostel, which more than suited our needs.  One of the most comfortable scenario for us is the country setting hostel where we can camp in our van but have use of all the hostel’s amenities.  Generally speaking, the camping fee is only 1/2 the regular hostel price but with luxuries like hot showers and toilets.  Hostel Serrana became our home for a much needed week of laying low and enjoying the scenery.

Hostel La Serrana camping spot

Hostel La Serrana camping spot

The town of Salento, a nice graveled 2 km walk away from our camp, was a very charming town, with the best artisan shops we’ve seen so far.  The town’s pride and attraction comes from its’ proximity to the Valle de Cocora and from its’ local trout farm.  All the restaurants of Salento advertise “Trucha de todos preparacion”.  The large, pink as salmon trout was delicious a la plancha, covered in garlic sauce and smothered in a cheese béchamel sauce with shrimp.  All trout meals come served with a giant chip the size of dinner plate made of local plantain.

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Being in the zone cafeteria, one morning we walked down 4 kilometers through mud that sank us to our ankles to the Finca de cafe Don Elias.  Señor Elias greeted us personally and took us on a walking tour of his coffee farm.  He was the sweetest man and his passion for the coffee producing process was contagious.

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Throughout the tour, Marco would occasionally ask “Is he gonna be done talking soon?”.  We learned that it takes two years for a newly planted coffee plant to flower.  Two weeks after it flowers, the beans, green in color begin to grow.   5 months later, when the beans are red (Arabica) or yellow (colombiana), they become ripe for picking.

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Every 8 years, the plants are cut down to the ground, this allows for a fresh plant to grow and according to Señor Elias, this prevents bitter coffee.

He took us through the outer skin and inner skin removal process, the drying, the roasting, and the grinding.

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Our personal tour finished with the enjoyment of a cup of coffee.  Simon said it was the worst coffee he’s had, I’m thinking it was his second sip in ten years.

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Colombians from this region are saying that the rainy season is here two months early.  When we heard this, we weren’t phased by it at all, we’re from the northwest eh?  When they say rain here though, they mean, leak producing torrential downpours with thunder and lightening that can last for hours.  These episodes happen daily, sometimes 2-3 times per day.

One beautiful early morning, with the skies clear, we took a 45 minute Willy ride to Valle de Cocora.

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Once again, we found ourselves with a map meant for kindergartners and some half assed description of how to find the trail that was to take us 10 km through Cocora, with its’ beautiful Wax Palms.

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We had a lovely hike along the river and climbed up and up until it came to our attention that we were on the wrong trail.  By the time we found the trail head we were meant to be on, we’d already hiked 5 km.

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As we stepped over the threshold of the anticipated trail, the kids immediately went on strike.  “No way!  If I do this, I’ll die, I’d rather stop breathing!”  We started hiking up and up, reassuring the kids that the ascent would level off soon. One of these days those kids will call our bluff.

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The walk up was beautiful, surrounded by Colombia’s national tree, the palma de vera, which are the tallest palms in the world.  We had lunch with a view beyond compare..and, the kids were still mad.

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By the time we started back on our descent, the kids were happy again, enjoying Bom Bom Bums, these gum filled lollipops they can’t get enough of.

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With about 2 hours left to our descent, the daily torrential downpour started.  We found ourselves crossing sketchy bridges and slip sliding our way down while sinking in the mud up to our mid calves.  The kids were in Indianna Jones mode and by now, loving every minute.

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We spent the rest of our days in Salento with morning runs, afternoon walks to town, daily spanish lessons, and amazing evening dinners prepared by our hosts.

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A few of the backpackers at the hostel were musicians, Simon spend hours serving as their drummer and jamming with them.

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street fun in Salento street fun in Salento

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Leaving Salento, we grabbed one more of Marco’s favorite galletas con pepitas.  These very simple but crazy good shortbread like cookies with sprinkles, sold in most panaderias.

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Other than going south, we don’t really have a plan for the next week. I guess we’ll just see where our van points its’ nose.  Darin mentioned this morning that he’d like to be at the Equator by March 20th, he’s got Cotopaxi on the brain.

 

Bogota to Salento by: Darin

We left Bogota on saturday around lunch time.  This way, we knew we wouldn’t encounter extra traffic.  We had 341km/211mi of traveling to get to Salento, in Colombia’s zona cafeteria.

Anik, my directionally impaired navigator, assured me we’d pull into Salento in time for a nice dinner in the van.

It took us 2 hours simply to get out of the city.  Bogota’s infrastructure leaves much to be desired.  The highways still have traffic lights, which causes traffic congestion and amplifies the poor air quality.  The numerous outdated buses and the diesel and gasolina they use, produce a brownish gray haze in the horizon, which would cause them to more than fail North American emission standards.

