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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Jardín, Colombia

In Jardín

On Sunday, June 15, eight of our group left Medellin on a four hour, $9 bus ride to Jardín, Colombia. There was no air conditioning, but other wonderful amenities. Every once in a while, the bus would stop and let on someone who would try to sell us his wares. Another person that got on the bus at one stop turned out to be quite an important person for this trip. He sat across the aisle from me and started talking. Of course, I didn't really understand much of what he was saying. But it turned out he owned a coffee/banana farm and a coffee warehouse and was an important man about town and an incredible tour guide. He gave us his contact information and we arranged an amazing tour. His name was Hernán Marin, and I highly recommend finding him if you ever go to Jardín.

Young salesman
Jardín is Spanish for garden, and for good reason. The village was beautiful and lush, surrounded by mountains full of sugar cane, banana trees, and coffee plants.

When we arrived, I checked into my hotel (Hotel Valdivia Plaza) and then we did was grabbed lunch at a place recommended by Hernán called El Zodiaco, just off the main plaza. 

Lunch at El Zodiaco

Overlooking the main plaza from my hotel

The church, taken from the balcony of my hotel 

The main square - a bustle of activity! 

The main square in front of the church was where the town gathered to sit and talk. There were lots of tables and chairs, and plenty of vendors selling fresh juices, empanadas, arepas and chorizo. 

Sitting in the plaza eating papaya, just outside my hotel
After lunch, we did a tour in the moto-ratón across town. Just off the square, drivers were readily available in little rickshaw-like vehicles to take you all around for a quick tour of the village. 

From the backseat of the moto-ratón
The next morning a jeep came to pick us up bright and early to head towards Hernán's house where we'd put on our boots. Little did I know how much we'd need these!

Will with our vehicle for the day

Hernán's house (BTW, he has a nice, cheap room if you need one)
After putting on our rubber boots, we hopped back in the open-backed jeep and headed first to a warehouse where coffee is sold. Hernán showed us how it is inspected for quality and told of of all the potential defects they look for to ensure the quality is at its finest.

Coffee beans

Inside the warehouse
Hernán with a coffee plant

The red coffee beans are the ripe beans
Growing coffee plants for planting
 After Hernán showed us what to look for in a coffee bean, he showed us what to look for in a coffee plant for planting, and explained the process of planting the seed to grow a coffee plant before planting it on the hillsides.

Afterwards, we climbed back in the jeep and rode up into the hillside, away from Jardin, where we had stunning views.

From there, Hernán selected horses for each of us, and we ascended even further up the mountains, on some pretty steep, narrow, muddy terrain covered in ruts. My horse was by far the clumsiest of the horses. As it turned out, most of the horses were quite used to this kind of treacherous terrain, but mine was pretty used to just going around circles in a corral. He fell twice -- the first time I thought he'd be injured and we'd have to shoot him. By the second time, I was pretty used to it. We both landed in the mud, so I was pretty dirty for the rest of the day. 

Valencia's pic of me

A pic from Karol - I'm still clean. 
Selfie with Gabbiotta, my clumsy, muddy horse
We rode up to a little store where we could by beers and we corralled the horses and took this group shot, which shows off all my mud.

After a bit of a rest, we took a pretty demanding hike down through the woods to a beautiful cave and waterfall (Cueva del Esplendor).

Fun hike!

Entering the cave

Outside of the cave, we stopped for lunch which Hernán had packed. I thought we would have sandwiches or something, but he pulled out individual lunches wrapped in banana leaves which his wife had cooked. It included a chicken leg, ground beef, rice, plantains, a boiled egg, potatoes, yucca, a a weiner. 

Lunch Pack

 After lunch, we hiked back up to where the horses were corralled then made the long journey back down. This time, my horse did not fall.

The view of Jardín down below as we headed down 
After returning to the Jeep, we rode to Hernán's farm, still high in the hills above Jardín where we walked through the coffee and bananas. He showed us how the coffee beans were peeled after they were picked. Because of the great weather in Jardín, coffee can be picked pretty consistently. In fact, there may be ripe beans on a plant next to a plant that is just flowering, so workers come through at least every 20 days to manually pick coffee beans.

