Feb 26, 2018

Five and a Half Times Gracias

So it’s time to say hasta luego to Colombia. Tomorrow I return to Helsinki (promising -20C tonight).
There is much to praise in this country, but here are my top five reasons to be grateful:

The People
Que buena gente! Already two years ago in Peru and Bolivia I was hearing praise of Colombia from other travellers. And each praise started with: ”The people are wonderful!” Indeed I have met so many warm and caring strangers on this trip, that they stop feeling like strangers in just a few minutes. 
From the lovely lady, who plied me with ginger drinks and chicken soup when I was sick, to the locals who patiently waited 1,5 hours while their driver helped us to fix our car, broken in the middle of the desert. And countless others.

The Animals

My wonderful sloth! A moment not documented, but not to be forgotten. I’m sure when he turned his head (and turned, and tuuuurned...) he gave me a sleepy smile.
The lizards of Punta Gallinas. Beautiful, quick and hard to photo. That didn’t stop me having a merry time trying though.
The busy colibri of Cocoro valley who whipped so close to my face that I could feel the current of air from their flight.
And last, but not least, the wonderful dogs of Colombia. I have seen calm and friendly street dogs in other countries as well, but here the friendliness of people seems to have rubbed off on the dogs as well. They are extremely calm, very friendly and running wild. (As in the curious affair of Toni the dog previousy in this blog).

The Colours

Colours!! The thing that the monochrome winter in Finland is sadly missing. Here it’s an explosion of colour in everything: 
in the flowers 
in the birds such as this masked flowerpiercer 
in the local textiles, bags, hammocks
In the painted houses.
Even old recycled tyres are painted!
And all these colours seem to glow under the warm sun, high in the sky.

The half point here goes to graffiti. It’s sort of under colourful houses, and I’ve thoroughly exhausted the topic earlier in this blog, but it’s a thing of joy, wherever you meet it. And you meet it often in Colombia.

The Will to Understand

A special shout out goes to Colombians - and other citizens of countries in South America - for the way they are determined to understand even broken Spanish - and end up understanding it! 
In several other countries, even slightly mispronouncing a word could have people staring at you blankly and refusing to understand. Here you can merrily throw in the wrong verb in the wrong tense and be perfectly understood. This is a definite asset as my ”Español Brutal” as I like to call it, is gramatically... lets say creative, at times. 
I have noticed that the travellers here do usually speak some level of Spanish. I’m rather at the top of that motley range, but even the starters seem to be doing ok. Indeed, I don’t know what the experience of visiting here would be like for someone with no Spanish at all. So grab a language course and buy a ticket!

The Nature
What’s your preference: High mountain ranges? Green foothills? Tropical beaches? The minimalistic beauty of the desert? The Amazon jungle?
Got it. 
This country surely has something for everyone when it comes to nature. It’s a big country though, and in two months I have only seen the Northern half of it. The Amazon and the high mountain ranges will have to wait for another trip.

And for every tale I’ve told, ten are left untold. 
Like the mayor of Bogota, who hired 100 pantomime artists to make fun on busy streetcorners of drivers, who speeded or ran the red light - rightly guessing that the one thing Colombian male drivers couldn’t take was ridicule (the campaign was a success).
Or like the hippopotamuses that Pablo Escobar imported so that he could use the pungent smell of their dung to cover the smell of drugs. These hippopotamuses got loose and there’s now a thriving colony of African hipopotamuses in Colombia.
Whatever Colombia is, it ain’t dull!

And it must be said: Colombia has a bad international reputation as a dangerous country of lawlessness and kidnapping. While this was deserved at some time, not so long ago even, the whole country, not just Medellin, has moved on amazingly in the last few years. Any guide book printed a few or more years ago will have warnings, which are no longer relevant. This place feels as safe as any South American country I’ve been to - meaning about as safe as most big cities in the US. If you keep your wits about you, ask the locals which places are ok to go to and which aren’t and don’t get roaring drunk or roam deserted streets after dark, you’ll be just fine. I have not had one anxious or insecure moment during this trip. 
For the last two months it has been my privilege to travel round this lovely country, documenting the things I see with my trusty camera and sharing these experiences with you. 

Thanks for being along for the ride!