By 3:30, with all of us starving, we stopped just outside of Bogota for a plate of meat, meat, and a bit more meat.  The kids and I loved it.  Here, the owner of the restaurant advised us to be very cautious on the road because it was the night before Colombia’s big election.

Back in the van, and just a few hours of non technical driving away (as per Anik), we came around a curva peligrosa and were flagged down by the policia.  The reason for our being pulled over was obscure at first, as we were simply following traffic.

At this point in our trip, we’ve been pulled over by many gun carrying muchachos, but this one came around like he was the new sheriff in town.  By now, we have the routine of pulling out the copies of our SOAT insurance, passports, and license down to a science.  When he came to my window, I politely handed our paperwork over with a smile, the universal language.  Apparently, muchacho didn’t speak smile.  In the midst of interrogating us, when he came to the question of where we were headed, he digressed to the big, beautiful, pink trout we had to eat when we got to Salento.  After the small talk was out of the way, he pointed out that we had incurred the “infraction” of speeding through dangerous curves.  As I repeatedly told him that I was just following the cars ahead, the policia kept pointing out the “infraction”.  He started asking what the speed limit was in the US on highways, through curves, on dangerous roads etc…  He then asked “what do you do in Los Estados Unidos when you feel sorry for something (compadecer), when you’re regretful”.   At this point, we realized that he was fishing for a bribe.  We immediately decided to start playing the “No entiendo” card.  He seemed a bit confused and kept repeating himself “what do you do when you get pulled over and you feel sorry for your infraction?”.   After a while, we answered “we get a warning”.

At this point, he asked me to get out of the car and follow him to the radar gun and camera.  He showed me that I had been going 84km in an 80km zone.  I responded that it was only 4km/2mi over and that I was following everyone else.  He got the ticket pad and showed it to me.  I told him “no entiendo” and pointed to the van as I walked back to it.  He let let us sit there a few minutes, at which point he came back to the window and told us that just this once, he’d give us a warning.  I shook his hand and smiled, and we continued onto our non-technical drive.

This surely won’t be the last time we get pulled over.  For now, playing the dumb gringos with the innocent gringo children seems to work just fine.  Note: if traveling abroad, bring children.  They’ll save your ass many times over.

At this point, the drive was on nice smooth, straight, flat, easy roads, just as Anik had predicted.  By 5:30 (getting dark), we reached Ibague and Anik stated “we have 60km…one hour left, I say we go for it”.  This is the point where Anik’s navigation skills failed us utterly.  Luckily, we filled up our 1/4 tank of gas, just in case.

Just as it was getting dark and a thunderstorm was rolling in, the road started winding at an incline not seen in the United States.  Once again, trucks and buses were playing chicken with each other, blind passing around sharp curves.  Half an hour in, and six kilometers later, I asked Anik to look at the GPS on my phone.  At this point, I informed her that the curves were numerous and that this would take much longer than an hour.  It was obvious that we were past the point of no return, no camping, no stopping.

The road went on and on and up and up to 11,000 ft, passing dozens of broken down, smoking tractor trailers with their hoods raised.  Now, remember, this is a two lane highway with steep sharp curves and sheer cliffs, with zona geologica (landslides).  By 9:30pm, we still hadn’t had dinner and still had 40km to go.  With the kids eating crackers, and ours bodies stiff with the breathtaking curves and passes, we drove on.  We arrived in Armenia at 10:30 and decided the 25 km drive to Salento was too much.  We found a hotel on Lonely Planet and drove to that part of town.  Everything in the neighborhood was barred up, including our hotel…

Across the street from the hotel was a food cart called Hamburguesas Caliche’s which turned out to be an indigestion producing, soy sauce laden, giant burger patty, with ham, bacon, cheese and a quail egg, all atop an arepa.  It was really good.

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We finally made it to Salento by 11:30, and woke up the following morning in Paradise.

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The rain in this regions isn’t rain, it’s as Simon would say “a nightly deluge of water”.  At 2am on the second night, I was awaked by a steady drip of water in the face caused by one of two leaks the van had sprung.  Anik and I shared half of the twin sized bed to make room for the bowls and towels to catch the leaks.  Although the bowls were effective, with our tight quarters, I rolled onto them twice, making for a very moist sleeping bag.

I woke up the following morning, unable to move due to some undefined sickness…aka…diarrhea from a bad piece of fruit or from the soy sauce laden hamburguesas.  I sent Anik into town for silicone to repair the failed silicone in the rain gutter.  Problem solved.

The roads, the leaks, the policias, and the tight quarters have so far made this trip less than dull.   This past week in Salento, having not moved the van, makes me ready again for our push to Ecuador.  I sure hope the van starts.

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