A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about ecotourism

Green Adventures....

...in both the literal and eco-friendly sense.

rain 22 °C

It seems that our string of visitors to Bogota has finally come to an end. Your visits were essential to surviving February and March. No joke. Steph and Aaron, Beth and Shelby, you guys should know how thankflul I (we) are you were able to come. I think if I had to teach one more modal verb or explain the difference between zero and first conditional one more time without you and a beer on the other end, I would have clawed out my eyes. So, in short, thanks!

Our adventures with visitors kept taking us further and further from Bogota (I'm not complaining). Our latest excursion was the capstone to a wonderful week of relaxing and green beer. Shelby dedicated her whole spring break to an extended St. Patty's day in Bogota. After hitting up a few requisite tourist sites, we grocery shopped for all the makings for corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, biscuits and of course, green beer. Wednesday was dedicated to getting just the right amount of green food coloring in our homemade verdant concoction and then comparing it to the one served to us at the one and only Irish Pub in Bogota. After waiting in line, seeing some Colombian guys play Brazilian beats at the Irish pub, and listening to slurred but elated "Happy St. Patrick's Day" shout-outs from those lucky enough to be inside the pub, we made it in! You know the drill from here.

The next morning came far too soon. We were scheduled to work a immersion program with the Y and were up before anyone with that much green beer in their system should have been. What is worse, we were headed to Osolandia (bear land, can you just imagine 3 adults getting into a cab being like, "Take me to Osolandia please." It would be like saying take me to McDonald's playland. Yeah, that cool!). Thankfully, we survived only to head home and collapse in sorry, hungover and mostly tired heaps.

We made much better use of the rest of Shelby's visit. We had visited the nearby adventure sport town of Suesca earlier that week only to get the itch to do something adventurous. With a 3-day weekend coming up we decided to hit up Colombia's up and coming extreme sports town called San Gil. Bright and early Saturday we headed up with enough time to walk through Parque Gallineral on the riverfront. We had been briefed on all San Gil had to offer the adventurous types and had decided on rafting and rappelling down a waterfall (called Torrentismo here). Thanks to the rain we were able to add in Spelunking (through and underground cave completely filled with water at some points). The insanity of it all is chronicled much better on the picture site, but here are a couple of videos of our rafting excursion.

[Just a little taste of San Gil. These were taken on the Rio Fonce, one of the 3 rivers running through and near to the town of San Gil (about 7 hours north of Bogota).]

Rafting I was totally game for. It took a patient boyfriend with very comforting words and a fearless friend to get me to jump off a cliff only to rappel down the face of a 300ft waterfall, all the while being pelted with gallons and gallons of chilly mountain runoff. Turns out, its pretty awesome!

Heading back from San Gil proved to be another adventure. We were hoping for some rest on the bus after our sleepless night before due to a 3am start of a Quincenera outside our hostal (marking the transition from my college days of thinking quiet hour laws were bogus to today where they now make the top 10 list of laws I will always uphold). Unfortunately the Colombians love for their dear Cumbia and Vallenato music with a little Reggaeton mixed in makes sleep not an option.

We did make it home, tired, but all in one piece to an apartment with a constantly running toilet that can't even be masked by the sweet little song the washing machine sings when its done eating and stretching out your wardrobe. The running toilet however, holds no flame to the persistent drunk singers that seem to camp outside our place from about 11pm to 3am any given night. Colombian music isn't better when you sing it louder or drunker.

Thankfully we will get a reprieve from the delight of living in a huge city apartment complex when we take off on Saturday to hike to the Lost City (3 days out, 1 day at the ruins, 2 days back) in the Colombian Jungle up near Santa Marta. After that, I am very much looking forward to a week with Marty's family in Cartagena and Santa Marta for some lovely vitamin D (aka Caribbean sunburn).

Back in mid-April for 1 more month of work and then off to travel before home in late June!

Posted by tuffchix 14:06 Archived in Colombia Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

Coffee Region- Chinchina, Salento.

More caffeine for the soul.

semi-overcast 14 °C

We took off from Manizales to head south towards Salento. On the way we stopped to spend the day at a working coffee plantation called Hacienda Guayabal in the small town of Chinchina. The plantation itself covers entire hillsides and is next door to other plantations with the same spread, so all you see when you arrive at the top of the hill where the small hotel and reception is, is rolling green hills covered in darker green coffee plants.

