Withdrawal Symptoms And Coffee Hills

I never considered myself addicted to coffee and caffeine, but since my trip to Greece and the intense two weeks of photo and video editing that followed in June, that lovely brown liquid has slowly started to take over my life. Which is why I decided to break up with it for a while and regain control. It hurts, it literally does, and all I can think of are those gorgeous green rolling hills in Salento, in the coffee region in central Colombia. Best coffee I ever tasted and one of my favourite spots in Latin America so far.

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That time in Villa de Leyva

The day before I was about to leave the Colombian capital behind, sweet Doris asked me where I was going next. “Hm, probably Villa de Leyva”, I said. “Oh really?!” She replies, “I got a really good friend living there, I’ll hook you up!” Said and done.

The next evening I was standing in the center of this little cosy colonial town, when I picked up my phone and dialed the number I’d got written down on a note next to the name Norma, without much of a clue of what to expect.

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20 minutes later she came greeting me with a big, welcoming smile, accompanied by three other family members. Together we walked back to her house, where I met the rest of her extended family.

The two days that followed I was hanging out with this wonderful group of people, getting treated like a family member myself, fed, given my own room and shown around town. Not to mention the free intense Spanish course as basically none spoke English.

It’s like there’s no limit to how hospitable people can be sometimes, and as always, this amazes me. A complete stranger in their house, immediately a part of the family, and they expect nothing in return… Colombia has been treating me so well. Not exactly this angle they use when feeding us news about the country through media at home. A dangerous no-go area as I got told before I went – by people who never put their foot in the country themselves.

To these people I’d like to say; Don’t believe everything you hear, rather go and find out for yourself and you will be amazed how much beauty there is to be found in the world.

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Seduced by the concrete jungle

Bogotá. The sole thought of entering this mega city gave me anxiety long before I had to face it (I was born in a forest). It was gonna be just another enormous, busy city I would have to cross on my way to more appealing destinations further north. My plan was to rush through as fast as possible, to basically just spend the night and then be off early the next morning.

But that was before I met Edward. The young local doctor who opened up his nice home for me, which he shared with his equally nice and sweet mother Doris.  He saved me like 12 years of time by taking me straight to all these hidden spots and highlights, and bit by bit the city started to seduce me. For a moment I could even picture myself living there… That was a bit too weird though, and I began to speculate what kind of pharmaceutical drug(s?) Edward had put in my morning tea.

Anyway, lesson learnt – Never judge a place before giving it a chance. And the by far best way to do so is with a local pro by your side.

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Catedral Primada in La Candelaria, the old part of the city

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Catedral Primada, with Cerro de Monserrate (the hill) in the background

Rush hour

Rush hour in and around one of many TransMetro stations – a successful public transport system that helps keeping the already over-packed streets of Bogotá less packed.

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Oscar sharing some skills

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Doris, Edward’s sweet and extremely sporty mum who pulled me out of bed at 6am to go climb a mountain

View from Cerro de Monserrate

View from Cerro de Monserrate – One of the biggest urban landscapes I’ve ever seen spreading out in front of me, home to about 9 million people. That’s like the entire population of Sweden, only a wee bit more cramped together… perspective?

Urban sprawl

Lost in coconut land

High palm trees, reaching towards the sky… Most people, like myself, picture sandy tropical beaches by the thought of that. However, this is not the case when it comes to Valle de Cocora, Colombia.

Couldn’t help but feel like I was walking around in alien land when I finally got there, because in a way the trees seemed so misplaced… But, regardless how it makes you feel, it’s a place that shouldn’t be missed out if you ever make it anywhere near Salento in the central part of the country.

The start of the trail, that makes a nice day hike, can be found a short pickup truck ride away from central Salento. If you read your maps and follow the signs more carefully than me, it might even be a pretty short and pleasant trek! After detouring past a point where hummingbirds can be seen from a close distance, I started to follow a trail that was taking me up a steep mountain – all according to my map. Eh…

45 minutes later I found myself at the top of the hill, sweating like a pig in the hot afternoon sun. I remember thinking how great the timing was gonna be. According to my calculations I would reach the actual palm tree valley on the other side just in time for the golden light before sunset. That was before I realized I’d climbed the wrong mountain of course. A brutal 10-minute-speed descend later I was back on track and by moving fast I still made it in time.

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IMG_0540One of those humming hummingbirds.

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To be more specific, the trees, native to Colombia, are called Wax Palms and are among the tallest species of palm trees to be found on the globe. Apparently, they can grow as high as 60 meters and reach an age of 100 years. The fact that grassy farmlands are all that cover the hillsides they grow on, kind of adds to the feeling of them being t a l l .

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Over and out.

My Colombian vision of paradise

Salento. I don’t remember how I first found out about this place, but once I heard what it was about – organic coffee, rolling green hills, a lovely climate, rivers and good hiking – it turned into a mandatory stop on my journey up through Colombia. For Oscar it was a non-explored spot of his own country so he was happy to check it out. We had to overnight in the bigger and not near as welcoming city of Armenia before we got there though, as it had gotten pitch dark and pretty dodgy outside after leaving Cali.

