The locals I meet always want to know who I am travelling with. When I tell them I am travelling alone, eyebrows raise. The men usually say, "How Brave!"
The women ask, "But what does your mother think?"
There are hundreds, if not thousands of backpackers making similar treks through Colombia these days. The security situation has improved dramatically, and that is no longer a secret in the travelling community. With normal precautions anywhere but the most remote mountain trails or the sultry jungles along the Pacific coast and the Amazon Basin are under government control. This is not a limitation for me. I am not an alpinist, and I have no interest in hacking my way under a dense canopy shrouding a foreboding array of noxious vegetation, disease bearing insects and venomous reptiles. Nature is competition, and I have no illusions as to how I'd fare in nature´s big leagues. The only way I´d travel through the rainforest would be in a bulldozer, with air con.
I didn´t understand all the hype surrounding the Colombian cities I´d heard so much about in my research for this trip. In Medellin I spent my first couple of days wandering around the sites only impressed by the lovely spring-like weather. Most people don´t travel here to visit the museums. In Colombia, nightlife is the draw. And Colombian cities are transformed after dark. Medellin´s Zona Rosa doesn´t open its metal blinds until after dark. Poblado begins to bustle after 10 pm or so, when the patio restaurants fill up and the young and the rich crowd the sidewalks and pack the ubiquitous bars and discos. The students and starving artists bring their own booze and drink in the park squares within view of the action. In Cali, clubbing is the official pastime. The beautiful people throng into large halls of smoke and lasers and pounding bass lines. One club resembled the inside of an enormous space dome, everything in white, with no corners, throbbing lights, together created the illusion of an unending plane of gyrating bodies, bouncing silicon. The dancing continues into dawn (so I am told).
As much as I enjoyed the city spectacle, I have been more impressed with the Colombian countryside. I visited the small town of Salento, which save for the motorcycles and the odd car, is stuck in the 19th century. Town life is centered on the wide open Plaza, de Bolivar, or course, and there are vistas of green mountains in every direction. I was looking forward to my first full nights rest in the sleepy town. My hostel in Medellin was off a major thoroughfare whose motorists cranked a constant din through midnight and resumed their roar at 5 am. No cars to contend with here. Yet in Salento, it was even worse, I was bolt awake at 430 am when the roosters anticipated the dawn with their moronic shrieks. (My new Colombian friends seemed astounded that roosters had never before been a part of my morning ritual)
East of Salento stretches the Cocoro Valley which is said to have no parallel on earth. First imagine a fertile valley of Swiss pastureland, add dark green patches of tropical forest, and then sprinkle in the impossibly tall and slender wax palm, Colombia´s national tree, onto the open pasture that remains. Finally pour a thin shroud of mist and let it trickle down from hill tops.
I met a Colombian couple, Diego and Claudia, on the road through the valley. They asked me the usual questions and were astounded by solo trip. They complimented on my Spanish, which I got to practice without interruption as neither of them could speak a word of English. In Cocoro the three of us toured a fish farm that serves the Valley and beyond with sweet pink fleshed trout that we had for lunch just up the road from the farm. My fish was served in an iron skillet bubbling with a milky sauce of garlic and peppers. The fish was accompanied by plantain pounded into a thin sheet and fried golden brown. From the restaurant we took horses into a national park bordering the village. I would normally prefer walking, but heavy rain from the night before left the paths thick with mud. Besides, it was easier to contemplate the scenery when I wasn´t the one doing the walking.
Diego and Claudia were very excited about visiting Colombia´s two much hyped theme parks, both within an hour of Salento. They suggested I travel with them for the rest of the week. I had been planning to head on to Cali, but I wasn´t on a schedule and was looking forward to the opportunity both to see what Colombians do on their holiday and to practice Spanish intensively. So I agreed. The three of us met on the Plaza de Bolivar the next morning and caught a bus for Armenia, from where we´d catch a bus to the first of the two parks.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Posted by Bill Wilson at 3:30 PM