A Travellerspoint blog

Cali and Salento

Exploring the Zona Cafeteria.

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After another ridiculously bumpy journey back from San Augustin, we wound up in the lively city of Cali. The place was nice enough and we spent a few days there with some people we had met in San Augustin. The actual city wasnt really that exciting in the day, but we went out in the evenings for some beers and that. Its supposed to be the salsa capital of Colombia and our hostel had some free samba lessons avaliable so Sadie took part in them while I drank beer. Nice arrangement.

After a few days of doing not much, we all moved on to Salento- a really lovely town in the Zona Cafeteria (where they grow coffee). Salento was a really sleepy little town full of old colourful buildings from the coffee boom days, and all four of us rented a small little house together with a little garden and a balcony with some amazing views of the surrounding green peaks.

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One day we went for a tour around a local coffee plantation which was very interesting, and we got to see the entire coffee making process which was cool. Even though I (James) dont like coffee. That evening we bought a ton of mincemeat and a bottle of rum and had a hamburger BBQ in our garden.

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The next day we got up dead early to cram ourselves (and 5 others- 9 altogether) into a tiny, sketchy looking ´willy jeep´ to the nearby Cocora valley. We were feeling pretty rough seeing as the previous night had been our first proper drinking session in ages, but still managed to trek the pretty spectacular uphill hike through the forests to a lookout of the valley. The view of the valley was amazing, lush green peaks spread out before us, spiked with hundreds of giant wax palms- which are the largest palm tree in the world. It was pretty cool.

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After hitching a ride back with a guy who had just fixed his jeep and needed to test run it back to Salento- to see if it still worked, we spent the rest of the day sat on our balcony watching cow herders and llaneros (colombian cowboys) trotting past our house. It was great- and we could easily have spent a whole week in that house if the owners hadnt needed it for themselves. Still, it was probably a good thing as it got us moving again, onwards to Bogota.

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Posted by St Martins 14:41 Archived in Colombia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

San Augustin

all seasons in one day

So after a long bus ride to the town Popayan we spent the night and wandered round the quaint little white washed streets. Other than that there wasnt really much else to do there, so we headed on to San Augustin the next morning. The ride was probably the bumpiest we´ve been on but the scenery was fantastic and we met a fellow tourist on the bus to share the ups and downs with. We arrived at San Augustin at dark and met a friendly tour guide who pointed us in the direction of a good cheap hostel. The super friendly owner Mario payed for our taxi and got us settled in. We were given free coffee and then give a pitch by his friend for all the tours we could do in the surrounding area. All we wanted to do was eat so we had a think over a pizza and a beer and decided to do a jeep tour to see some of the sights the next day.
The tour took us through the surrounding countryside, with some attractive valleys, interesting sugar-cane processing plants, big waterfalls and past narrows of the Rio Magdalena- where the river thins to about 2 meters.

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We also visited some of the archaeological parks that the area is famous for. Somewhere between the 6th and 4th centuries (pretty big range there) a bunch of tribes lived in the San Augustin area who would bury their dead in intricate stone tombs guarded by statues carved out of volcanic rock. The tombs were interesting, but the statues were the real draw, some of which reach 7 meters in height, and others have really intricate designs such as little penises, and depictions of men pulling babies out of their mothers.

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The next day we headed to the Parque Archaeological which has the main bulk of the Statues and some of them are hidden in the forest which is really cool. There was also an ancient fountain that the tribe had carved into some rocks, which was quite clever. It was all really interesting and amazing what sort of amazing things they could make such a long time ago. Whilst in San Auguatin we made friend with 2 people from Ireland and decided to head to the city of Cali together. Which is meant to be the Colombian capital of Salsa. So, it was back on the bumpy bus to our next destination.

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Posted by St Martins 13:04 Archived in Colombia Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Otavalo and onwards to Colombia

So Saturday is the day for Otavalo, the whole town gets filled full of market stalls and tourists. We got up super early to see the animal market, which was a uniquely Andean experience. A big field full of locals in their traditional dress trying to flog guinea pigs (to eat), normal pigs, sheep cows- everything. So the experience involved a lot of dodging animal shit, and a lot of screaming pigs that were a bit pissed off about being tied up and slung in the back of a van.

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After that cultural experience, we wandered back into the main town which was full of market stands. The center of the market occupied the main plaza and its surrounding four plazas, but the overspill covered the entire town. It was huge! However, while it was fun wandering round and watching the locals all dressed up and bustling around, the stuff on offer wasnt really all that different to what was avaliable in previous Andean towns. Just a lot more of it.
By around 10 we had seen about everything and since our visa for Ecuador expired that day, hopped on a series of busses to the Colombian frontier. The journey took up the rest of the day and by the time we arrived in Ipiales we had just about enough time to check into a hostel before dark. We did manage to find the cheapest room so far in our entire trip, which cost just $8,000 colombian pesos- which works out at $2US each. Bargain.
The only real reason that people stop over in Ipiales is (apparently) to visit the Santuario de las Lajas, a church just outside town, so we decided we might as well see it since we were there. The church was built to commemorate this time when the image of ´the virgen de las lajas´ appeared in a big rock in a cliff. What theyve done is build a bridge across the ravine to the rock (in other words a dead end bridge) in the cliff face, and then whack a big church on top of it. It actually looks quite cool, the church is a cool looking neo-gothic thing, and the church is built up against the cliff, with no rear wall, so that the rock (which now has the image painted on to it) forms the main altar. Quite clever. The views from the bridge were good too.