We arrived and the tour was already in progress so we hopped on board to learn all about coffee; how it grows, how its processes, and who does it all. It turns out it takes almost 7 months to grow a baby coffee plant to the point where you can put it in the ground, and even then if won't produce coffee seeds (green coffee beans covered in a sheer husk and a tougher bright red one on the outside) for 2 years. Only the female coffee plants are used for coffee production as the males produce about 1/4 of what a female plant- characterized by larger, rounder leaves- can produce. Coffee plants have about a 28 year lifespan and will produce about 25 pounds of coffee in their life. Aside from a wealth of knowledge about coffee growing, we also say where and how they harvest, (all the time but the biggest crop is in Nov-Dec and again in March), husk (in a huge stinky compost bin), sort (with water- the good beans sink the bad ones who have had their meat eaten out by insects float), and dry (in a huge 2-tiered basin where they bean are rotated by hand so that they dry evenly).

At the end of the tour, we got to taste the coffee produced on that farm. They roasted it for us right there, ground it and pressed it. One of the main differences in the coffee we were drinking at the plantation and the stuff we buy at the store is which type of beans it is made with. Mass produced coffee is a mix of large "flavor" beans and smaller "aroma" beans which grow side by side on the same plants. Starbucks and Juan Valdez (the local version of the 'Bucks) serve a blend which is 50/50 flavor/aroma. We tried 100% flavor-bean coffee. Its stronger, slightly bitter and more earthy tasting. They also told us that despite the blend, about 80% of coffee's flavor comes from the roast.

The tour was really interesting, gorgeous, given by a farmer who has lived on and then worked coffee plantations his whole life and was just so happy living and breathing coffee. We has spent much longer than we anticipated but it was well worth it.

That afternoon we made our way down to Salento, a small town just outside Armenia (the capital of Quindio), and our last stop on the coffee region tour. This time of year many Colombian cities are "en fiesta" or in party. Salento, although a small town, was no exception. Their main square perched atop the hill the city is built on was in full party mode. The music blasting from every tent lining the border of the main square could be heard all over the town (which is a total of about 20 square block and a mix of cobblestone streets, paved and dirt roads. Its a cute little adventurous backpackers paradise famous for its "trucha" or trout fished out of the local river and served up al gusto!

We arrived at our hostel- a really cool former plantation house run by a Brit, Tim, and his Colombian wife, Cristina. It was a really homey place and perfect for us. Our first day we actually trekked back into Aremenia (a 40 min bus ride back down into the valley) to check out the botanical gardens and the Mariposario or butterfly house- check out pics on Shutterfly in the Coffee Region album to see. In the evening we wandered the packed streets of Salento among the street vendors, Artisans and restaurants.

Day 2 was much more adventureous; we rented Wellington boots, "Wellis" as we were calling them, caught a jeep from the town center and headed to the Valle de Cocora, famous for all the Palmas de Cera or wax palms (Colombia's National Tree) that cover the hillside. You can rent horses or walk and we decided to hike it. The trailhead is in the valley floor and heads out for about a little over an hour along a muddy trail walking you right through the middle of the valley. You are surrounded by cows, streams, green hills, wax palms and the impressive cloud forest that borders the whole valley. After enjoying our rubber boots, maybe a little too much, we hit the cloud forest. From there it is supposedly 2km up to Acaime, a national park up in the mountains where you can see hummingbirds, butterflies, and all manner of flora. This so called '2km' is more like 4, all uphill, takes you across quite a few creeks, mud patches (no worries thanks to the Wellis) and Indiana Jones bridges, and its gorgeous! Green, cool, and straight out of some National Geographic article about Colombian jungles.

We finally reached the top, luckily the signs point you in the right direction even if they don't come close to having correct distance measures. We rested, took in the view, and enjoyed the fresh air before continuing on. From Acaime, you have the option of going back the way you came through the valley, or hiking up another mountain peak with better views and making a big loop. We had all day, so we chose the latter.

The hike up to La Montana, the view point, was quite a bit steeper, equally poorly marked and still worth it. The view from the top is of the entire valley and cloud forest you just spend 3 hours hiking. Its amazing. The pictures of the valley and palms say more that I ever could. Once you reach La Montana and you have been greeted by the world's largest rooster you can make your way back down the mountain where we passed a cattle drive (causing a slight traffic jam because a landslide had made the path just wide enough for the cows to pass), giant redwood-like trees, and hiked right beside the 200ft tall palm trees. The whole day was awesome and we didn't feel too bad about ourselves after having accomplished such a feat.

