Colombia Part 3 (Grandchildren’s visit)

July 13 – August 3, 2017

As we’ve said before, when we embarked on this crazy journey one of our biggest concerns was leaving friends and family behind, most of all, our grandchildren. We were not going to be around to watch them grow up… After much thinking we came to the conclusion that being able to spend quality time with them in a different country every year would enriched their lives on a much deeper level in the long run. For as long as they want to join us on their summer vacation we will welcome them no matter where we are and share our nomadic lifestyle, opening their eyes and minds to new experiences and cultures. We strongly believe that travel helps all of us become better humans by renewing our sense of gratitude and appreciation for life. We hope that giving our grandchildren a healthy dose of adventure and cultural awareness, will have a positive impact on their lives or at the very least give them great memories of the time they spent with their crazy grandparents …

The last time Eva and Noah traveled with us was a year ago in 2016 in Guatemala. This time their cousin Vivian, now 5, was going to be part of the adventure. Like the last time, our daughter in law Mariana flew with them from Florida, this year however, will be a bit different, since Mariana is Colombian, she will be staying for the duration but taking trips within Colombia to visit friends and family and also attend her 20th high school reunion in Bogota. Since flying domestic is not expensive in Colombia, Mariana will meet us at different locations, while we’re traveling with the kiddos. The last week, Lauren, Joe’s daughter and Vivian’s mom will be joining us in Guatape, where we rented a house for the last 10 days of their 3 week visit.

Santa Elena (just outside Medellin)

We decided that Al Bosque Hostel and Glamping would be the perfect place for the meet up. Located in the little town of Santa Elena, up in the mountains above Medellin, it’s close to the Medellin Airport but it has a country feel. We can stay in our camper and Mariana and the kids in one of their family room.

We had been in Colombia for almost two months so we had a good feel for the country and settled at Al Bosque Hostel and Glamping a few days before their arrival so we were well prepared when we picked them up at the airport on July 13, 2017.

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Al Bosque is a very popular hang out for Overlanders. In addition to Camping and Glamping options, Al Bosque offers rooms, use of a kitchen, hiking trails, fire pit, hot showers and a nice common room with fire place but most of all super friendly and helpful owners, who even provide transportation to and from the Medellin International Airport for a small fee.

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They’ve arrived! Eva (9), Vivian (5) and Noah (7)

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We took the kids for a hike on the trails adjacent to the Hostel, Mariana left for Bogota so it was just us and the kiddos for a while.

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Noah lost a tooth on his second day in Colombia, just to ad a bit of character to all his pictures!

Pop Pop prepared one of his special breakfast, pancakes, bacon and fruits!

 

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Floridian kids are not used to the cold climate of the Colombian mountains! Vivian was enjoying the warmth of the fireplace. Hey! who put that bamboo log in the fire?

 

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Us girls took the bus to go explore the little town of Santa Elena popular for the Silleteros, traditionnally they were farmers who left the mountains of Santa Elena carrying flowers on their back, on a wooden rack resembling a chair. The flowers would be sold in the markets of Medellin, since 1957, the Silleteros have become the stars of the Medellin Flower Festival held every year at the end of July and beginning of August for 10 days.

On our way to Jardin

We left a bunch of things in storage at Al Bosque to free up Silver’s back seat to make room for our new passengers, after a few days in Santa Elena we got on the road to go explore the Coffee Region starting with the quaint little town of Jardin.

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The drive from Medellin to Jardin is usually about four hours but we encountered a few traffic jams on the way! These buses called Chivas (translate to goat) are found everywhere in rural Colombia but mostly in the Antioquia department where they originate from. Used for everyday transportation, they are also available for hire as chauffeured party buses for tourists and locals.

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The Andean town of Jardin is known for it’s brightly painted houses and beautiful main plaza featuring a central fountain with rose gardens and a neo-gothic Basilica but what really captured our attention were all the coffee shops where locals, mostly men wearing cowboy hats,  sit sipping tinto (coffee) and chatting for hours!

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Jardin’s Basilica.

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Coffee shops around the main plaza.

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Colombian sweet bread and Chiclets flavored ice cream cones for breakfast!                              Doesn’t Noah look like he could be one of The Little Rascals?

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Colorful Jardin

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The five of us squeezed into a tuk-tuk to go back to the camper.