Feb 24, 2018

Coffee Country

My final day in the Zona Cafetera - Coffee country. In 2011 Unesco added the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia on the Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. Deservedly. 
This is a land of rolling green hills and coffee farms that have often been in the same families for untold generations. In a word, it’s beautiful here.
In Salento I took a coffee tour on the nearby Momota Coffee Plantation, and can now tell the difference between an arabica and robusta coffee bush on sight, 
as well as a mature coffee bean from a raw one, a first class bean from a second class one 
and what kind of trees offer just the right kind of shade to protecty the delicate arabica bush from extremes of sun and rain and from a disease called rust, which has been killing arabica since the 70’s,
One of the trees offering the best kind of shade is the yaruba - a rather lovely, tall with an umbrella of large, silver leaves on the top, which is now officially one of my favourite trees along with the gingko trees of Asia and a few others.
To finish off my tour of the coffee country, I visited Filandia today. Yes, Filandia! How could I not - coming, as I do, from Finlandia. They claim that the name Filandia comes from Filia Andes (daughter of the Andies) - which is patently absurd, as the next big town is Armenia! Clearly the name Filandia is just a tribute to Finland with a silent n.
Filandia had a cubistic viewing tower (where I’m sitting writing this on my ipad), 
which offered views of the village, 

as well as the surrounding countryside, where cowboys on horseback heard cows to greener pastures.

Greener pastures are not my next destination, however. Tonight I fly to Botoga and after a last day or two in the capital, it’s off to Finlandia, where it will take another two or three months for green to become the dominant colour in nature.

P.S. Did you know that the human eye is most attuned to the colour green? It can detect more shades of green than of any other colour. Probably this was very necessary in the hunting and gathering stage of our existance, to help us telll apart edible green plants from poisonous ones. Today I’m using that capacity to its full extent!

Feb 21, 2018

Clouds and Hummingbirds

Ah, all this green!! It’s a sight for sore eyes. They don’t call the Andies the Green Mountains for nothing. Green, lush, rainforest - whoops, I just dropped a hint: Rain. No rain, no lush forests, no streams, no waterfalls, no green. And so nature makes sure that enough rain falls on these blessed hills for them to stay super green.
All this region is prone to rain. Here some Botero statues in Medellin are getting a proper washing.
Usually the rain starts up some time in the late afternoon or evening. Mornings tend to be the brightest time of the day.
But it’s not just rain, it’s clouds. Up here on top of the world, I am often in the clouds.
This makes viewpoints a bit defunct - here is a viewing platform in Manizales, which I didn’t bother to climb...
Manizales was a pleasant one day stop over on the way to the little village of Salento. Manizales was possibly the least touristy small town I’ve been to on this trip. Not that Colombia is overrun by Western tourists (Cartagena a possible exception).
But now I’m in Salento in the heart of the coffee country - Zona Cafetera. 
My travel time and this trip are running out! A few days in Salento then it’s back to Bogota to catch my plane back to cold-and-snow-and-dark. At least I’m not in the Caribbean heat any more - the weather here could count as a kind of acclimatisation process.

One of the major reasons for people to wash up in this nice little village is the Cocora valley with its famed wax palms (Colombia’s national tree).
There is a very pleasant five hour treck from Cocora valley that goes along a river
Crossing it occasionally using some unlikely looking bridges
To the top of a mountain and then back down again. On the way down, the low-lying clouds gathered and started to obscure the view of wax palms.
Wax palms are ridiculously high: 50-60 meters even. So they tower over the other plants in the rain forest eerily in the cloudy air.
And they’re wonderful, strange and a great deal of very unusual birds feed on them, making this a birdwatcher’s paradise. Pearls before swine in my case. I can only recognize the main categories: Little birds, big birds and pretty birds.
Talking of the first and the latter: Hummingbirds!!
On the treck, there was the possibility to visit Kolibri farm, which true to its name housed a large and pampered flock (???) of hummingbirds. (A drone of hummingbirds? A hum of hummingbirds?)
Beautiful darlings! Pampered, because they had feeding dishes, where they could get their sweet water without bothering to buzz in and out of flowers. So a relatively easy target for the aspiring amateur photographer.
But there little beauties made my day. Hope they make yours too!