If you look for Tamesis in the Colombia Lonely Planet, you won’t find it. Nor would you find it on Google Maps until recently. Nor will any Colombian outside of the area know what you’re talking about when you tell them you’re going there! That’s a bit of a blanket statement, but we told numerous people where we were going and they all responded with some variation of “Tamesis? Where is that? Why would you go there?”
Why would we come here? Because it is freaking fantastic! This is SUCH a wonderful little town. Tamesis is in the department Antioquia, in the Cordillera Occidental (Western mountain range), and is a cute little “Andean Pueblo” – according to our itinerary. I picture an “Andean Pueblo” as a few hundred people living in a community with all dirt floors and roads. Tamesis is at least a few thousand people (we’re guessing 8,000), have an adorable central plaza (with pavement), a bunch of small restaurants and bakeries, and a couple (maybe two?) of hotels.
If you want to get away from a touristy place, definitely come to Tamesis. We were the only tourists in town on Monday night, then two Germans came for Tuesday night, and we were again the only foreigners in town on Wednesday night. We stayed at Hotel Cristo Rey, right on the central plaza. It is very clean, cute, and has a great view from both the front and back porches. The only issue is that, being on the central plaza and directly across from the cathedral, the bells start ringing at five in the morning and really not pleasant to hear – especially if you’re trying to sleep.
We arrived in Tamesis on Monday around noon after driving down the Cordillera Central, across the valley, down the river, and up the Cordillera Occidental. The entire drive was about three and a half hours, but would have been substantially less had the roads been well paved (or paved at all). Upon our arrival at our hotel, our guide, Rodrigo, showed up and told us to put on sneakers, shorts, and sunscreen before meeting him downstairs for lunch. We did as we were told, and headed out to lunch with him. It was immediately clear that he knew almost everyone in town – he would stop and say hi to everyone, make passing comments to people out the window as he drove, and everyone seemed to be glad to see him and happy to stop and chat. Rodrigo grew up in Tamesis, but now lives in Medellin with his wife and baby and only comes up here when he has tourists to show around.
Lunch was huge and calorific, but delicious. I have discovered one thing I do not like at all in Colombian cooking: fried pork belly. Disgustingly fatty – I’ve heard that 90% of it’s calories come from fat… which is enough to make me really grossed out. I’ve accidentally ordered it twice, and I feel really rude if I don’t at least at some of it. It’s like a hunk of bacon before it has been sliced, but each bite is just like a juicy fried piece of fat. I don’t think it tastes all that awful, but I can’t stomach (no pun intended) the thought of what it is and how it feels in my mouth.
After lunch we headed out to see a variety of petroglyphs. This area has an interesting history of pre-Columbian people, and a number of petroglyphs left behind! We traipsed all over the countryside looking at various rocks full of carvings with symbols and pictures. Rodrigo knows a lot about them, and the history of the area, so it was interesting to hear what he had to say about their significance. One of the major requirements for where a petroglyph is placed is the view – it has to be somewhere with an expansive view of the valley. This is not hard to do, seeing as almost everywhere we’ve been in Tamesis has a gorgeous view of the entire valley and mountain ranges surrounding us. Beautiful.
On Tuesday we met Rodrigo and Alex (Rodrigo’s friend who speaks a bit of English and is learning more about how to run a tour company, he came with us on all of our adventures in Tamesis) at 7:30 to pick up breakfast (fruit) from the fruit stands in the central plaza, before going to Rodrigo’s house to eat and get ready for our day of adventure: rappelling down a waterfall! This picture isn’t superb, but you can see the waterfall in the upper left hand corner:
Rodrigo’s house is very nice, and he plans to turn it into the first hostel in Tamesis within the next year or so. We ate cut up papaya, mango, pineapple, banana, and some odd fruit with a very odd gooey texture, along with honey and delicious coffee. We then got suited up in harnesses and helmets and set out to hike up the side of the mountain. Oof. We definitely got our exercise!
We hiked up on various trails and through different fields, before getting on an ancient trail/road supposedly part of the Incan Trail which runs through Colombia – it was definitely an old trail but still used by the campesinos who live up in the mountains, and by us! We hiked for about two hours, including much scrambling, some roped in climbing, and careful foot placement due to incredibly slippery rocks.
We went from town up into the cloud forest, and although it wasn’t really sunny that day we had a beautiful view through a slight misty fog of the valley and town below. Finally we arrived at the waterfall. The entire thing is about 170 meters, but we started about halfway up (which is fine, because I cannot imagine the hike to get all the way up).
We roped up and plopped ourselves over the edge into the waterfall – which was mighty cold! The rocks were SO incredibly slippery, it was tough at the beginning to get the hang of it. I will admit that I ended up completely upside down within the first 2 minutes of being roped up. It got significantly easier after a few minutes of practicing, which was good because then we got into the thick of the waterfall! I had a lot of fun bouncing left and right, in and out of the heavy stream of water, but definitely got super cold and tried to stay out of it after a while. I went down with Rodrigo and we all joined up at the bottom again before hiking back down. Fun day!
Here I am: Waterfall Rappel
We ended up finishing way faster than expected, so we got back to town by 1 o’clock, ate a variety of sugary treats before going to a real lunch (soup, fish, rice, beans, etc.), and then back to our hotel. Stephanie and I both took serious naps, and we spent most of the rest of the day reading out books! Tough life, eh?
