After falling in love with Cartagena, I flew to Bogota to meet Stephanie and begin our tour of Colombia! I arrived in Bogota around midnight, and we flew out the next morning at 8:30, so I can’t tell you much about Bogota other than that it seemed large, busy, and cold. We took a short flight to Armenia, a town up in the cordillera central (Colombia has three mountain ranges, the cordillera occidental, central, and oriental).
We were picked up by Aurelio, a sweet, middle-aged Colombian man. He spoke almost no English, which was perfect for us practicing our Spanish! He spoke to us clearly and slowly (actually TOO slowly, he was very careful to make our lives easy), and was an excellent source of information on Colombian geography, history, politics, and culture.
Our first stop was the Valle Cocora – a beautifully lush valley full of wax palms. These palms are naturally found growing in a typical rain forest setting in Colombia, but this valley has been altered for the purpose of raising cattle so it was mostly grassland with these huge palms sticking up out of nowhere! It was beautiful, but apparently not 100% natural. The wax palms are endangered and therefor it is illegal to cut them down, so they remain as a beautiful part of the landscape.
After walking around the valley for a bit, during which time it poured down rain and gave me a reason to use my raincoat for the first time on this trip, we headed to the town of Salento. Salento was cute and charming, full of colorful houses lining the streets and plenty of coffee shops with a variety of people sitting contently. We had comida corriente, a set plate of food typical in Colombia (which we have seen everywhere, but each country has their own combo and name for the set plate). So far, Colombian food has been by far the best I’ve had. Comida corriente starts with a soup, usually full of veggies or lentils and a delicious cilantro flavored broth, in which it is common to put broken pieces of banana. Delicious. Then you get a plate with rice, beans, salad (usually like cole slaw or more lentils), patacon (smashed and fried plantain), fried plantains, and your choice of either chicken, beef, or trout. Trout, trucha, is everywhere in Colombia! I am thrilled with the inclusion of soup in the meals here, and am amazed that most meals include a serving of juice as well. Each meal is a new surprise because there is a different kind of juice and soup – none of which have let me down.
We wandered Salento for a while, looking at artisan crafts in abundance, before getting cold and going in for a hot chocolate. In Colombia, hot chocolate is served with cheese. You’re supposed to put the cheese IN the chocolate – something I was quite dubious of at first. I ended up taking little bites and sips together (not fulling combining the two), and it actually isn’t bad! The cheese is a white, salty cheese with a flavor and texture not unlike fresh mozzarella. Slightly saltier and less rubbery. Chocolate and cheese, soup and banana… I am definitely enjoying the fusions of food here!
We headed back to our finca, “farm” hotel, that evening and had a relaxing evening of reading and not doing much of anything! It was a beautiful hotel, but we were in the middle of nowhere (so we couldn’t go anywhere), and we were the only guests in the entire place. It was slightly disappointing, but at the same time a nice place to relax and feel like we were living a luxurious life. Plus, it had hot showers!
The next day we drove out to another finca near Armenia to go on a horseback ride! It was a pretty relaxing day as well, seeing as we really just got on our horses and sat for four hours while our guide (a guy who works at the finca) rode ahead of us. It was slightly boring, I won’t lie, but we did get to see the expansive finca and all the crops they grow. This finca had a plethora of plantains (as does the entire area), oranges, coffee, yucca, palms, and more. After our ride we had another nice meal, similar to that of the day before only with more lentils.
Our final day in Armenia was spent doing a canopy zip line tour. This tour was at another finca and was about 1/10 as exciting as the one in Costa Rica, but the juice at the end definitely gave it some value. Unfortunately, we asked the woman at the finca how she made the juice and she showed us two powdered juices and said she just mixes those with some panela, a kind of hard/dry molasses, like superfine condensed brown sugar. It tasted amazing, as does everything here because they use a LOT of panela. One of my favorite drinks is aguapanela - hot water and panela mixed together. Or cafe dulce – coffee with panela, resulting in a very sweet flavorful coffee.
After our canopy tour, Aurelio drove us a few hours to the town of Manizales – a university town build along a ridge line up in the mountains. This town is quite large, and we spent a VERY long time driving around trying to find our hostel – the street organization here makes little to no sense to me.
I’ll write more about Manizales in the next few days (if I have internet, I have a feeling I might not until the end of this week), but I can tell you that the mountains here are AMAZING! They are smooth and brilliantly green, and give erosion nerds (like myself) a mind blowing opportunity to visualize how they came to be!
PS – We’ve also been seeing a ton of really cute cows!