The next day we had originally intended to visit the Coffee Park- essentially Colombian Disneyland dedicated to coffee. However, we didnt really feel like being that touristy and it was not really in the stars to get our there so we instead stopped at this little town just down the mountain from Salento called Boquia. Marty tells me it reminds him a lot of his family's cabin in Plumis, CA, and we just took a little hike along the river before lunching on fresh rainbow trout and obleas of coffee arequipe (Obleas are 2 giant wafers held together by any assortment of arequipe -Colombian dulce de leche- jams, cheese and cream). Delicious!

We had ended our adventure on a good note and were headed back to Bogota having accomplished quite a bit in the last 3 weeks. To see how it all really looked, check out the pictures at http://beyondbogota.shutterfly.com

Posted by tuffchix 08:02 Archived in Colombia Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Coffee Region- Pereria, Manizales.

Caffeine for the Soul

semi-overcast 15 °C

After an eventful week, we weren't quite done being tourists...although we prefer the term 'travelers' as it somehow feels more cultured and experienced.

We arrived back in Colombia's coffee region in a city called Pereira (the capital of the department of Risaralda) on Dec 31st where we thought we might luck out and find some other travelers watching the New Year's festivities of some far off place on TV in a bar somewhere...dead wrong. New Year's Eve in Colombia is as sacred as Christmas and everything shuts down so everyone can go home to their families. For this reason, Pereira was dead by 7pm and has earned the rating of 'least favorite city in Colombia' because of it. Luckily our overpriced hotel (we are hostel people but on a recommendation from a fellow Y volunteer we kinda got cornered into it), had 120 channels and we connected to the world via technology while sipping our earlier (and consequently, very wise) purchase of champagne.

We high-tailed it out of Pereira the next day, washing our hands of lameness and heading up to Manizales (the capital of the department of Caldas). Manizales' big attraction is the Parque Nacional Natural de los Nevados. Its a huge national park of volcanic mountains and is the only place you will find snow in Colombia. The excursion to the park is an all day trip, leaving right from the hostel bright and early at 7:30 in the morning. From there you drive out of the city, up the bumpiest mountain road of your life (about the first 20 minutes are fun and laughable, the last 4 hours are really just torture. Its like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, but without safety restraints so your butt is rarely less than a foot off your seat). When you get to the top at 15,500ft. after stops along the way to take in the scenery (mounds of volcanic ash and giant red rocks that make the place look like another planet) you get off the bus and follow the train of tourists huffing and puffing up the hill. This is quite hilarious for a few reasons:

1) Colombians are not the most exercise-oriented people so walking at 16,000ft, uphill leaves quite a few stragglers laying face up on the path, with their feet propped up on rocks telling their crew to go on without them. Yikes!

2)Most Colombians will see snow but once in their life, here at the top of the mountain and thus their motivation to make the trek. However, once they reach the snow basic motor skills become quite challenging and you get people falling, sliding, and screaming in excitement/terror (hard to tell sometimes) all over the white-capped peak.

3) Lastly, the delirium that sets in halfway up the hike for lack of air makes everything funny and well I had my fair share of 'sucking wind- moments, I never laid down across the path, stuck my feet on the fallen flagpole, covered my face with my hands and gave up. Neither did Marty. We thought we were pretty bad-ass.

Ok, so the literally breath-taking hike and views of los Nevados were worth the climb (I still don't know if it was worth the bus ride). On your way back down the mountain, you stop at the natural hot springs to dip in the wonderfully warming pools. Marty and I hiked to the nearby waterfall before dunking ourselves in the hot mineral bath, and it was a nice way to decompress from the day's exertion before heading back to the hostel.

It was a long day but a great day. It really is like driving to another planet. You leave the city going through the green hills, then get up to the drier grass hills with all these crazy cut-off palm tree/sea anemone looking things, then its up to the volcanic ash and sand before winding your way through the red rocks (I imagine Mars looks similar) before seeing the snow. Its nuts, and pretty rewarding in the end.

The next day we were headed to Armenia (the capital of Quindio, the 3rd department in the coffee region) but not before a stop at a real working coffee plantation!

Posted by tuffchix 14:34 Archived in Colombia Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

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