Hernán's coffee farm
Coffee and bananas as far as one can see

Below, Hernán shows us how the beans are "peeled" and the good beans are separated from the bad beans. Then, they are dried under a hot rooftop covered by plastic. 

Photo courtesy of Karla
Peeled coffee beans drying

Bananas and pigs
We rode back with Hernán into town, me still covered in mud, and had a very fine Colombian coffee at a little coffee shop in the square. (In fact, I bought a couple of pounds there later that day and was drinking it at the beach as I was writing this today.) Walking through the square, all covered in dirt, I felt like I had been working hard on the farm all day. I felt pretty authentic.

We cleaned up and had dinner at Las Margaritas, right on the square. I had the parmesan encrusted trout (trucha apanada) which was one of the most delicious things I had the entire trip. That night, I sat out on the square until everything closed, enjoying a few cervezas and more aguardiente on my last night in Colombia.

The next morning, we saw off the part of our crew left for Tolú, and I had a few more hours before I needed to bus back to Medellin, so I returned Las Margaritas for breakfast, I had the "Desayuno Casero" - the "house breakfast." It was delicious, especially for $3. 

Desayuno Casero at Las Margaritas in the Plaza
After breakfast, Karla, Valencia and I did one more ride through the town on the moto-ratón. We had decided that our other friends' driver, Antonio, gave a much better tour. So we found him, and took his tour. Along the way, we saw this cable car which the locals actually use to go up the mountain:

Cable car
The area traversed by the cable car
We also stopped by the famous 'sweet shop' of Jardín-- Dulces del Jardín where I bought a few chocolates which I've also enjoyed this week.

Dulces del Jardín
After a final 'so long' to this beautiful town, I packed my things for the bus ride back to Medellin, to fly out to the US via Bogota that evening. 

So long, Jardín! Until next time!
[Interested in touring with Hernán? Contact him at hernancuevadelesplendor at hotmail  dot com ]

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Medellin, Colombia

On Tuesday, June 10, I left Atlanta heading for Colombia. Flying to Bogota, on a late night flight with my friend Cal, I connected on Lan Airlines to Medellin to celebrate my friend Karol's birthday. She had grown up in Medellin as a child of missionaries, and this was the first time she had returned to Colombia in over thirty years.

I arrived in Medellin early on Wednesday morning and took the hour long cab ride into the city, checking in at the Casa Hotel Asturias, which was located in the Laureles barrio, a clean, quiet part of the city with lots of nice restaurants. Cal and I joined Karol and Donna, who were already in Medellin. We walked around town that day, taking the metro (the only one in Colombia) and doing some shopping.
Seen on our walk

We ended up making our way to the Parque Lleras, a busy park surrounded by lots of restaurants and bars. We went to Al Rojo and ordered a pitcher of delicious rose sangria, which had fresh strawberries, grapes, and pineapples. (It was so good we came back later in the week for more.)

Me and Cal and Sangria
The next morning, the four of us went into downtown to Hotel Nutibara meet up with a tour to go outside of Medellin to surrounding cities. Unfortunately, the tour was in Spanish, but Karol made sure we at least got the gist of what was going on.

Hotel Nutibara 
On the way, we stopped here for a traditional breakfast of arepas (a flatbread made of ground corn) with cheese and coffee.

Arepa with cheese and coffee

Outside the breakfast restaurant

After breakfast, we rode into Marinilla where we walked around the square.

After leaving Marinilla, we went to Peñol where we saw the "La Fénixe" - symbolizing how Peñol rose from the ashes after the city was flooded.

The church in Peñol had a very interesting Jesus -- instead of being on the cross, it was Jesus ascending into Heaven. The Church was very cave-like, built from a rock where a priest fell asleep and dreamed that a dragon was devouring the city. The city would later be flooded when a dam was constructed.

The church at Peñol

Leaving Peñol, we saw a glimpse of La Piedra Del Peñol -- one of the highlights of the day. It's a huge rock, millions of years old, that stands alone outside of Guatapé. Below, we are approaching it. You can see the "G" and part of the incomplete "U" on the side of it.

Getting closer, I saw the steps leading up to the top. I knew right away that I would be climbing those steps! 

