Crossing the boarder into Colombia, we immediately noticed a change of pace and attitude in this country. Not only were the Colombians more lively, they spoke at a pace we’re stil struggling to keep up with, but exude a happiness like nome other. We’ve since been told that Colombians have an ability to extract happiness from even the worst of situations, and it seems to be this wealth that the country is living on.
Our first stop was a small boarder town called Ipiales. The place was a bit dodgy, as most boarder towns are. Their main attraction is a church perched on a bridge high over a river. The photo below show a striking resemblance to Beauty and the Beast no?
After one night here, we got a bus northward to a town called Popayan. This beautiful colonial town felt safe and welcoming. Here we did a walking tour which we learned a lot about Colombias rich and often devastating history. But we also got to enjoy their tasty food. The town is famous for its empinaditas (mini empanadas) and a pink lychee tasting drink that was more of a dessert than a thirst quencher.
Mystery of the tombs in San Agustin
From Popayan we made our way into the countryside, where Colombia truly revealed its beauty to us. The rolling hills and deep river bedded canyons were enough to lure us into this country further and further. We stayed in the town San Agustin, a town recently only safe due to the peace agreement between the government and FARC. We were lucky enough to stay in a hostel called Casa de Nelly, which has been the best hostel we stayed in our entire time in South America. A beautiful old house, with a glorious garden, every night we had a communal dinner at the large dining table next to an open fire. It was so relaxing there and allowed us to recharge for the upcoming weeks.
In San Agustin, we saw ancient ruins and tombs discovered by explorers. These tombs were covered with intricately carved stone faces and animals. This multi-tonne masonry would have been undertaken down the mountain side thousands of years ago and then transported up to the burial site. There is no concrete evidence as to whom is buried up on these sites, but they know for sure it is someone with great importance and significance to have such a send off.
The whole area is very off the beaten bath and to get between the tombs, we had to travel with 4x4. It’s a lovely trip that passes through small villages, coffee trees, stunning landscape and with the occasional stop at these tombs.
And the best part is that we had it all to ourselves.
Plata o Plomo?
After San Agustin we caught a flight from Cali to the infamous drug-capital of Medellin.
The locals call it the city of eternal spring, because of the nice weather and it’s really spot on. The birds were chipping, a nice breeze were blowing and the skies were blue.
It was really hard to imagine this used to be the most dangerous city in the world — if anything we felt way safer than any other big city in South America.
Mathias was waiting at our hostel and it was good to finally speak a bit of Danish again.
The next day we went on the best walking tour we’ve done in South America (and maybe ever?). Our guide was a professor with several degrees and a lot of experience in public speaking.
He took us to the main sights of Medellin, but it was not so much the places, but more the stories he told that captured the audience.
We heard about the recent agreement with FARC and the history leading up to it. How the government funded the paramilitaries to kill FARC and paid soldiers a reward for every guerilla they killed. This ended up with the military dressing up homeless people in guerilla clothing and killing them in order to claim the rewards.
The narco cartels were in the middle of this, backing both parts in order to protect their coca fields. There was a lot of questions to our guide about Pablo, but we couldn’t use his real name, as there’s a big divide between people who likes him and the ones who doesn’t.
The next few days we spent on going out. Medellin is probably the party-capital of Colombia (for obvious reasons).
Visiting Pablo’s old mansion
Pablo Escobar had several mansions around the countryside of Medellin. One of the more famous ones is in Guatape — just a few hours away.
Most backpackers visit it on a one day tour and play paintball in the mansion, but it was a bit pricey and we wanted to go by ourselves.
Guatape was really beautiful. The government built a dam in the 1970’s and flooded a lot of the lower regions, which created a beautiful landscape. There’s a big rock called El Penon, which has a great view.
We found a place renting out bikes in Guatape. For some reason this is really rare in South America, so we knew we had to do it.
We rented them for a day and went to Pablos old mansion, which had been bombed by Los Pepes (a guerilla group, that teamed up with another cartel to kill Pablo Escobar).
The mansion was huge. It featured a big horse staple, swimming pool, watch tower, bar, football field and a big garage. The football field was made by removing several tons of gravel and Pablo paid some of the most famous footballers to come and play games at the mansion. The garage had a car, which was always turned on — just in case Pablo needed to escape.
Fun fact: When Pablo earned the most, he was spending 2.500 US dollars per day. On rubber bands to keep his money together.
Watching a football game in Colombia
After Guatape we headed back to Medellin to watch Atletico Nacional play against Santa Fe (from Bogota) in the quarter finals of the Colombian league.
I had been looking forward to this for a long time, as we had been missing out on games in all other countries of South America. So I was ecstatic that we secured tickets to such a big match.
Unfortunately we got a bit unlucky. Atletico qualified for the final stages of the FIFA Club WC. And while no European teams give a fuck about this tournament, it’s huge in South America.
This meant Atletico ended up sending all their best players to a game in Japan and only left a bunch of U21 players to play Santa Fe.
Atletico put up a good fight, but ended up losing 0–4. While the result was disappointing, the fans were definitely not. I really hope to come back one day and watch them play a really important match, as the atmosphere would be crazy.
Land of coffee
After all this partying and adventures, we needed a big cup of coffee. So we headed to Salento.
Salento is about 7 hours south of Medellin. Nestled in the mountains, it had fresh mountain air and a different pace of life than further north.
We checked in at Casa Lilly and received a big hug from her as we entered the house. That’s the way to welcome guests.
Next day we did a coffee tour and got to pick beans, see the process and taste some really good Colombian coffee. It’s crazy how much time and effort goes into making a cup of coffee and it definitely makes us appreciate it, as it can often be taken for given.
We also did some trekking to the Cocora Valley. They are home to some of the tallest palm trees in the world. They can grow as high as 60 meters, which is astounding when you stand right next to them.
Salento also had the best cake we’ve had so far. It was a peanut butter brownie. We miss it every day.