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Posted by St Martins 06:30 Archived in Colombia Tagged travelling_with_pets Comments (0)

Mindo

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After exhausting Quito´s options, we headed onto the pretty little village of Mindo, sat bang in the middle of the cloud forest. Mindo is pretty popular with tourists who pop down from Quito to do some of the adventure sports avaliable there, so its quite touristy, but not too much so. The first morning there we joined up with a group who were going tubing to float down the Rio Mindo. The tubing was a lot of fun, but the water was straight from the mountains and was FREEZING cold. Plus, the water was low so there were a lot of rocks, so it kind of felt more like river running than floating- even though every so often wed get stuck on a rock and one of our ´guides´ had to launch himself into the rocky water to give us a push, somehow avoiding ripping his feet to pieces.

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Mindo is equally popular with middle aged tourists who come to go bird-watching, because apparently Mindo is one of the best places on the continent. We werent that fussed about going, or for forking out $20 for a guide to take us, but we´d heard you could see toucans and parrots, so wandered up the trail where all the proffesional-looking people were going to have a look. The trail itself was worth the early start, it climbed up into the forest-covered mountains and we got some awesome views of the sun rising over mindo and the rainforest. We did pretty well seeing toucans despite the lack of professional help- managed to see green toucans, black toucans, and a few parrots.

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At the end of the trail was a really cool ziplining course, a bit like Go Ape back home where you could harness yourself up and fly across and through the rainforest canopy, which was amazing. Because of the height there were some awesome views over the jungle. In typical South American style, you were also able to disregard health and safety completely, and fly across upside-down or in a various manner of precarious positions. We did it a few times but the blood rushed to your head so quickly that it kind of ruined the view.

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After a few days having fun and chilling out on our balcony, we were forced out of Mindo by the familiar problem of running out of cash, and having the cash machine break down before we could replenish. We would have loved to spend a day extra there but ended up heading back to Quito to get to the highland town of Otavalo in time for its famous Saturday market.

Posted by St Martins 05:46 Archived in Ecuador Tagged seniors Comments (0)

Quito

Middle of the world.

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So Quito, capital of Ecuador. Quite a nice place, lots of old buildings- in fact pretty much all the buildings in the old town are old. So its quite nice to wander round, lots of churches and museums.

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One church had some huge gothic towers which you could climb, involving climbing planks through the roof and lots of rickety ladders- but the view was amazing.

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We also visited some wierd convent with loads of pictures of Jesus getting killed and having sheep drink his blood. Bit weird. The problem with the old town is that everything shuts at 7ish. Everything. So no city nightlife that you might expect from a capital city. Apparently the new town is a lot more happening, but its also a lot more dangerous, so weve only been in the daytime.
One thing we did do was visit the Mital del Mundo, or middle of the world- where theres a huge monument marking the middle of the world, and a big line marking the equator. The funny thing is that they went to all the effort of making all this stuff without measuring it up properly, and the actual equator (marked with GPS) is 200 meters down the road. It was still nice to take pictures though, and the monument is supposed to mark the site of where some french blokes came to map out the entire world, so it was good anyway.

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However, a little way down the road on the site of the real equator is this awesome museum with shrunken heads and ethnology displays-

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Hillariously hundreds of years ago, the Incas managed to work out the accurate site of the equator, and built a temple on it- but scientists didnt believe them and went and built their monuments in the wrong place. Whos laughing now eh? At the museum there were also tons of fun experiments you can do on the equator, including balancing an egg on a nail (you get a certificate if you can do this- we have two), not being able to balance properly, and strength tests (you are much weaker on the line). Apparently this all has something to do with coriolis effect that pushes the gravitational force in and down. Or something like that.

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We also got to watch water going clockwise down the drain in the southern hemisphere, anticlockwise in the northern, and straight down on the equator. Apparently scientists reckon that this is a load of crap, but we saw it happen so I don´t believe them.

Its been nice to wander round the city and relax for a few days. Although we keep getting disturbed in the night by fights errupting from the bar below our hostel. One night it was particularly bad and the fragrant smell of mace wafted in to our room from the police trying to get things under control, was probably our own fault for rubber necking out the window. The police don´t take no shit here!

Posted by St Martins 14:21 Archived in Ecuador Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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