We spent the night camped at a Trout Farm, outside of town, where all five of us slept in the camper, a little cozy but fine for a few nights! Our next destination, a Coffee Farm near the town of Manizalez, about 85 miles away, was suppose to take 4-5 hours! The one thing you definitely can’t count on when planning a road tip in Colombia is the length of time GoogleMaps or Maps.me tells you it’s going to take. The distances are generally fine but in many cases you can double the time!

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The locals told us to take a 30 mile shortcut through the mountains between Jardin and Riosucio, it was absolutely beautiful but it ended up taking 4 hours! What a shortcut!

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We encountered horses, incredible views and very few people but we did see a farmer who was carrying a big container of moras (Andean blackberry mostly used in juices), we stopped to say hello and he filled up our water bottle with the tart and sweet berries.

After our dirt road mountain adventure we finally reached pavement and thought we were just a couple hours away but it turned out to be another five hours because of construction detours and a fatal accident that paralyzed the whole area. Eva, Noah and Vivian we real troopers and barely complained, we entertained ourselves with all kinds of silly games. Normally we would have just stopped and camped but Mariana was waiting for us and we had no cellular connection to be able to reach her so we just continued on!

Hacienda Guayabal, Chinchina

After the driving ordeal of the day before, we woke up to blue skies, incredible views of rolling hills filled with coffee plantations, trees, birds and colorful flowers.

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Hacienda Guayabal is a family owned working Coffee Farm that offers sleeping accommodations, a restaurant, it is known mostly for it’s wonderful Coffee Tours.  It has camp spots for Overlanders with bathrooms and use of the pool. It even has a totally adorable doll house that Vivian and Eva took over.

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While Eva and Noah slept with their mother in the Hacienda, Vivian slept with us in the camper.

Coffee Tour

One of the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Colombia, is Coffee. But we are far from the TV commercials of the 1970’s and 80’s where Juan Valdez was seen promoting the 100% Colombian Coffee, from a beautiful mountain with a donkey at his side. Today  Juan  Valdez is the Starbucks of Colombia and Colombia is the third biggest coffee producing country in the world after Brazil and Vietnam. Since tourism has increased in the last few years, a lot of the Coffee Farms have been offering tours in the Zona Cafetera. We’ve learned that the vast majority of the Coffee bean production is exported to the US and Europe. Most of the beans are exported green and will be roasted once they’ve reach their destination. The roasting process is one of the most important factors that will determine the final taste. We were very surprise to see a lot of locals drinking instant coffee, apparently they drink an average of 16 cups per day so no wonder they don’t like it as strong as we do. None the less we have witnessed a trend for a better quality of local coffee specially in the Coffee Region hopefully more of their quality production will stay local to accommodate the coffee aficionados.

The four hour tour offered at Hacienda Guayabal starts inside where they explained the whole process from plant to cup and where we learned about the importance of the proper grind for the brewing method, the water temperature, the equipment, the water ratio and temperature, brewing time … everything you need to know to obtain the perfect coffee cup!

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After some coffee tasting  we moved outside to see the different stages of the plant, then to the plantation itself to pick our own cherries!

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As you can see our baskets are far from being full. Coffee picking is not an easy task! The fruit is called a cherry, each cherry contains only 2 seeds (or beans) and it takes somewhere around 120 beans or 60 cherries to brew a cup of coffee!

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After the harvesting, processing, drying and milling, the beans are bagged and ready for shipping!

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Little Miss Juanita Valdez!

After a few days at the Coffee Farm the six of us piled into Silver to our next destination, Natural Hot Springs! We did not realize that July 20th is Colombia’s Independence day so when we inquired about getting a place for the night at the Hot Springs we were told it was booked. No worries, we found a nice little hotel where Mariana and the kids got a room and we slept in our camper in the parking lot and made reservations for the next day at San Vincente Termales in the mountains near the little town of Santa Rosa de Cabal where we saw a little bit of the Independence Day parade.

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Hotel Hacienda Santa Clara, even the new buildings keep with the Coffee region colors and architecture.

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Beautiful drive up the mountain from Santa Clara de Cabal to the natural Hot Springs of San Vincente.

San Vincente Termales

We rented a nice little cabin with enough beds for the six of us, we even had our own outdoor hot tub with thermal water, the cabin was located in a lush forest going up a little path away from the pools. We spent the whole day trying out all the different hot spring locations throughout the property and did a short hike to an ice cold waterfall. We all had a blast and pasted out after dinner.

