Medellin and the Crazy Aussies

11 06 2010

In the morning myself and the girls got up early so that we could catch the bus to Pereira for our onward connection to Medellin, party town and famed abode of the late Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. At Pereira I met Brian (US) and Janek (German) who the Danish girls knew from their hostel back in Cali. They were also travelling to Medellin so we decided to get a bus together. The bigger bus didn’t have space for us all so we went for the cheaper option. We had a bit of time before it left so we headed over to a cafe in the terminal and ordered a traditional Colombian breakfast. Obviously this consisted of soup with some choice cuts of meat in it (there’s irony in that statement for any North American readers) and a plate of eggs with rice and fried bananas. We even had time to watch part of the opening match of the World Cup.

Our bus to Medellin got stuck in the most inefficient and protracted road works I have ever seen. Finally after an inexorable wait we got to the front of the queue and then waited even longer before they finally allowed anything from our side of the highway through. Fortunately the rest of the journey passed without incident. Since there were 5 of us and many of the taxis are minuscule we opted to get two. The boys got in theirs straightaway and zoomed off to the hostel but for some bizarre reason no taxi driver wanted to take me, the two Danish girls, and our backpacks. After multiple attempts at negotiation (some taxi drivers would shake their head at me before I even got a chance to speak) and one of the drivers offering to take us for twice the expected rate we eventually gave up and decided to start walking. It is definitely one of the most unpleasant welcomes that I have ever had to a new South American city.

Fortunately, just outside the bus station, we managed to flag down a taxi who was willing to take us for the correct price and set off. It would probably have been better if he knew where he was going but after a few stops to ask direction we were underway and made it to the Black Sheep hostel. We hadn’t been able to confirm our reservation before we left Salento and there was no room left at the inn. Janek and Brian on the other-hand managed to get in okay. Even though we arrived early in the afternoon, there was clearly a party going on at the hostel and a large group of Australians were shouting down at us from the balcony as we pulled up in our taxi. Apparently they’d been drinking heavily since 9am that morning including multiple beer bongs. One of the girls looked familiar and it turned out to be Lyndall who I’d met a few times way back in Loki in Cusco. I mention the Australians only because they became a permanent source of comment throughout our remaining time in Colombia. Often we’d turn up at a hostel that they’d just checked out of only to hear tell of their recent antics: lewd drunken behaviour; partner swapping and four of them having sex in the pool at 9am in the morning. Still, at least they got the party started.

We found room at the nearby Pit Stop hostel which is a great hostel but for some reason there were hardly any women staying there. Everyone must have breathed a sigh of relief when I turned up with 2 attractive Danish girls. After a few beers back at our hostel and a barbecue we headed over to the Black Sheep to meet up with Janek and Brian. Whilst there we met Lisa and Marina (English) and we all headed out to the Zona Rosa for some partying. It was still early so we started off in a few bars where we discovered the delightful Colombian concept of milk cartons of rum. Unfortunately sometimes we thought we were ordering a small carton and ended up with a litre of the good stuff and had to keep buying lots more mixers to go with it.

Marina twisted her ankle at some point and decided to head home early but the rest of us carried on to a club where we partied the night away. At 3am we tried to find somewhere else to go and even tried to persuade some local kids that they should have a party back at their place but it was all to no avail. Eventually I headed back to the Black Sheep with Brian, Janek and Lisa before finally deciding to call it a night (after nearly falling asleep on the balcony) and took the short walk back to the Pit Stop.

Coffee Beans and Hummingbirds

10 06 2010

In the morning we went on a tour of the coffee plantation. Unfortunately there was only a Spanish-speaking tour available that day but either our guide, Andreas, spoke exceptionally clearly or my Spanish has finally got to the point where I can understand it. I was able to follow most of what was being said and the bits that I couldn’t follow one of the other guys on the tour was able to translate.

The tour itself wasn’t the most scintillating tour ever: I guess there’s not that much you can say about coffee. It grows on trees; they sort out the good beans, soak them for a bit; dry them in the sun and then you can roast them for your daily brew. Okay so there was some other stuff in there about what types of beans they grew and we obviously got to sample a cup. We had to cut the tour short because we wanted to trek in the Valle del Cocora just outside of town and we needed to get to the main square before the last jeep left.

The jeep filled up pretty quickly and some of the locals were literally hanging off the back of it. I imagined that was quite risky on some of the bumpy roads that we were travelling along but I thought I might give that position a try if there was no room on the way back. Also on the bus with us were an English couple, Sam and Mykala, and, after first contemplating whether to get horses through the valley or to trek it, we all set off afoot up the hill together. The initial part of the trek was a long a muddy path between lots of fields (full of an abundance of magic mushrooms so I am told). Towering high above the fields and festooning the hills around us were some truly massive palm trees. At some points you had to cling desperately to the fence (bedecked as it was in barbed wire) to avoid swimming through the boggy quagmire of the trail. A horse here would definitely have been a bonus.

The path then entered into the jungle and we walked gradually uphill. Occasionally we had to cross streams using some very dodgy looking bridges. Although there were normally 2 or 3 logs crossing the stream ofttimes they were poorly aligned and you’d find yourself balancing perilously on just one of them. A little further on down the trail I saw a suspension bridge and thought to myself, “At last, a proper bridge!” If only. I have never seen such a poorly maintained bridge in my life: sometimes there were multiple missing or broken planks in a row and you had to wonder (as you stepped over the gaping maw) what happened to the poor souls who were crossing the bridge when that particular timber decided to splinter and fall into the drink.

