Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
Our week long paragliding tour had come to an end in Roldanillo, but the fun and traveling was far from over. Fortunate with our ability to have a “flexible schedule” and gypsy lifestyle, we decided to explore more of the Colombian country. We estimated our stay in Colombia to hover right around one month but didn’t want to make any hard plans on our return to Mexico. So as of now we had no return flight from Colombia mainly because we didn’t know where in Colombia we might be and how long we felt like staying. The more we travel, the less we plan, allowing our feelings and thoughts on an area guide us through our experience.
So here we sat on the local bus in route to the Armenia bus station in order to explore a small pueblo in the mountains called Salento. Salento is no doubt a backpacker’s destination, especially the famous Valle de Cocora where the tallest Wax Palm Trees in the world elevate over the valley floor. We departed from Roldanillo looking more like pack mules than backpackers as our identities were masked with our large paraglider on our back and our regular backpacks impeding our sight on the front. Embarking on a backpacking trip with paragliders brings new meaning to packing light. I am carrying an aircraft on my back…try packing lighter than that! Once on board the bus from Roldanillo to Armenia, I kept getting a faint scent similar to that of a farm. Maybe it was the passing landscape occupied by cows and other animals. Or maybe it was the farmer sitting in the seat across from me who had stepped in a pile of shit. Or maybe it was the goose and rooster he had in tow with him only being uncovered as he exited the bus at his designated stop. As the farmer stood up and uncovered his cargo; a goose head and rooster head, the bus’s energy grew as the farmer managed a small smile out of the corner of his mouth.
Armenia, a couple hours away, was our first bus transfer in route to Salento. Unpacking our aircrafts from the back of the bus we loaded our body frames, making haste through the bus terminal. This was a larger bus terminal with many different destinations but for some reason everyone knew where we were going. “Salento?” Questioned many Colombian ticket offices as we slowly trudged through the terminal. “Si,” we responded with a confused look as they pointed to the end of the long walkway. Once outside we found the bus, loaded up, realizing luggage space was rather minimal on the local Colombian buses. Nevertheless our gear fit as other backpackers looked at us like we were crazy. “They are paragliders,” I responded, which instantly transformed their dissatisfaction into a look of intrigue. Transportation in Colombia is abundant and extremely inexpensive. Take a trip to this magical country and see for yourself!
Negotiating the dark, pot-hole filled, 1/4 mile dirt driveway, our bodies drew closer to a potential bed with every step. Loaded up like pack animals with a friendly Canadian women and her new born baby on our side, El Mocambo Hostel was our destination as this women had recruited us to stay with her alongside the cows, horses, chickens and other farm animals. El Mocambo sits on a 200 acre farm on the Rio Quindio in the sleepy village of Boquia, only minutes away from historic Salento. 11 private rooms are dispersed between the 150 yr old farm house and converted stables. Since the sun had set hours ago she continued to assure us of the surrounding beauty which would greet us in the waking hours. Not sure if it was the sense of beauty which ascended my eyelids that next morning or the “moo-ing” as the bovine nearly put it’s head through the bathroom window.
February 23rd, 2016 was a special day for no other reason than it was my sister Rachel’s 31st birthday and upon arrival in Salento, the internet was strong enough to give her a call in New Zealand. Isn’t technology incredible! Here we are in the dramatic lush mountain rainforest in Colombia and all I have to do is push a couple buttons on my phone and within seconds I am talking with my sister in New Zealand. Better yet I can see her face and my cute little niece, Alta! Often I am frustrated with our societies' lack of brain power and logical thinking as everyday tasks and elementary thought processes are pushed off to our small computer in everyone’s pocket. Who would have thought that having access to all the world’s information would actually make our general society less intelligent. Why store knowledge in your head when you have it all in the palm of your hand? However video chatting from half a world away is pretty freaking rad…candy crush not so much.
Mocambo’s scenic, calm, stillness was a exceptional unwind from our 10 days of paragliding over the mountains of Roldanillo. A place where like-minded nomadic souls from all over the globe share stories of past, current, and potential plans. Meeting people from different corners of the world usually begins with a common question, “How long have you been traveling?” It’s like a vetting process, falling in line with a common societal inquiry, “What do you do for a living?” While in the working world an answer might be formed in order to describe how lucrative or important one’s corporate job is, gaining admiration for their accomplishments. A seasoned traveler’s answer is on the opposite spectrum, as the time away from work is directly proportionate to the respect they receive from fellow travelers. Quite an interesting phenomenon…I guess it is all relative, someone famous once said that.
