Cool change

After bidding my good friend Scott a teary farewell on the side of the road in Santa Marta, I was having a quiet beer in the cool wooden bar of la Brisa Loca when I met André – a sexy young thang from Melbourne, who introduced himself to me as a painter. At first I thought he meant houses. But he meant paintings. He showed me his sketchbook. Turns out he’s a pretty talented aerosol artist.

We got chatting and hit it off well enough to decide to hang for the rest of the afternoon. We watched the sunset from the water’s edge, walked around the plaza and grabbed a bite to eat at a lil cafe which did a great fusion of Colombian and Mediterranean food.

Later we went back to the hostel for happy hour. A few rum & cokes and What Have You, and it ended up being quite the night. We met a top bloke from Cootamundra (drowning in Aussies over here) who I ended up hanging out with the next day.

Josh & I took a bus & then a motorbike right out of town to a local’s beach. Clean and virtually deserted. A man kept bringing us icy cold beers and later a huge tasty fish lunch. Why can’t they do deliveries on Bondi Beach? Bloody genius.

Next day I took a plane to Medellin and quite literally bumped into Piers as I was walking into a hostel. Another happy accident! Piers is one of the two gorgeous big blokes from Aus that Pinky had brought to Little Corn. I thought he was still up on the Caribbean coast, so it was a terrific surprise. He was travelling with his friend Tara from home and Sam from Switzerland. They were good banter so I kicked around with them for a few days. One afternoon, the boys accompanied me to the Modern Art Gallery which I rated. But outside is where it’s really at – there’s all this incredibly vibrant street art.

We also took an overnight trip to a quaint lil town called Guatapé, where we visited El Peñól. ‘Big Rock’. And it is. It reaches an elevation of 2,135m above sea level and weighs an estimated 10,000,000 tonnes (I’d love to know how they come to this figure). It is said to be 70 million years old.

On one side of the rock, in white paint there is a massive letter ‘G’ and part of the letter ‘U’. Apparently the two neighbouring townships of Guatapé and El Peñol had long disputed ‘ownership’ of the rock. The folk of Guatapé had decided to settle the matter by simply painting their name on the rock. As you do. The people of El Peñól naturally noticed the works in progress and put a stop to it.

We climbed 644 stairs for an amazing view. It’s strange, but this particular part of Colombia is reminiscent of rolling European landscapes. Not what I was expecting at all. But I like it.

We went our separate ways after that. They made their way back up the coast. I returned to Medellin but to a different hostel. Secret Buddha was a beautiful retreat way out of town. I met a lovely young Aussie chick by the name of Ginger (who is actually blonde) and her & I played nanas for a few days. Healthy food, zero booze and lots of early nights.

She left for Salento in Zona Cafetera a day before me. I met her in the Plantation House on Saturday night. Recommended by LP, I thought it a bit rubbish to be honest. I moved the next day to a beautiful eco-farm called La Serrana which is about 1.5ks out of town and I’ve been here ever since.

Salento is a small country town 1,895 m above sea level; population 7,500. The town itself consists of a big plaza and just a few streets of cafes, bars & souvenir shops. The latter can lend a bit of touristy feel to the place. But if you look around, it’s still a very traditional town in many ways. Lots of preserved colonial architecture and wrinkly old brown cowboys sitting around in ponchos.

I really like it here. Everyone says hello when they pass you in the street. It’s got a very relaxed vibe. In one of the most stunning settings. Expansive green mountains and wide open valleys, cloaked by cool grey clouds.

I took a ‘tour’ of a boutique family-owned coffee plantation and learned about the process of picking, drying, roasting, blending, brewing coffee. We spent the better part of the day with a gorgeous family. And got really jacked up on too many espressos. Gosh they were good!

I also did a big hike in the nearby Cocora Valley. I need to start getting fit again if I’m to take on the Inca Trail and other hikes around Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. This area is a great place to start.

The Cocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park. This valley is one of the main reasons folks come to visit this area. It is here the Quindio wax palms grow. The wax palm is the national tree & symbol of Colombia. These trees which can live up to 100 years old & grow up to 50m are the tallest palms in the world. There’s so many of them and they create this completely surreal landscape. It feels like you’re walking through a scene in Avatar.

I spent the next few days simply enjoying La Serrana. Taking short walks, reading, drinking lots of good coffee, cooking. It was in these first few days that I decided I really wanted to stay here. They have a program where you can volunteer in exchange for free accommodation, breakfast and ½ price dinners. I thought I could stop for a while & take some more Spanish lessons.

Then on the Thursday evening (15 March), I was offered an amazing opportunity to take part in a very special event…

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