COLOMBIA RENEWED

JANUARY 2019

Our trip to Colombia began on January 22, 2019 when we flew 3 hours from Miami to Bogota. As we neared  Bogota we noticed that the range of the Andes mountains split into three distinct ranges which was later confirmed by our local guide. We viewed acres of greenhouses which we also learned were roses, one of Colombia’s major exports. Landing in Bogota in late morning we were met by Sebastian, our local Audley guide.
The hour drive into the city at an elevation of about 8600 feet was filled with information. Bogota has a commercial metro bus line which has a separate lane in the roads as well as large bus stations serving the local people. There are also separate roadways for bicycles which is another favorite mode of transportation. There is no subway system since the ground is very unstable and not suitable for underground tunnels. We noticed many young people who have emigrated from Venezuela to Colombia where they are welcomed.

Arriving at the Hotel Morrison 84, we took some time to settle in. The rest of the day was free for us to explore the area of the hotel which is in an upscale neighborhood with a lovely park outside the hotel. We spent time walking about the busy streets and checking out the area while we looked for a cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee. We came upon Cafe Colo which was located up some stairs in an open air setting. We selected a cafe latte since it was late afternoon and sat down to enjoy our first Colombian coffee. It was delicious. We then walked on a while until we noticed a large mall. Approaching the entrance we had to pass a sniffer dog who carefully checked out the small purse I was carrying. After entering the mall we investigated the three levels and choose a restaurant on the third level called Colette which looked attractive . A local beer (Club Colombia) and Croque Monsieur was delicious after a tiring day.

Wednesday, 1/2

Today our city tour with Sebastian began at 8 am after a lovely breakfast at the hotel. Sebastian is an excellent guide, friendly, knowledgeable , and willing to stop at anytime for photos.

We began at the Paloquesmao . This enormous expanse of market stalls was built in the 80’s by the government to consolidate the numerous vendors of produce, meats and other products which were spread around Bogota. The government planned that the vendors would pay fees which would pay off the expenses in 3 years. Instead the money was paid off in 2 years. We first stopped at a bakery where we shared a local roll stuffed with fruit which was delicious, flaky and filled with jam. We continued walking by numerous fruit and vegetable stalls noticing the enormous carrots ,corn and potatoes which reminded us of the markets in Peru. Sebastian told us the vendors arrive at 4 am to set up their products. We stopped by a stand offering Lechona which was stuffed roasted pig ( shredded) with rice and yellow peas. Another delicious treat. P1090084.jpg Our final stop was at a fruit stand where we were treated to a series of small cup smoothies. Sebastian described each to us. First was Lula – a dark green smoothie which he said is good for digestion; then Freijoa – a light green foamy drink; then Curuba which was a sweet pink juice and finally, Guanabara- a thick, fibrous white drink which increases one’s white cells and is used in cancer treatment.P1090088.jpg

We then visited the flower market beside the larger market. Colombia is the second largest exporter of roses as well as orchids. We saw so many familiar flowers including baby’s breath, gladiolus ,and snapdragons to mention a few. The cool, moist climate of this area is ideal for growing fruits and vegetables according to Sebastian.P1090094.jpg

We then went back to our van to drive up to Montserrat, a favorite tourist attraction at 11,000 feet above sea level. The climb to the top was a challenge but the views  were well worth the climb. The sanctuary at the top was dedicated to the Montserrat Lady in 1640. This hill is believed to be the residence of the Sun God and an hill opposite is dedicated to the Moon God.P1090126.jpg

Our next stop was the historic La Candelaria district with its colonial homes, graffiti and narrow streets. Here we encountered something unique in Colombia at least to the degree to which it plays a cultural role. In response to street graffiti. municipalities organized programs where talented would-be artists are assigned a public area to create a graffiti expressing their personal feelings and message. These are frequently powerfull and make a strong impression . P1090111.jpg P1090112.jpgLa Candelaria is described as the heart and soul of Bogota. The area, the oldest in Bogota,  began from humble surroundings. A long street of government buildings leads into La Plaza Bolivar where the parliament and cathedral are located. Here we enjoyed watching visitors placing corn on their hands or heads for a pigeon photo.  The statue of Simon Bolivar in the center was the first statue erected in the city.