Our first dip was in the Piscina de la Burbujas (bubble pool). When hot water bubbles up through the surface of the earth the resulting springs are amazing natural wonders. Many people visit San Vincente for therapeutic and medical benefits.

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Fun and relaxation in the thermal water!

Our favorite spring was surrounded by thick forest and hidden at the end of a little path. It was called Pozos del Amor (love wells) the mineral rich waters mixed with a rushing stream. Noah was the champion at staying the longest under the stream of ice cold water!

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In this other section they offered mud therapy and algae facials but Eva gave us all wonderful mud scrub facials, no need for professional treatments!

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Up the path to the waterfall, Vivian is already cold!

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The waterfall was ice cold! Quick quick back to the hot pools!

Salento

Further along into the Coffee Region is Salento, our favorite little town in Colombia. Surrounded by green mountains with typical paisa architecture, founded in 1850, it is one of the oldest towns in the Quindio department. But what makes it so special is the slow pace, the friendly locals, the colors, the music, the weather, the cobble stone streets, the Willys Jeeps parked on the central plaza waiting to give you a ride, the hand full of small coffee farms offering tours and tastings … and so much more.

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Even though it’s July, the nights can be a bit chilly in the mountains, the girls got local wool ponchos to keep warm.

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Vivian found a furry friend on the streets of Salento.

Noah’s new haircut, Star on one side, lighting bolt on the other like a true Colombian!

While in Salento, we set up camp at La Serrana Eco Farm and Hostel, a twenty minute walk from town or five minute Jeep ride, La Serrana offers rooms, glamping, incredible mountain views, an excellent breakfast, an organic garden, BBQ area, Fire pit and a very friendly and helpful staff.

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Back at La Serrana, Joe is barbecuing some chicken for the gang!

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Waiting for our Jeep taxi to take us to the Cocora Valley.

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All through out the Coffee Region, Willys Jeep are the principal mode of transportation and have become one of the symbols of the region. It is as much fun as it looks! They first arrived in Colombia in 1946 for military purposes but they soon became very popular with Coffee Farmers, locals call them multitas mecanicas (mechanic mules)

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Coffee plantation on our way to the Cocora Valley.

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Ready for some horseback riding!

Valle de Cocora

A few kilometers from Salento is the Cocora Valley featuring an dramatic landscape famous for it’s Quindio Wax Palms, the largest palms in the world, they can reach up to 200 feet (60m) tall. There is a popular trail going uphill that loops through grassland then through dense cloud forest alongside a beautiful river that you have to cross a few times. We decided to do the uphill section on horse back which turned out to be less enjoyable than what we had anticipated, It was getting unsafe for the kids so we decided to get off the horses and finish the rest on foot. By the end of the day everybody was tired and grumpy but with hindsight very happy to have seen such a natural wonder.

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One of the many bridges hikers use to cross the river, we went directly in the river with the horses!

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Thank god the last section was downhill!

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Once you reach the top, what a view!

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The Cocora Valley was incorporated to Los Nevados National Park in 1985

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Cocora was the name of a Quimbayan princess, daughter of the local chief Acaime, and means “star of water”

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A well deserved snack after a 5 hour trek!

Guatapé

From Salento we went back to the Antioquia department in the Medellin area but this time in the charming little resort town of Guatapé. After another excruciating drive, we arrived late at our Airbnb and went right to bed. The next morning we were happy to see that our little house was as charming as it was on the pictures when we booked. Lauren will be joining us in a few days for the remainder of our time in Guatape.

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LA CHOZA, our little slice of Colombian heaven for the next 10 days!

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Our deck overlooking the man-made Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir 

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The main attraction was the hot tub!

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The house was small but it had everything we needed and was a short bus ride to town.

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View of the famous rock El Peñol right in our backyard! Very zen and perfect for a yoga or meditation session.

We went to town for groceries, Mariana got every thing she needed to make us a delicious Sancocho, a traditional Colombian hearty soup/stew with costilla, corn, green plantain, yuka, potatoes, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro and garlic. Enough to feed the whole family plus our friends Doug & Fran from Calder Escapes who stopped by for an overnight stay in their camper.

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Our friends and fellow Overlanders Doug & Fran from Calder Escapes came by for a quick visit.  Doug was a big hit with the kids when he put on his red clown nose and started twisting balloons into swords, parrots, dogs …

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Happy faces! It’s incredible what a balloon can do when there is no other games around, thank you Doug!

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After a couple weeks apart, Vivian was happy to be reunited with her mommy!

