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Colombia, Magical Realism

Monthly Blog PostHsiang-Ting Yen2 Comments

I’m taking a break from talking about jewelry this month but to tell you about  my trip to Colombia! You might not know this, but the inspiration that I got from traveling have played a huge role in my jewelry making resource book. In order to do something special and unforgettable for my hubby, Nate’s 40th birthday last month, we decided to take a nine-day trip to Colombia. We spent four  days in the country’s capital, Bogota, and three days strenuously hiking a trail in Los Nevados National Park. It is located outside of Salento, one of the most famous coffee origins in Colombia.

So, why did we choose Colombia? This might sound tacky, but we were actually inspired by watching the Netflix hit show “Narcos.” But it wasn’t the notorious drug cartels or the cocaine industry were attracted to! It was the rich and enchanting culture and gorgeous natural beauty that we saw on the TV show. We were a bit concerned about the safety of traveling in Colombia at the beginning, but after reading travel blogs we were confident to book the trip without hesitation. Our trip proved that we made the right decision! The country has tried so hard to change its reputation to the world, and honestly, we felt a lot more safe in Bogota and Salenta than in a lot of major cities in the U.S.  And during our entire stay the people are so welcoming and friendly.

We stayed at the historic area of “La Candelaria” in the heart of downtown Bogota. It’s in walking distance to all the major attractions such as Museo del Oro, or the Gold Museum, Plaza del Bolivar, Fernando Botero Museum, and Monserrate, a mountain 10,341 ft above the sea level.  Our Airbnb was located on the very top of the hill in La Candelaria- it sure was a hike especially the city itself is 8000 ft above sea level. There were six fully-armed military soldiers guarding both corner of the street all day and night- it was a bit of cultural shock at the beginning but we agreed that it made our Airbnb to be one of the safest places in all of Bogota. Pretty soon we got used to seeing armed military soldiers and police officers with a K-9 unit everywhere we went. The city of Bogota is very pedestrian-friendly, most of the streets have pavement for pedestrians and some of them even go through city parks so you can avoid the car exhaust and enjoy the walk, we were able to walk to most of the attractions without any navigational issues.  

Part 2 of our trip involved a three days and two nights trekking in the Los Nevados National Park just outside of Salento. The original plan was to celebrate Nate’s 40th birthday on the top of Paramillo del Quindío Summit (15,583ft.) on the second day of the trek. Unfortunately, Nate had to return to base camp due to altitude sickness and stomach flu on day one, but he insisted that I should continue the trek for both of us. We said goodbye after lunch and he went back to Salento with another guide. I feel sad that he couldn’t make it through the whole trip, but I’m glad I was able to finish the trek. It was definitely the most difficult hike I’ve ever done. The elevation gain was intense: from 7,800ft to 12,500ft on day one;  12,500ft to 15,000ft on day two, and on the return to Salento we hiked from 12,500ft to 7,800ft. Not only we had to carry a full-size backpack but the extremely high altitude also slowed us down during the incline. Most of the trails were destroyed by mules over the years so it was very muddy and we spent so much time and energy focusing on the trail so we wouldn’t slip. We were exhausted from pulling our feet out of the mud during every step.

We were so late on the first day due to the weather and had to hike downhill in the pitch dark muddy trail for two hours. I also almost got run over by an angry cow that we encountered in the middle of the trail. By the time we made it to the base camp every one of my muscles were cramping- I even experienced tricep and waist cramping the first time! I couldn’t even take my shoes off because my leg cramps were so bad that I couldn’t bend over. I will never forget the taste of “Agua panela - sugarcane water,” when one of the guides handed it to me when we arrived to the base on the return. I got hooked on this magical popular Colombian drink right away because it immediately comforted my borderline hypothermia body and exhausted spirit.    

Day 2 was way much more enjoyable with better weather and breathtaking view, the Paramo ecosystem has the most bizarre landscapes and plants, we were surrounded in a wonderland that’s something you will only see in movies like “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings”. Although we couldn’t make it to the Paramillo del Quindío Summit, 15.583ft, we decided to return at the ridge of 15000ft due to bad weather conditions. We had to cross this spongy marshland where we had to be careful with every step to avoid  getting stuck in the soft landing. We literally were jumping like Super Mario except that if we missed we wouldn’t have a second chance if we fell in. We enjoyed the beautiful sunset on the way back and made it back to the base camp’s farm just in-time before dark.

Last day was mostly downhill, we stopped by two farms with gorgeous gorge views for breaks and snacks on the way down to Salento. It’s hard to imagine the self-sufficient lifestyle of these farmers as they live the most humble way you can imagine. Their lives are heavily dependent on their mules that carry daily supplies to commute. There are no powerline or water lines connected to their farms so they have to rely on solar power and generators for energy. For water they all have above ground water tower to collect rainwater for their daily water usage. Our guide, Manolo, an Italian expat, outdid himself during this trek by presenting us with an authentic Italian-style lunch picnic which included olives, sun-dried tomatoes, salami, fresh bread, fresh cheese, and A BOTTLE OF WINE!!! We couldn’t believe he carried all this weight over the past three days. His backpack weighed roughly 50lb and he was about 5’ 6”. To show our appreciation, we ate all the food and wine so he can carry less weight on the way back. Getting a bit tipsy definitely helped with going downhill, I felt my legs were a bit lighter, and the pace was a bit faster than usual, and my knees hurt a bit less. We ended our trip by celebrating at a local restaurant, Macaw, located in downtown Salento. Nate joined us and we celebrated his birthday together to makeup for his sad birthday that he spent in the hostel as he was too sick to do anything else.

To wrap up our trip to Colombia we spent our last night in a hip Bogota neighborhood at a tapas restaurant with a live Flamenco dance performance.  I can’t think of a better way to wrap up our trip. Colombia has so much to offer, we will definitely come back one day to explore more of this beautiful country!