On the way up

Looking down on the way up

A shrine to the Virgin about halfway up

Step #425

Finally the top of the tower on the rock 

It took me 13 minutes to get to the top. The tour guide said it would take 45. The view:

After climbing down and having a nice cold cerveza, we went on a boat ride in the lake below. 

After the boat ride, we had lunch in Guatapé at a restaurant called Navegar. It was a typical meal of the Antioquia region, consisting of ground beef, rice, an arepa, fried egg, beans, plantain, and chicharrón (deep fried pork skin with pork). 

Afterwards, we walked around the cute, colorful town. 

The church in Guatapé, Our Lady of Carmen.
The symbols at the base represent Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Interior of the church

That night, we went back out to the Parque Lleras where we ended up at a "licoretta" -- a liquor store that also serves as a bar. I ordered a Colombian aguardiente ("firewater"), a local liquor I had ordered a shot of earlier in the week. It is made from sugar cane and tastes a bit like sambuca with a licorice or anise flavor. What I didn't realize was that instead of ordering a shot, I had ordered a whole bottle. The bartender poured me the shot and left me with the bottle.  When we left there to go to a club, I handed the bottle to Karol to put in her purse. Of course, they searched the purse before we could get in the club, so Karol handed the bottle over to me. The door man took the bottle from me, put it over the door jamb, and told me I could get it when I left! The club was really cool, with parts of it opening up to the sky where we could see the full moon.

Inside the Club -- photo courtesy of Karol

The next morning (Friday), we did the "Real City Walking Tour" of Medellin. It's a great concept -- basically free and working for tips - but they go into the history and psychology of the city as well as show the sites. (There are also Real City Walking Tours of Bogota and Cartagena -- see here.)

One of the highlights of the tour were the many sculptures in Botero Plaza, featuring sculptures of Fernando Botero, a famous artist from Medellin now living in Paris.

Parque Bolívar

Statue of Simón Bolívar in Parque Bolívar
At one point in the tour, we stopped to get some food. One of the things I got was called "un buñuelo," which in Colombia is like a fried cheese-dough ball.

One of the most touching parts of the tour was at the very end. In June of 1995, during a music festival held in a park in downtown Medellin, a bomb of dynamite and shrapnel hidden in the Botero sculpture "The Bird" exploded, killing 30 people and injuring more than 200. Botero insisted that the sculpture remain as a reminder of the violence that happened there, while donating a new one that now sits beside the original.

"The Bird" 

The new sculpture

At the end of the tour, we took a group shot of our tour. In addition to those of us from the USA, there were people from Ireland, UK, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Czech Republic on our tour.

When we got back to the hotel, we met up with two more from our party who had joined us, Karla and Valencia. We left with them to have dinner at Restaurante Mondongos. In addition to the traditional Mondongo soup, made from tripe, pork, and chorizo,  I also had the typical Antioquian meal again with the very finely ground beef, plantains, chicharrones potato, rice, and fried egg.

That night, we went back out to the Parque Llerras and back to Al Rojo for more of that great sangria, before taking the newcomers back out to the same club the rest of us had been to the night before.

The next morning we gathered at a restaurant (Restaurant Siroka) near our hotel to watch the Colombia vs. Greece game, Colombia's first game in the World Cup. I had bought a Colombia jersey, so I was all ready for the big game. We won!

After the game, Karla, Valencia and I made our way to the Metrocable, a gondola system that is part of the city's metro system. After the Santa Domingo station, we transferred to the touristic Metrocable, which took us to Arví Park.

The Metrocable leading up to the Santo Domingo Barrio

Riding over the barrio

On the way back down into Medellin
In the cable car
On the way back from Arví Park, we stopped in at the Santo Domingo station to explore the area.

When we got back to our place, our friends Lauren and Bobby had arrived. Later, Amy and Will got there. We had to prepare for their arrival as the Colombian presidential elections were the next day (Sunday), and beer and liquor could not be sold after 6:00 pm on Saturday until Monday morning. That evening, we had our own little 'house party' in the hotel. Good times! It was a great way to end my time in Medellin before heading to Jardin the next morning. 

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