Category Archives: Colombia

Adios Colombia

It took us a few days to say our farewells to Colombia.  We knew it was time make a push for the border, but in typical brown bus fashion we didn’t take the most direct route.

After our usual morning ritual (breakfast, coffee, drop the top and repack the van) we headed up to the archeological park at San Agustín to check out the ancient stone statues.  The park is massive and covers a few different areas where burial sites, statues and carved bathing pools have been uncovered.  The highlight for us was meandering through the Bosque de las Estatuas (Forest of Statues).  The jungle here was alive with birds and wildlife and all sorts of crazy plants and flowers. We were the only people there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The number of different carvings found in this area is incredible, within the forest walk alone there was about 40 of them. Most of the statues here had been moved around over the years and have now been randomly situated throughout the jungle with a winding foot path connecting them. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We spent that afternoon in Mocoa, hiding from the torrential rain and resting up to prepare for our next big day of driving.  We had to cross back through the Andes to get to the border.

The Mocoa-Sibundoy Road is kind of renowned for being difficult and hazardous.  It has even been nicknamed El trampolin de la muerte (Trampoline of death). The dirt road switchbacks up and down through thick jungle and clings to the sides of mountains.  Many times we had to cross through creeks that rushed over the road and disappeared over the edge. In some spots it’s only wide enough for one vehicle with a sheer drop on the other side, so we had to reverse up to a wider spot to let trucks through. But, the views were pretty nice when we were able to snatch a glance.

All in all, the road was in pretty good condition and guard rails were in place for most of the drive so we didn’t feel like we were going to fall of the edge. Maybe this route is no longer worthy of it’s dire nickname, or perhaps we just caught it on a good day.

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After about three and half hours of winding rocky roads it felt good to be on the tarmac again. Finally emerging from the Sibundoy Valley we cruised down to Laguna de La Cocha.

There is a little village here with houses that line both sides of the river as it leads into the lake. Everyone was super friendly and it seems like they are all competing to make their houses and boats the prettiest. We couldn’t pick a winner.

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Trout is the local specialty here and almost every house or restaurant is selling it. We took a stroll to the lake and chatted to a local fisherman for a while, he had some tips but none of them helped us to catch any fish.  Nevermind though, we found a hotel that served delicious trout dinners and let us stay in the carpark for the night. It felt to good to have a little date night with a nice dinner and a crackling open fire.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We just had one last stop on our run to the border to check out the church at Las Lajas. The ‘miracle painting’ displayed on the rocks inside didn’t convince this skeptic, but each to their own. The church itself, which spans a deep canyon, is really impressive. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve had such an amazing time in this country. It has definitely surpassed all of our expectations.

Adios Colombia, it’s been great.

Posted from: Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

A Day in the Life : PNN Puracé Colombia.

We woke up in Puracé, a sleepy little mountain town, where we’d camped for free at the indigenous centre. We had tried to get to Parque Nacional Natural Puracé the night before, but it took a lot longer then we imagined. The hair pin turns and landslide-filled roads were pretty hectic in the dark. I was feeling a bit guilty from the passenger seat, for pushing to make it to the park that night. The next day made everything ok… right Mark?

Since having some niggling issues fixed with the van, our confidence in it has been restored. We’re excited to have the old Oscar back, the van that can do pretty much anything.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We cruised around taking in the amazing scenery, and stopped to gaze at the soaring Andean Condors. Although they are one of Colombia’s national symbols, perched atop the coat of arms, this is one of the few places left in Colombia to spot them in the wild.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Throughout the day the scenery changed dramatically. One minute we were exploring forests overgrown with vivid green moss, the next we were driving through Andean tundra, peppered with striking frailejón plants. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Warming chilly hands

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA purace 11 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlending in

We wanted to check out the Termales de San Juan, but when we arrived at the gate the park ranger told us they were closed to the public. Given our understanding of Spanish, we couldn’t figure out the fine details of why. After chatting for a few minutes about all the animals in the area, he decided to let us in… as long as we were quick and got back before his colleagues arrived.

These are the stinkiest, fartiest smelling hot springs I’ve ever come across. You aren’t allowed to swim in them, and if you did you’d probably suffocate on sulfur gas. Despite the stench, they were absolutely spectacular. I’ve never seen colours like this together in nature, it almost felt like we were on another planet.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA purace 17

The park ranger told us about a waterfall close by that we could hike to, so off we drove down the narrow tunnel-like road to the trail head. It was a short, muddy jaunt up to the misty falls, where we happily basked a while in its chilly spray.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA purace 22 purace 23 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The day ended with an epic drive. From dairy farms set in picturesque green valleys, into thick seemingly-endless jungle. Our crappy tourist map said San Agustin was 44km away. Turns out it was 144km. Small typo, big difference. We found a restaurant on the outskirts of Isnos just before dark, where we camped overlooking pretty farmland and shared the single beer we had left in the fridge. Cheers to van life!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pools of Love and other things

Our love affair with Colombia continues. I can honestly say that I haven’t felt this way about a country since Mexico. I am head over heels. Colombia has pools of love for us too, “pozos del amor”. These hot pools of love are part of the hot springs of San Vicente, recommended by our friends in Chinchina. Although open to the public, they haven’t been over developed and have retained much of their natural beauty. We spent a few hours soaking in the warm water, while the rain fell steadily and hummingbirds fluttered overhead. Amazing!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Pozos del Amor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Exploring upstream, looking for hotspots.

pozos amor 04At the main pool.

Two wrinkly prunes finally emerged from the water and we hit the road again. We didn’t make it far though, stopping often for snacks or to admire the views.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Chocolate con queso, so good. It would be a rare day that we don’t stop for this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA River valley.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADream home.

We arrived at Valle de Cocora after dark and in the pouring rain. The next morning we awoke to the sound of horses clip-clopping down the road. We stepped out of the van into a lush green valley shrouded in mist. Majestic, lithe palm trees towered above us.

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As I was packing up our bed, like I’ve done 100 times before, I twisted in a way that seemed benign, but made my back very angry. It wasn’t long before I was in a fair amount of pain. Loaded up on painkillers I felt a bit better and sitting around was making the pain worse, so I decided to try and hike. Gingerly, I hit the muddy trail.

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We hadn’t gone far when we met Jorge and his wife Gloria, a lovely couple from nearby Pereira. Jorge, a retired doctor, told me about some good over the counter pain meds and gave us lots of tips for the remainder of our time in Colombia. He was happy to have the opportunity to speak to us in English, as he’d done a high school exchange in the USA.

We hiked with them up to the hummingbird reserve, where they treated us to chocolate con queso. They were great company on the trail and gave us their contact details if we needed help or were coming back their way. We were once again blown away by the friendliness and generosity of the Colombian people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMark is going to be a hummingbird photographer, if engineering doesn’t work out. 

I didn’t think it was a good idea to go much further, so I think we missed the most spectacular of the views. Nevertheless, it was breathtaking scenery and we met some great people along the way. The cows were pretty damn cute too.

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That night we popped the top at La Serrana in Salento, a popular hostel that also has a campground with amazing views. My favourite part was the veggie garden out the back. We were welcome to help ourselves… so we did. I was most excited to find some chilli’s, they have been hard to come by in Colombia and I have been missing spicy food.

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As usual, we wish we had more time here, but we have to keep moving towards the border.

Posted from: Mocoa, Colombia.