Lunch was the next on the agenda. What an experience! We entered an attractive building where we were presented with a four course “lunch”. The appetizer was small torte with fresh fruit  followed by the main entree of excellent beef tenderloin accompanied with bulgur wheat and beetroot plus a fruit salad with pineapple and radish sprinkled with black pepper. Dessert was a delicious chocolate torte and coffee.

After lunch we walked to the Cathedral Primada, a neoclassical cathedral facing the Plaza de Bolivar and perhaps the site of the first mass after Bogota was founded in 1538. It is a massive construction looming over this plaza which also contains the Congress and many beautiful colonial buildings. From there we visited the former convent now housing many Botero paintings donated by the artist for public display. Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist, has his work displayed in several world class museums and his sculptures adorn parks and squares in Florence, Paris and NYC as well as on the Iberian Peninsula. This was certainly a highlight being able to enjoy the unique Botero style of paintings with his “larger than life” human figures and bronze sculptures.  P1090119.jpgP1090208.jpg

We next walk to the Museo del Oro which was  an amazing collection of 55,000 pieces of gold and other artifacts from major pre-Hispanic cultures of Colombia. A highlight within this collection was the telling of the tradition of the crowning of a new king in the pre-Hispanic culture. Once the new king had been chosen he is placed on a boat before sunrise and rowed into a lake where all the villagers who have been required to offer gold items or gold dust ring the lake with backs to the lake and out of view of the king. The shaman and the king with his assistants cruise to the center of the lake where the king is covered with a wax-like substance then covered with the gold dust.P1090165.jpgAs the sun rises the king appears to sparkle in the sun’s rays and then dives into the lake where he deposits gold items and washes off the gold dust. The museum displayed a round room 50 feet in diameter  where the walls were filled with the gold artifacts gathered from the lake and a “well” about 8 feet in diameter filled with more artifacts removed from the lake. Gold is still mined in Colombia and we saw a weekend prospector panning a river bed.P1090164.jpgP1090136.jpgP1090171.jpg

Next stop was the Iglesia de San Francisco. The church was built between 1557 and 1621 and is the oldest surviving church in Bogota.

We then returned to the hotel for a rest and walk about the neighborhood

Thursday  1/24

Today we flew from Bogota to Armenia to begin our stay in the coffee region of Colombia. We met our new guide Alex at the airport in early afternoon and began our drive to Hacienda Bambusa. Alex asked us if we were ok with a narrow dirt road short cut to our Hacienda which would be a bit bumpy. We agreed and off we drove. Our arrival on the large plantation at Bambusa was delightful as we were greeted on the outside terrace with the owners offering damp towels and a cool maracuja( passion fruit)  drink. Our room was lovely with a patio containing chairs, a table and a hammock overlooking lush tropical plants with the pleasant sound of bird calls.  There are 8 rooms in the Hacienda with guests from Britain, France and occasional Americans. A dramatic change in climate and geography from 8600 foot elevation Bogota.P1090180.jpgP1090181.jpg

We went on a walk about this large plantation with a local guide to observe the agriculture of the area. We were curiously watched by small herds of Brahma cattle. There was a large planting of cacao ( chocolate). These plants take five years to mature and then produce up to 4 pods each month versus coffee plants which produce beans two times a year.  The only coffee produced in Colombia is pure arabica. These beans originated in Ethiopia and are the highest quality. Robusto beans originated in other parts of Africa. Colombia is the 4th largest coffee producer after Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia. There are many banana and plantain trees on the property. The fruit is covered with plastic bags containing a tag showing when the bunch should be picked. This bag produces a micro-climate which enhances the ripening of the fruit. After our walk we are again treated to a cool fruit and juice drink, this time watermelon and apple.