If you’re on a very tight budget when traveling, artesanos are like the best travel companion you could imagine. Often, the money they make in a day is what most westerners would spend on parking fees that same day, and thus they have to keep their expenses low. And they know how to.

Anyway, not wanting to be dependent on me to cover his part of the hotel cost for the night, he took off to the nearest busy traffic light to earn a few pesos. I tagged along and soon found myself sitting in the middle of the street watching and documenting his actions.

OscarNot long after a local woman pulled up next to me, rolled her window down and asked me with a troubled face if I had a place to stay for the night. I smiled and said I indeed did and that she didn’t have to worry about me. As far as I can remember I never got mistaken for a homeless person before, but I suppose me sitting there on the concrete with big holes in my jeans and shoes, unshowered and all hooded up, kind of gave that impression that night. I was slightly touched by her concern.

The next morning we were once again standing along the road with our thumbs in the air. A few cars passed until this young Colombian lady and an older couple, coming from the opposite direction, pulled up next to us and asked where we were going. We told them we were unfortunately going to Salento in the other direction. They nodded, drove off a bit, turned around and then stopped next to us again, saying “Well, let’s go then!”

Marcela and her parents, that constituted the older couple, were more than happy to take the half an hour detour back to Salento to help us out. They fed us and then invited us to come and stay with them or contact them if we ever got a problem. Or if I wanted a job teaching English or so, Marcela, a teacher herself, promised to help out with that too. To me, this is Colombian goodwill in a nutshell.

The week that followed in Salento, I collected many good memories. A highlight on my journey through this enchanting country.

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IMG_0859IMG_0853IMG_0851IMG_0667Good old Don Elias has been producing organic coffee for many, many years

IMG_0669Coffee blooming

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IMG_0685Coffee beans drying

IMG_0691IMG_0696Coffee beans roasted

IMG_0698Roasted coffee beans being grounded. The result? Maybe the best cup of coffee I ever had.

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Coffee hills

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IMG_0763IMG_0657IMG_0808IMG_0331IMG_0814Sunset, doggy style….. classy.

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Sorry for falling off the edge of the Earth…

That didn’t happen though, because the Earth is round.

HOW-ever. One cool and rainy night in Quito, one bus trip, one border crossing and one stolen camera later I found myself in Popayan, Colombia.

I ended up in a lovely little hostel, run by this Spanish guy Borja, his Romanian girlfriend. It is located right at a park in the center of town, where pretty old white colonial buildings dominates the scene. As soon as the sun started to set the first day I realized I had ended up in a street food paradise. One night quickly turned into four while I enjoyed excellent Colombian coffee, got familiar with the Colombian night life together with staff and fellow travelers at the hostel, and, well, overfed myself with this super tasty street food.. etc. etc.

I find Colombians absolutely awesome. It’s the kind of people that sit down next to you on the bus and immediately starts a conversation, ask you to join their table to share a bottle of Aguardiente in the bar (a kind of local vodka) or enthusiastically try to teach you salsa, even though you’re a hopeless case. All with a big, fat smile.

Then destiny took me to Cali, the third biggest city in the country. I had now been without camera for almost a week which had turned into a pretty painful experience with so many interesting things going on around me.

The amount of DSLR cameras (and lenses) to be found in Colombia impresses no one. Neither the variety. However, I was lucky enough to find something very similar to what I had lost, even though my dear lens that was attached to it will be difficult to replace in a while. But I was happy – not much else you can be in a country so full of smiles.

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(Playing around with my new buddy)

The purchase was done the very last day of 2012 (ehh yeah, I should indeed try to speed up my updates). That night I joined the New Year’s celebration at my hostel in San Antonio. The end of the year and the start of a new is really no big deal in Colombia, and most natives celebrate with a calm family dinner at home. Being a city with over a million inhabitants I had expected some pretty impressive fireworks, but… no. I’ve seen more mind-blowing fireworks in my quiet little home town deep in the forests of northern Sweden.

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Watching the non-excistent fireworks in the streets of San Antonio

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IMG_0119Party people

IMG_0101Anyway, in the middle of the cheering and hugging, of reasons I can’t remember, I felt like I needed to get away from the crowd for a while which brought me to a little park above the hostel. There I randomly bumped into Oscar – the Colombian artesano guy who had left the Amazon to try his luck in the big cities by selling self braided bracelets and the more dangerous possession of joggling and doing tricks in traffic lights. He only spoke a few words of English and my Spanish was still really crappy, but somehow we ended up sitting there on a park bench, communicating nonstop in a weird mix of different languages and gestures until the sun rose.

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Oscar and his art

IMG_0203xApperantly it’s a tradition to burn furniture on New Year’s eve, a way of getting rid of old bad memories from people who died, if I got it right (no guarantee though, I was pretty tipsy after all, eh)

I now had my camera and was gonna get out of that concrete jungle the next day. Oscar admitted he was kinda sick of Cali and asked if he could tag along, destination wasn’t that important and with my mind wide open I said yes. Por que no?! So, the next day we stood there with our backpacks on our backs and out thumbs in the air once we reached the highway and eventually took off – the very first day of the brand new year.