Loading into an old WWII Jeep (the standard taxi in the area, did I mention Colombia was cool!) we headed off to the Valle de Cocora with our new Spanish friend Ruben. Ruben was on quite the adventure traveling solo from the southern tip of South American in route to Alaska by land and sea. So our normal group (Rachelle and I) was increased by 50% as the Spanish and English lessons began in the beauty of the Valle. We welcomed the opportunity to practice Spanish with someone who spoke both languages therefore checking pronunciation and learning new words. Ruben also had a chance to perfect his English as the conversation never ceased. It is incredible how you can meet a fellow traveler and after only spending a day with them you feel so connected.
"Cocora" was the name of a Quimbayan princess, daughter of the local chief Acaime, and means "star of water." The Acaime humming bird sanctuary, named after the chief's daughter, is a sight not to be missed. Never have I seen so many different species of these hyper-winged creatures. Rachelle was in love as she captured photos of these special birds living out their day while interacting with each other.
The next stop on our Colombia tour was the city of Manizales, providing a gateway to the Nevados Santa Isabel Glacier and Nevada del Ruiz Volcano. Upon arrival at the busy bus station in Manizales we set out to find a hostel for the evening. In usual Jeremy and Rachelle fashion we did very little planning before we arrived in this new place. Using a newly acquired app called HostelWorld we decided on the Mirador Finca Morrogacho about 10-15 minutes away by taxi. The place was heaven-sent and probably the best accommodations we had in Colombia. Not only were the views out of this world but Majid, the owner/host did everything in his power to make your stay inviting and comfortable. A vegetarian meal was offered for dinner and breakfast with fruit smoothies included each morning. We loved the dinners as they provided much needed vegetables in a meat dominant country. We showed up without a reservation so he gave us a private room at the same price as a shared dorm because he was building out a yoga studio above us with construction happening between 9-5pm. Not an issue since we were always up and going before the workers arrived for the day.
Here is where we met Keith, a fellow traveler from Georgia on a three week backpacking trip. Keith is an avid runner and after a steep hike down through the coffee fields to a beautiful waterfall we all connected. Keith had a certain calmness about him cherishing new human relationship and savored in the sharing of experiences. His Spanish proved to be an important asset further along in our travel, as we spent a night in the hospital in Medellin (stay tuned for the details). When asked how he learned the language he explained how he dated a girl in Mexico, but was able to perfect the language fighting with her over the phone in Spanish. Nothing like a pissed off latin women to teach you new verbs and conjugations.
Feeling ambitious we decided on a full day trip to Nevados Santa Isabel Glacier at approximately 15,000 feet. Our host Majid let us out of the hostel gates at 4:15am as we apologized to him for our early departure. Loading into an old Land Cruiser joined by Francois, from France and Cesar, a local Colombian. These guys provided many laughs throughout our day of fun starting with a 2 hour drive up into the mountains. As we approached the entrance to the park the billowing smoke from Nevada del Ruiz Volcano came into sight confirming the active nature of the volcano. Unfortunately Nevada del Ruiz is closed to the public for fears of eruption. This volcano has claimed many lives with the most recent major eruption happening on November 13, 1985 when the town of Amero and 23,000 people perished. This volcano is covered by glaciers so when the extreme heat melted the ice caps a rapid moving mud slide raced towards town at 50km/hr. As the Mayor of Amero assured everyone through the radio not to panic and there was no danger, a wall of water and mud devastated the town of 27,000 residents.
After a local breakfast at a home near the entrance to the Park we were briefed by the park rangers in Spanish, understanding maybe 30% of the important do’s and do not’s, we proceeded into the park. Learning about the flora and fauna of this delicate area we started to feel the affects of altitude as the glacier of Santa Isabel came into sight nearly 3 hours since parking the vehicles. Descending back down into the valley the clouds initiated their assault on the mountain peaks. Disappearing into the white room Rachelle’s sickness really began to set in as we made our way back to the Land Cruisers and the bumpy 90 minute drive back out of the park. Once again we stopped at the locals house for a late lunch non of which Rachelle managed to eat. Offered some coca leaf by our guide, this natural remedy combated altitude sickness. After descending another 2000-3000 ft our energy and cognitive functions began to improve as we reached 11,000 ft. Exhausted from the day but still with enough energy to be dangerous, Cesar, Francois and I headed out for some dancing in the heart of Manizales. We broke it down in a salsa club with dance moves never before seen in this part of the world.
Stay tuned for a drama filled account of Rachelle breaking her back!
Author: Jeremy Wilstein
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