DSC00016
Vermillion Flycatcher

DSC00200.jpg

Dinner was held on the patio under torch lights. The five courses consisted of a cold cream soup with large shrimp and cheese; pork with plantain cake; salsa of mango and fruit; shrimp, mussels and clams with rice and finally fruit with lula cream – absolutely scrumptious . While we ate we were serenaded by a trio of guitars.P1090185.jpg

Friday 1/25

Today we drove into the countryside to visit two small villages. Our first stop was at Filandia, a typical Colombia coffee region town and the oldest settlement in this region. We learned that colonial town squares always include the church or cathedral as the focal point with city/ town offices built around a park. The lovely painted homes lining the side streets added a sense of quiet peace to the area. Alex shared an interesting piece of history with us. In the era of the towns being named after known countries around the world, this town was to be named Finlandia after the country of Finland. However when the document was received on the day of dedication it was spelled Filandia. The officials who were to present the town people with their new name did some fast thinking and announced that this town was now to be known as fil = latin ‘son” and andia “Andes” – Son of the Andes.  Pretty quick thinking on the officials part.DSC00083.jpg

We then drove to Salento which was another lovely colonial town. Alex took us to his coffee shop, Josias Marten, where we met his friend, a barista who had just won second place in the national award for cappuccino coffee cream designs. We sat on a balcony where we could observe the making of our cappuccino in anticipation of the barista’s creativity. We were absolutely amazed as we watched him create his designs- a lion, a dog and a bear. Obviously these designs took a bit of time.DSC00078.jpg

We then enjoyed another multiple course meal beginning with empanadas followed by local grilled trout, coconut rice and avocado salad. Dessert was a delicious guananbara mousse with wild blackberries.

After lunch we drove to the National Forest Park to observe the national tree – Wax Palms. These protected palms only grow above 6 thousand feet and take 50 years to mature living up to 160 years. They can grow to a height of 150 feet or more.  The seeds need shade to sprout. Alex points out an area where homeowners allowed to remain in the national park have cleared the land around the palms for grazing therefore preventing seeds of the palms in their areas to sprout.  We spent some time walking up to dirt road observing the numerous palms and other foliage in the area. DSC00107.jpg

Returning to Bambusa we enjoyed a delicious dinner again under lighted torchlights. Since we were both still full from lunch we limited our meal. Marilyn had a delicious Ayubama ( squash) soup and Warren had a mushroom soup, caesar salad, and lemon pie.

Saturday 1/26  Today was our trip to San Alberto coffee plantation. San Alberto coffee is the result of the hard work of a family of traditional coffee growers with over 40 years of experience . The third generation is now expanding the project to include educational experiences for visitors. This single estate coffee is produced under a trademark process called the Five Step Selection Process inspired by the great wines of France.
After enjoying a cup of delicious coffee which we all drank black, we began our tour of the coffee plantation.DSC00150.jpg We first climbed up many steps to reach the coffee plants planted on high slopes. John, our guide, explained the process of planting and picking the beans. DSC00155.jpgWe saw the nursery where the seeds are sprouting and grown to the two leaf stage where after 4 months they are transferred to bags at the greenhouse . Again after 3 months time they are planted in the plantation where after 9-12 months they will have their first flowering. Nine months later the fruit is harvested. After 3 years the plant reaches peak production. It was not the season for harvest but we did observe some ripe beans which would be picked as they were ready.DSC00169.jpgDSC00174.jpgThe berries are then taken through a series of steps where the quality of the beans are examined and separated. Further processes brings the beans to the final stage of roasting. We then returned to the lower levels where we joined John for lessons on the basic fragrance, aromas and then tasting for flavors. We never knew there was so much to learn about coffee.

At lunch in a local restaurant we both tried traditional dishes under Alex’s guidance. Marilyn has a dish comprised of beef, yucca, avocado, rice and potatoes while
Warren had crispy pork belly, avocado, rice and fried plantain. Again the servings were enormous but delicious.