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Our Airbnb host Maria Eugenia and her husband were very friendly, helpful and attentive. They made sure we had everything we needed, they even helped us with some parts we needed for our truck.

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Guatapé, the most colorful town in Colombia!

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Guatapé is also known for the painted bas relief panels found on the bottom of pretty much every building, called zocalos. Mariana and Noah strolling down one of the many little streets.

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Color, color and more color!

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These 3 can’t resist ice cream!

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Colombians are very stylish, police officers are no exception!

Medellin’s annual Flower Festival draws people from all over the world, it is so big that small towns around Medellin have their own little Festival, we were lucky enough to be in Guatape for the first part of the festival that was held from July 28 – August 6, 2017.  We saw a beautiful parade showcasing the traditional flowers but also horses and all kinds of different characters.

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Horses are part of Colombia’s culture and always present in any parade.

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Silleteros, the stars of the Flower Festival!

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Little witches!

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A little break after some shopping in Guatape. Joe is sporting is new Colombian leather hat.

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We had a gorgeous meal at this colorful vegetarian restaurant run by a charismatic Brit named Bernice! Hecho Con Amor Deli (Made with Love Deli)

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Postobon, Colombia’s number one soda and Noah’s fav!

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Ooops! you’re not suppose to sit on the scooter! Just one picture!

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My favorite meal in Colombia: Ajiaco, a chicken soup served with a side of rice, capers, cream, avocado and arepa! Even though it’s from Bogota, this one we had in Guatape was delicious!

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Come on grandma, faster, faster!

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Vivian will miss her friend.

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We spent an afternoon at this water park next to the Rock, the kids had a blast specially with the big air pillow!

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It looks a lot easier than it is. Everyone slept well that night!

 

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We took a pontoon ride on the man-made reservoir. It was created by the Colombian government for a hydro-electric dam in the late 1960’s.  For the construction of this impressive reservoir, the former town of El Peñol was demolished and its inhabitants relocated in what is known today as Nuevo El Peñol. We visited a little museum relating the history of the relocation. The cross below is from the actual location of the old church.

 

Peñon de Guatapé or El Peñol

After seeing it from our backyard for more than a week it was time to tackle the 659 steps and get to the top of that Famous BIG Rock!

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Just a few more steps Noah! But what a view!

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The gang! We made it all the way to the top, 659 steps! Back row: Mariana, Lauren, Josée and Joe. Front row: Noah (7), Vivian (5) and Eva (9). Great view of the the islands

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Dad was in heaven having his little girl by his side for a week!

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Noah showing off his new Postobon T-shirt while taking the pose of Luis Eduardo Villegas Lopez, the first person to climb El Peñon in 1954

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Waiting for our ride!

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Time to head back to Florida!

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Now that everybody left, Lauren and Vivian back to Florida, Mariana, Eva and Noah went to visit friends in Barranquilla on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, it’s time for us to get back on the road. We’re heading back to Al Bosque near Medellin to pick the stuff that we they were kind enough to store for us. Lucky for us, we will be there just in time for the end of the annual Flower Festival!

 

Few Facts about Colombia:

  • Population: 48.65 million (2016) World Bank
  • Area: 440,831 sq miles (1.142 million km²)
  • Capital: Bogota
  • Currency: Colombian Peso (COP) 1 USD = 2,879 COP
  • Time spent: 6 months (May 16 – November 1, 2017)
  • Miles driven: 4162
  • Diesel price per gallon: $ 2.69

Next: Colombia – Part 4  … Stay tuned!

I’m sure that by now you have noticed that our blog posts are way behind. Even though I enjoy writing it, I don’t want it to become a burden and the internet being what it is in remote areas of South America, I only write when I have a long period of down time and good wifi.

For more current updates you can follow us on Facebook at Joe and Josée’s Journey or on Instagram @ joeandjosee

8 thoughts on “Colombia Part 3 (Grandchildren’s visit)

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures with us! When will you be in Chile? Patagonia. It would be wonderful to hike with you!

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    1. Hi Rozanne, thanks for following along, we should be in Southern Chile next summer which is Dec. January, February definitely let us know if you have any plans. It would be so much fun. 😘 J&J

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  2. Thank you so much. You write beautiful descriptive fun articles. My next bus tour trip is Columbia. Thank you very much. Scratch Cambodia. However, Columbia has a high danger rating on the US Government lists. If I get kidnapped for ransom I will need your text number, please.

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