When will everything stop being so beautiful? If you like green hills, mountains, small villages with charming squares surrounded by cafes, lush countryside everywhere, windy roads, flowers and interesting wildlife, it is hard not to love pretty much everything we have seen.
Our trip from Medellín to Cali took us mostly south via two nights in Jerico, one near Santa Road de Cable, another two in Filandia, in the heart of the coffee region and a final one in Cali airport so we could catch an early plane to San Andres. We almost had a night in Salento to meet our friend Liz until Booking.com informed us we already had a booking in Cali Airport for that day and we realised the FTs had lost track of time……
Jerico is a little like Jardin; a reasonably sized hill town, surrounded by gorgeous hills, coffee plantations and stunning views. It has a square that is the centre of activity and at this time of year is the home of more Christmas lights than a council estate in Swindon. It has a big ugly church, a smaller lovely church, a steep hill overlooking it with a big Jesus on top and, perhaps best of all, a convent where the nuns make wine and biscuits.
We met the nuns early, buying a bottle of ‘nun juice’ and some biscuits through a barred window in the entrance hall to the convent. It felt like buying drugs in a crack house, except that the drug dealer was a kind old lady dressed as a penguin and the house was a very quaint and clean convent. So probably not like buying drugs in a crack house at all.
Nun juice is lovely. It is organic, a little cloudy and tastes like a good port. On day one, we bought a bottle. On day two, as we left, we bought two more. They have now gone. We are now in search of more nuns coz we want their juice!
When not getting obsessed with the above we went on a tour of the town in a tuk-tuk with a guide/driver (James) and an interpreter (Elvis). The village has an interesting couple of museums (one containing the biggest nativity we have ever seen), craft shops that make the most extravagant ‘man bags’ you will ever see, homemade sweet shops, the aforementioned churches, the most spectacular views and a coffee shop that also sells hats (J and I now have new hats). Not on the tour, but seen on independent wanderings are some great restaurants, a lovely botanical garden, a bar that has tango and lots of beer and people who come into town on their horses for a beer.
The hills thing makes running a little difficult but the owner of the hotel we stayed in gave me directions to a ‘reasonably flat route’ which was only reasonably flat if you normally live halfway up Everest. After running down hill for 3 out of the 4.5km out, I knew that he had been mistaken and that the trip home would be a bit crap. It was. On the upside, I met a man with three horses who stopped me for a chat and a man who shouted from his house for me stop, asked where I was from and what I was doing, then gave me a round of applause when I told him. Nice people.
Next stop was the thermal springs at Santa Rosa de Cable which sit at the northern edge of the coffee zone. We have had varied experiences with thermal springs around the world and too often they involve people soup made from people who don’t share our view of considerate behaviour and water that stinks. Standing in a muddy car park waiting for the ticket hut to open, we didn’t expect too much of these ones but were pleasantly surprised. There is a lovely stream side walk to the baths, a beautiful 120m high waterfall as a backdrop and 4 polls to lounge around in. At opening time it was lovely and peaceful but by 10.30 on a Saturday, when we left, if was getting rather busy.
The Thermal Springs and Around
Further south our next target was Finlandia, a less touristy version of the very well known Salento, but on a weekend it is still full of local tourists, a small market and lots of noise. It sits in incredibly beautiful countryside that can be best seen from the farther ugly viewing platform on the edge of town that looks a little like a DIY spaceship. It is a great place to watch the sunset and drink the last of your supply of nun juice.
We also went on a really good coffee tour to a local farm. It is rather simple set up; we hopped in the back of one of the iconic Willys Jeep taxis with a guide and went to a very small farm (about 70 trees) and learnt about the whole process, from planting the seeds to drinking the coffee. Part of the experience is peeling your beans, roasting them, grounding them, then turning them in to a cuppa. Some of this was done in a small shed that needed a bit of TLC and in which we had to stoop to prevent the old y-fronts on a washing line from masking our view. It was an interesting experience but we concluded it is all rather a lot of hassle for a cuppa and provision of our morning brew is best left to bearded people in coffee shops!
On a Saturday evening the town comes alive and whilst sitting outside a bar we got chatting to a lovely couple, Diego and Anna, who could tolerate chatting to us in our bad Spanish and took us to a little bar off the square that featured beer and dancing: it was the kind of place we wouldn’t have gone into by ourselves. We both had a dance and I confirmed the fact that my hips must be fused as they have so little movement, especially compared to rubbery Colombians.
On our final day we went to Cali via Salento and the Valle de Cocora with it’s majestic wax palms which grow up to 45m high. J and I decided to do the 12km circuit walk the anticlockwise ‘challenging’ route as we were told that once you got through the really challenging bit, it was just down hill, rather than the up-down clockwise route. They were right and I was reminded just how much J hates walking up hills. I took a bit of time out to consider if, over the past 25 years of holidaying together, J has actually liked a hill walk. Snowdonia, the long route to Machu Picchu, Mount Kinabalu, a jungle trek in Malaysia…… and many others………she hated them all. It is important to finally accept this. In a week or so I am trekking to a lost city in a national park on the Caribbean coast. The trip takes 4 days and has hills and rivers. I am doing it with a friend, Liz. J is staying in a nice hotel nearby!
We got to Cali airport just after dark and settled into our functional room in the hotel in the terminal, with a sense of relief I returned our hire car in one piece, we brought an overpriced bottle of wine and some fast food in the airport food court and got ourselves ready for the Caribbean leg of our Adventure.
The Wax Palms and Solento