Back at the Hacienda, Warren spent time taking bird photos to supplement the Vermillion Flycatcher we had found on our first walk. The back of the Hacienda has hummingbird feeders hung along the beams which attracted many beauties. DSC00221.jpgDSC00288.jpgThere were also many types of finches flitting among the bushes. Of course the green parrots were a constant chorus up in the trees. What a lovely, peaceful spot this was after the hustle and bustle of Bogota.DSC00122.jpgDSC00195.jpg

Sunday, 1/27  Today we drove to the airport to fly to Bogota and then on to Medellin. Unfortunately the arriving flight sucked a bird into the engine so our flight to Bogota was delayed for 2 hours. The population of Medellin is about 4 million as compared with over 12 million in Bogota. We arrived in Medellin in the early evening and met our new guide, John. The 1 hour drive into Medellin was quite a sight as we drove down into the deep valley with the hillsides lit by the lights from the homes. Patio del Mundo, our new guest house was a delight. A former home located on a hill overlooking the city has 8 rooms each decorated to represent a different country,. Our very comfortable room on the first floor had a lovely patio with artifacts of Cartagena.

Monday  1/28  Today we drove to a high hill that overlooked the city and then into the center to walk along pedestrian streets observing the many stores and stalls, many run by indigenous persons, offering goods of all sorts. Three young girls from an indigenous tribe were dancing to their stereo as we passed. P1090204.jpgOne woman whom John stopped to speak with was selling creams and gels made with coca and marijuana which she and John claimed cured many ailments. Although we were assured we could legally transport it we declined to take a chance. We ended our stroll at a former large judicial building built in the 50’s which had been transformed into 5 floors of shops including the largest offering of shoes and sneakers  we had ever seen. John said if you can’t  find what you want here it doesn’t exist.  We ended our tour of this amazing building stopping at a family coffee farm cafe where we again enjoyed delicious coffee.P1090194.jpg

Our next stop was to an area that had previously been the city dump where indigent people lived among the filth. It is now a large open park with nightly cinema and city buildings. Lunch today was pasta soup and bean soup with salad, skirt steak and gravy and potato. Another delicious, “light” meal.

We then went to one of the highlights of our trip,  Bodega 13, is one of several barrios  of the poor covering the hillsides surrounding the city where large numbers of rural people gravitated to the city for work and could only put up modest shacks for housing. Many had fled from unsafe areas run  by drug lords and have squatted on open areas. If they can remain on the land for 10 years they are assumed to own that spot. Recent community development efforts and investment to assist these people by the government have begun. Our guide, John is instrumental in launching social programs with the youth in this particular bodega. He encourages the youth to attend school rather than fall into gangs by rewarding them  with clothing, trips to the cinema and parks. All along there were interesting graffiti painted on the walls of these humble dwellings.P1090249.jpg

We began this visit by hiking up a very steep hill and then to an impressive escalator system built with public funds to assist residents to go down to the city. Previously  residents or donkeys  had to carry any goods to be transported up to their dwellings and to aid handicapped persons needing assistance. Efforts to improve the lives of residents in Bodga 13 began in 2012. John introduced us to a local artist Chota 13 who has sold his art in the area. P1090240.jpgThey are very close and call each other “brother”. Chota and his family of 13, including 3 generations, live in a very humble dwelling which we passed. We enjoyed a delicious frappuccino in a Bodga coffee shop which John had helped to establish. P1090239.jpgThe view from the balcony of the coffee shop was impressive.P1090245.jpgAfter buying local handicrafts and a cap for Warren we returned to our guest house and enjoyed a cup of tea on our patio.