On Wednesday we met Alex and Rodrigo at 8:30 (leisurely sleep in, minus the clanging of the bells) to head to a coffee finca. The drive there was amazing – first because the views are so good, second because I’m not sure I’ve ever been on such a rough road. The drive took at least an hour, but was entertaining enough that it passed quickly. We arrived at the Virgin de Oro coffee finca and were served fresh squeezed mandarin juice (WOW) before going on a walk around the farm and learning about their operation.
We learned about how they start the cultivation process with an intense audition for each little coffee sprout, followed by a call-back as they form little trees, and only the best of the best make it to the actual ground to be grown into mature coffee trees used for making coffee! This farm is known for having a lot of biodiversity, particularly in birds. There were a few graduate students, both from the US and from Colombia, doing bird research for a few months on the farm.
This farm is also known for being incredibly sustainable. They use wood and bambu gigante (gigantic bamboo) from their own land to build all the buildings and furniture on property. All of their sprouts come from the farm and are recycled to maintain the same kinds of coffee. Their fertilizer is a mixture of manure from their mules/horses and the discarded casings from the coffee as it is processed. They encourage growth of other plants in and around the coffee trees to maintain a natural source of food, other than the coffee, for pests. The only type of pesticide they use is a plant, which grows on their property, which they crush and mix with water. It was a beautiful farm, and all of the people we saw working there (and they were all working very hard!) seemed so thoughtful, and really beautiful too. I’m not sure what it was about them, but they were beautiful people – even though covered in dirt, sweat, mud, etc.
We had a traditional Colombian stew, sancocho, for lunch. This stew consists of HUGE chunks of corn on the cob, chicken, beef, plantain, yucca, potato, carrots, and probably more that I’m forgetting. Delicious! That, along with more plantains and fresh mandarin juice, made for a delicious lunch. Following lunch we learned about the process of making coffee AFTER the cultivation and harvest. We saw their machinery and used smaller versions to take the coffee berries from being still in their shells (this is definitely not the proper terminology, but I don’t know what it is seeing as I heard it all in Spanish) to being in hot, liquid, drinkable form! We tried a few different kinds and could clearly smell and taste the differences between them. I would love to learn more about coffee and the differences in aromas, etc. The owner of the finca, Jorge, had a set of little containers each with a smell often found in coffee, so we played around for a bit trying to smell and distinguish various aromas (vanilla, citrus, cloves, chocolate, cedar…). I’m pretty awful at it.
If anyone is interested in buying fantastic Colombian coffee, this is apparently the place to do it. Virgen de Oro Cafe – we’ve heard from numerous people that it is the best coffee in the country, and after seeing their production I would highly recommend supporting them as a business. They have also just finished building beautiful rooms to stay in, so if you want a remote vacation – there you go! Here is their website.
After leaving the coffee finca, we stopped briefly at the finca of Rodrigo’s father-in-law. Holy cow. Absolutely beautiful buildings and rooms, fantastic views, and wonderfully nice people. One of the buildings screamed “HONEYMOON” at me because it was just SO beautiful and charming, and the perfect place to relax. This would be a great place to come for a family reunion (they can fit 16 people), especially if you had Rodrigo doing the daytime activities for you. There is a lot to do in this area – petroglyphs, hiking, rappelling, horseback riding, treks (two day treks up and across the mountains!), tubing in the river (which looks pretty wild actually), various coffee excursions – it would be a really fun place to spend some time.
I highly, highly recommend coming to Tamesis if you’re in Colombia. It gave us a great idea of what it is like to live in the country of Colombia, put us in touch with wonderful local people, and showed us a variety of activities available here! At this point it isn’t really easy for tourists to do things here, unless you go through a guide. I absolutely recommend going with Rodrigo, whose company is called “Eco Cartama.” Here is the link to his website – and if you want any more information on how to contact him you can just ask me! Email him and say I sent you – he’s really flexible and will work something out with you for sure!
We left Tamesis early Thursday morning to head to Medellin to fly to Cartagena – too bad we didn’t have more time to spent in Medellin! It seems like a really fun city, and definitely forward thinking. We went to a huge sports complex – it really was like a rec center only fifty times bigger (not joking). It had multiple buildings of every kind of sports court, tons of pools, a velodrome, track and field stuff, etc. and is all FREE to the public. WHAT?! Apparently you have to pay a tiny bit to use the pool, but everything is else is paid for by the government through taxes. It was amazing, and I’m impressed that the city provides that service for the public.
The next thing we did in Medellin was something I thought I’d never do, and honestly was a bit anxious about: I ate tripe. I have seen it around, and it is a part of a traditional soup here (which I have avoided) – apparently much more so in Ecuador the week of Carnival (which I will be present for). Rodrigo insisted it is delicious, and took us to “Mondogo’s” (mondongo means tripe in Spanish) – a restaurant owned by a friend of his. If you live in Miami, they also have a restaurant there! The soup ended up being delicious, full of pork, tripe, potato, yucca, veggies, cilantro, avocado, and banana (the last three added individually to your liking). It was delicious, and I ate a lot of it, but I don’t think I will be seeking out tripe in the future – it has a funny texture. Not bad in this soup though!
We really enjoyed our time in Tamesis, and are now enjoying a few sunny days in Cartagena! I’m afraid that I won’t come home with the fantastic tan I achieved by the time I arrived in Cartagena the first time (if you know me at all you know that “fantastic tan” means somewhat normal colored instead of albino), because life from here on out is all in the central and mountainous parts of Ecuador and Peru! I’m excited to be moving forward with the trip, even though I still feel as though I need more time in each of these countries.