Garden Of Eden
I left Llama secure in the hostel parking and I headed with Alvaro to Jardin, a lovely little village situated in a lush coffee and plantain valley a couple of hours south-west of Medellin. Alvaro is Carlos brother, my Colombian friend whom I met in Cusco and we hiked Choquequirao, Machu-Picchu and visited Cusco’s surrounding together. We arrived to Jardin by 13:00 and immediately I felt as if I was a local. Alvaro is very well known in the village, vying to become its next mayor and he was sort of on a pre-campaign mode: he was out to meet everyone and everyone wanted to chat with him. In a matter of a few hours, I was part of the campaign committee, discussing the current town’s problems, analyzing the different issues, proposing solutions and action plans. For fun, I let the word out that I am a Canadian government representative supporting development of rural Colombia and lending support to Alvaro’s campaign :), to the great laugh of the guys… until the word’s spread out through the village like wildfire and everyone believed it!! Which made it even more hilarious. Wherever I went I was accompanied by someone to share a few laughs and a couple shots of “guaro” (Aguardiente, the national drink… wacala!).
It was New Years Eve and the plan was to hang out in main plaza. But this is not your typical gathering; Plaza Bolivar was absolutely full of revelers and even I was astonished at that sight. Not only the whole town was to the rendezvous, they also invited their family and friends. As for me, I was invited to every table, dancing a little here, chatting over there, devouring street food in the plaza’s center and drinking everywhere. In all honesty, this was probably my best New Year celebration ever. The church rang the New Year and more drinks where served while the party never took a break; it continued up to dawn when we all made our way to “Chiquito”, one of the plaza’s bar to keep drinking and dancing. We headed back home long after sunrise when most of the folks were sound asleep… passed out in the bars, restaurants or the plaza’s gardens :).
During the following days I was given Alvaro’s dad Jeep to drive, a restored 1954 Willy, and with Alvaro, his friends and his family (in other 4×4) we went to the nearby fincas and remote outposts for me to visit and Alvaro to gather some votes. It was great as I was able to meet and chat first hand with land owners, coffee plantation workers, vegetable and fruit pickers, pig or trout farmers, horse & mule ranchers,… about their business, life, Colombia, girls and whatever else they wanted to tell me. And I tasted some delicious homemade food and been invited to even more drinks (yep, call AA). On our final day in Jardin, Alvaro decided to take a brake and took us all (his father, daughter and friends) for a horse/mule back ride to the Cueva del Esplandor, a cave with a magnificent waterfall pouring down through a hole in it’s ceiling.
Back in Medellin, I needed a day to rest and take care of a few “business” (read “vacation”) issues. On my last night in this city, I invited Alvaro and Sarah (his girlfriend) to a Lebanese restaurant (delicious food… but no arak :() for a farewell dinner since the next morning I was heading toward Bogota.
I decided to stop halfway between Medellin & Bogota at Rio Claro for a day away from the big cities. Rio Claro reserve is located in a lush tropical valley surrounded by marble mountains and dissected by the rio Claro and offering great hikes; Not only did I hike the mountains and swam in the river, I also joined a guided group to hike/climb/jump/… inside the tunnels the river has dug out in the granite mountains. If you get a chance, in Colombia or in any other country, I strongly suggest you to try something similar.
After my 2 night’s rest in nature my plan was to ride early to Bogota. I wanted to make sure I arrive there before the rain starts pouring in the afternoon, give myself a buffer for potential landslides that might block the road and arrive to the city before rush hour allowing me enough time to zigzag through Bogota’s infamous traffic and road constructions so many other riders warned me about. Not to mention Bogota has many iffy neighborhoods and I definitely do not want to stumble upon one after sunset. Only problem, the rain decided to have an early morning start; I waited until 10:00 for it to subside but with no reprieve in sight, I just went for it. The ride wasn’t that bad except for the slow traffic of cars and trucks on these undulating mountain roads. With Llama, we could wiz through the traffic and I just took the immense pleasure in passing them. At one point, I actually passed a police checkpoint. Oups! The guy jumped waving me to stop but I just ignored him… only to be stopped 10min later by another police patrol. Uh-oh! How to get away from this situation? Reverse play! Just told him bluntly that when in Colombia I do like Colombian: They are crazy drivers, do not respect any sign, pass anywhere and everywhere and for my own safety I had to do the same or otherwise I will be crushed. The police officer was laughing and just let me go with a small advise: “just do not pass when there’s a police car or police checkpoints”.
A few surprises greeted me upon arriving to Bogota: first, Bogota’s roads where flooded with rivers few inches deeps gushing through them, the sewer system not able to handle the rain waters. It wasn’t fun finding my way in Bogota while tackling these rivers. My second surprise was that I actually recognized some of the downtown streets from the time I visited 9 years ago with Adriana… Damn I am good ;). Third, there was another Lebanese traveler in my hostel and it felt good hanging out with a “paysano”. Otherwise, Bogota is an average city to visit: it has an amazing Museo de Oro, a great lookout on the city from Monserat mountain and an OK party scene. Bottero has a museum here but I just don’t dig him and most Bogota’s streets are unsafe at night so take a taxi everywhere guys.
I will be flying on real planes vs. on Llama for the next few weeks. I am heading on a Caribbean escapade: I’ll be attending Carol & Ravi’s wedding in Dominican Republic followed by Becky & Jason’s wedding in Cancun. I will also take advantage of being in these countries to do a few excursions. Check my next update for more.
or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.