Tuesday 1/29     The breakfast patio of our guest house was a great spot to look for  birds enjoying the trees.P1090258.jpg Today we took a cable car up to the top of the Bodega communities, the first in Columbia. A publicly funded gondola system now reaches those living on the highest peaks. This allowed us to observe the many homes clustered in the various bodegas and to see how the people fleeing from the unsafe villages in the country side were able to live in these slum areas on the hills of Medellin. It is difficult to imagine how this multitude can exist with dwellings built one on top of or next to the other. Fires have devastated the area at times as it is near impossible to bring in fire fighting equipment. A benefit of the gondola system which stops at many points along its long ride is that the residents can buy a ticket for the car which then allows them to take the metro on the same ticket to ride into the city.P1090260.jpg

We then drove to Santa Fe de Antioquia for a full day tour in this oldest settlement in the area, built in 1541. It served as the capital of the region until 1826 when the capital was moved to Medellin. We boarded a tuk-tuk and drove through the many narrow street of this colonial town admiring the white-washed buildings and historic homes. P1090306.jpgThe Jesuit order built the large church in the central plaza and the schools. This area is a center for gold and silver mining. We visited a shop that specializes in filigree designs in both gold and silver. It was interesting to see how the gold is stretched  into hair thin fibers to create intricate designs.

As we walked around the town, two school boys approached John to ask who we were. They asked many questions about us and John enjoyed teaching them English sentences to ask us. One sentence was “had we ever been to Dubai?”  They had studied it on the internet!P1090299.jpgAnother light lunch followed our visit to Santa Fe de Antioquia. Marlyn had tamarind juice and cream of mushroom soup while Warren had tangerine juice and cream of asparagus soup. We then shared chicken in cream sauce with cheese and carrots- great food in this country!  P1090302.jpgAfter lunch we visited a coffee shop run by the daughter in an indigenous family owned coffee plantation. Warren had espresso and Marilyn had frio cafe.P1090312.jpg

We then drove to the Hanging Bridge built in 1875-1929, Only motorcycles and pedestrians are now allowed to cross this 1,000 foot suspension bridge which crosses the
Cauca River. It was a pleasant walk with good views of the riverP1090315.jpg

Heavy traffic driving back into Medellin made for a long trip but many attractive sights. After returning to Patio del Mundo we walked into town and stopped at  Bogota Beer Works for a relaxing evening of IPA draft and a pork sandwich.P1090324.jpg

We noticed that John seemed quieter this morning. He shared a concern with us. The manager ( Chota) at the Bodega coffee shop we enjoyed had been approached previously by a local gang leader demanding they pay 1 million pesos for protection{one thousand pesos equals just under three US dollars}. This is a dangerous situation according to John because it is difficult going to the police due to corruption and gang influence.

Wednesday 1/30  Today we left in the early morning to fly to Cartagena and our last visit on this very enjoyable trip. Cartagena was the crown jewel of the Caribbean coast for the early Spanish in the Americas with its striking geographical setting. It faced repeated sieges first from pirates and later from the English. We arrived late morning and met our new guide, Javier. After getting settled in our hotel, Casa Cochera del Gobernador,  (the house of the coach of the Governor) we walked around the old city and its plazas. Our hotel is well located in the walled old city. We stopped at a small restaurant serving wraps with local ingredients. We then went to the Juan Valdez Cafe located in a nearby plaza. The 100% arabica coffee was excellent accompanied by a piece of chocolate torte. P1090336.jpgWe returned to the hotel researching sites we wanted to see and a stop in the lobby to learn about the origin of the name of the hotel. In the early days of Cartagena there were two coaches, the only ones in Bogota at the time. The Governor owned one of them and stored it in this building before it was renovated into a hotel.

In the evening we walked to another square where we observed a very enthusiastic crowd gathered to hear a revival speaker and enjoy the music. The Coach Pub offered excellent local draft beer. We enjoyed talking with two young men from the Netherlands who were crew on a ship moored in the harbor. Later we chose a restaurant occupied by locals to enjoy white lasagna, a specialty, and then walked about taking night photos and enjoying a gelato from a crepe and waffle restaurant that we looked forward to visiting the next night.