Signe taking one of the many river crossings

After many hours of walking we arrived at our destination: a small restaurant at the top of the hill with lots of hummingbirds flying around. The hummingbirds were enticed there by lots of feeders so the photos weren’t exactly the most natural ever but at least you stood a good chance of getting the money shot. I had a very dicey cup of coffee there (in the traditional Colombian way it came pre-sugared: which is fine I guess if you actually take sugar in your coffee) since I drew the line at partaking in the hot chocolate and cheese that the Colombians are so found of. It wasn’t a cheap coffee either since we had to pay a large cover charge just to be there.

After lots of attempts, a hummingbird picture I actually liked

On the way back down we decided to go a different way and took the steep climb up to Montaña Finca. At first I thought we’d made a big mistake. As well as being a steep climb, the path was often a slippery, muddy goo, and it was not exactly a pleasant experience. The finca (coffee plantation) at the top of the hill was also nothing to write in your blog about but once we began our descent on the gently sloping, quagmire-less path towards the village we discovered that our efforts were worthwhile. As well as being a quicker and easier way to get back (sans river crossings!) the views across the valley were absolutely mind-blowing.

As we got lower down the hill I suddenly saw some clothes lying in the path. At first I thought someone had gone streaking through the hills until I realised that it was laundry drying in the sun and belonged to one of the soldiers encamped a bit further down the hill. In fact, the whole way down the hill we ran into platoons of soldiers and I kept hoping that we wouldn’t somehow stray the wrong way and end up the wrong side of an AK47. Fortunately they were also quite useful at giving us directions too and before long we arrived back in the village.

Even though the last jeep of the day was there and effectively full we had to wait until the appropriate hour before he’d depart and take us back to Salento. We arranged to meet Sam and Mykala in one of the local restaurants Donde Luisa even though none of us knew where it was. After a while searching for it for a while, me, Signe and Julia gave up and went to a nice (if pricey cafe) to get a caesar salad. It turned out that the restaurant was actually called Rincon de Lucy and it was actually on the corner of the street we were on.

In the evening we had a few more drinks in Dave’s Place back at the hostel and ended up having a mammoth game of Shithead with the neighbouring table too. After the game ended I decided it was time for bed and headed back to the room to sleep.

Crazy Dogs and Russian Cocaine

9 06 2010

I paid my bill at the Casablanca hostel – for the first time ever in a hostel they made me pay the 2 nights that I’d reserved even though I only stayed the 1 – and then went to meet Signe and Julie at their hostel. After a few minutes of being there I suddenly realised that I’d left my notepad, with all the notes for my blog in it, sitting on the computer table back at my hostel. With the three of us crammed sardine-like into a tiny taxi with backpacks on the front seat and across our legs we first went to my hostel, where I jumped out and retrieved my book, before we continued to the bus station.

At the bus station we got a collectivo to the town of Armenia and then a regular bus from there to Salento. I almost missed the bus when the girls were saying that they’d really like an apple and I went off to try to find them one – just as the bus was about to leave.  At some point during the journey the girls hijacked my camera and I ended up with a crazy sequence of them pulling really weird faces. As we got off the bus in Salento (a cute looking town: even the cash point is hidden) we got chatting to an American girl (whose name I no longer recollect; if indeed I ever knew it) and we all went to a nearby cafe to eat some lunch.

I had patacones (flattened plantains in a big disc shape fried until crispy) with minced meat on top. It was quite tasty but after a while I got bored of trying to eat the patacon without bits of it flying off as I tried to cut it so I just concentrated on eating the meat. After lunch we set off on the 10-minute walk to our hostel, Plantation House, and dumped off our stuff. The girls decided that they wanted to eat some more so we went to a cafe on the way back into town.

I didn’t really want much more to eat so I ordered a tomato soup but as well as being a strange pink colour it also had a distinctly fishy taste. It was quite weird so I didn’t finish all of it. There was a street dog at the fence of the restaurant who was quite friendly (although he did growl every time I pointed a camera at him) and kept giving him some food to eat. We then decided to head up to the mirador (viewpoint) at the top of the hill: the dog decided to follow us too. On the corner we bumped into Cabe, an American guy who was also on our bus with us, and he decided to tag along too.

At the top of the hill the dog from the restaurant suddenly decided to get a bit playful and, after biting Julie on the bum, he decided that he’d start attacking my flip-flops (I actually think this may be the reason they broke a short while later) and it was a long time before I managed to get him to stop.

The dog that attacked my shoes and bit Julie on the bum

At the top of the hill we sat on some swings whilst Cabe pulled out his backpackers guitar and played a few songs. Signe also had a go. Eventually it got too chilly at the top of the hill so we headed into town and grabbed a juice from a really nice juice stand in the main square whilst they played more songs on the guitar. As dusk fell we headed back to the hostel to get ready. I had to wait an interminable time for the girls to get ready before I could use the room and shower myself.

We got a pizza in town and then headed back up to the hostel where they’d set up an ad-hoc bar in one of the buildings. The bar was run by Dave, a grungy-looking, dreadlocked Aussie who was really sound. Dave hadn’t quite decided what to call his bar yet but the chances are that it will be known as Dave’s Place. At one point in the evening he made some cocktails which he called Russian Cocaine. You licked fresh filter coffee off your hand, had a shot of vodka and kahlua, and then sucked on a brown-sugar coated lime. It was really tasty and pretty much everyone in the bar at the time had one.

Cabe keeping us entertained at Dave's bar

Cabe kept the bar entertained with his guitar playing whilst Signe spent ages talking to Jhon, a Colombian working at the coffee farm, and Julie was chatting to Vince (American). After a while Vince started to annoy her so I had to go over and sit with them until he got the message and headed off. Eventually we headed back to the room and fell asleep: although I spent a lot of the night keeping the girls awake with a persistent cough and some snoring. I think I was popular.