Thursday 1/31  Today we first visited Castillo san Felipe . P1090359.jpgThis fortress and the monastery which we visited after the fortress are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. San Felipe is the largest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in any of their colonies.Construction was begun in 1536 and continued over the next 200 years mostly utilizing slave labor. Our hike up to the top of the fortress was steep and a challenge due to the already intense heat. P1090370.jpgWe explored some of the labyrinth of tunnels under the fortress while Javier showed us small enclosures built into the walls where soldiers could attack  invaders without being seen.  We spent quite a while admiring the view from the top of the fort.P1090379.jpg

After the fortress we drove to Convento La Popa the monastery of the Augustine monks. P1090385.jpgThis monastery, built on the highest point in the city, began as a humble wooden structure but has been expanded and reinforced over the last two centuries. Here La Madonna who is carried in the city’s religious parade is kept. We left the monastery and drove through the area of Boca Grande. This district along the beach of Cartagena is the location of high rise condominiums and hotels.

Our next stop was at Bolivar Square where we visited the Museo de Inquiscion .  The Palace  of the Inquisition is today a museum displaying the torture tools and techniques employed to identify and deal with heretics.P1090403.jpg

There were many locals buying lunch from a vendor.P1090411.jpgWe also visited two of the major churches of Cartagena – Santo Domingo Church and St. Peter’s Cathedral. Both were holding masses at the times of our visit. By the port we encountered numerous buses ferrying passengers from the cruise ship which arrived that morning to the bus stop where many vendors were waiting to exhibit their goods. Thank goodness we were able to avoid them.

Javier took us to a lovely restaurant, Montesucro Ceviche, for lunch which was on the second floor overlooking Simon Bolivar Square., We both began with a ceviche of shrimp with tomato sauce which was exquisite. Our drinks were passion fruit served with a flaming cinnamon stick. Entree was risotto with a delicious steak filet served just right. We ended the meal with a fine coffee and guanabara mouse.

Back to the hotel for a siesta after a great morning.

Javier shared a few bits of information with us during the morning. 1.5 million blacks were transported to Cartagena by the Spaniards where they were kept as slaves or sold throughout the country and abroad. Cartagena’s population today is about 1.2 million.

In the evening we returned to our beer pub and then headed to the crepe and waffle restaurant which looked so inviting the previous night. There we enjoyed a shared crepe dish of chicken, mushroom and cheese followed by a dessert crepe with caramel, chopped almond and vanilla ice cream. Night photo of the area was the next on the agenda.P1090345.jpg

Friday 2/1  This was our last day in Colombia and a very special finale. We had asked Javier if we could walk around two of the oldest sections of Cartegena, the San Diego and
Getsemani districts. We began in San Diego which was a historic neighborhood of well maintained colonial homes with lovely balconies adorned with hanging flowers.P1090436.jpg As we walked Javiar pointed out the school buses we had observed each day. These buses transport children to and from school and are then use as tourist buses during the mid-day. Walking by the former bull fighting stadium, Javier remarked that bull fighting is no longer popular in Columbia with low ticket sales and animal rights protests. Many bull fights are canceled due to these problems.

We then continued our walk to the Getsemani district. This community was the area for  servants and slaves during colonial times. Recent years have seen it deteriorate into  poverty, drugs and prostitution. Government community development efforts and investment is showing progress with homes being restored and new owners moving in to improve the surroundings. As in other parts of Colombia graffiti wall paintings express the efforts and emotions of this transition including concerns that this home to so many would lose the positive aspects of its history.P1090509.jpgP1090464.jpg

There were many Colombian and celebration flags hanging in the narrow streets. One street utilized umbrellas for Christmas decoration.P1090476.jpgP1090493.jpg

P1090505.jpg After our enjoyable 3 hour walk among these communities we stopped at a Juan Valdez cafe for coffee with Javiar to thank him for a most enjoyable morning of sights and an education into these two distinct, historical districts and to say good-bye to another most enjoyable and informative guide. A well shaded park provided opportunity for some wild life photos on our way back.P1090538.jpgP1090553.jpgP1090540.jpg

Lunch consisted of lentil soup at our favorite locals lunch spot accompanied by fresh lemonade. Then one last Juan Valdez stop where Warren enjoyed coffee and Marilyn sampled a granizada de cafe- basically crushed ice and coffee  – very refreshing on another hot day.

So ended our trip to Colombia with a flight home early the next morning. Audley Travel is now our go – to travel company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s