Jardin, Colombia January 2020

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the highlight of the town square in Jardin.

Lovely, quiet, quaint Jardin (Har-deen). Hardly another tourist to be seen. As soon as we stepped of the bus we felt like we were in an authentic Colombian village from the past.

Inside the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, a National Monument and functioning church.
Beautiful streets of Jardin.

The main square is full of rose gardens, locals in white cowboy hats, and pigeons playing in the fountain. There are also tons of colorful wooden tables with chairs all made from painted cowhide (by town decree, no metal or plastic is allowed).

The colorful painted chairs are made of cowhide and wood.
Everyone hangs out in the plaza drinking Micheladas, coffee and tea in the afternoon.

There’s impressive bird watching to be had at Parque Natural Jardín de Rocas, just 4 blocks from the town center. For only $3 US each you can watch the dramatically squawking Cock of the Rock birds as they come home to roost. I also caught a glimpse of the blue Motmot with it’s unique tail. Plan accordingly because it’s only open from 3 to 6 PM.

The splendid Cock of the Rock birds.
The Motmot swishes their double feathered tail back and forth like a grandfather clock.

To get a fine view of town from above you can take the rickety La Garrucha cable car across a gorge and up the mountain into the coffee and banana plantations. Then take a quiet 2 mile walk back to town passing a river and waterfalls with nice swimming holes.

La Garrucha cable car enables farmers easier access to the town.
View of Jardin from the top of the cable car.
Coffee branch with unripe and ripe coffee cherries, and buds of blossoms on the tip.

The weekend was spectacular with the cowboys prancing their show horses up and down the cobblestone streets and riding up to one of the many bars around the square where a barman comes out with a tray of shots and passes them out. They don’t even get off their horses!

The cowboys arrive in the evening to ‘pony up to the bar’.

With all those horses around we decided to take a ride ourselves. The lady who runs the Fami Hotel La Posada where we stayed made a phone call and half an hour later a young man walked up to the table where we were enjoying a cerveza with 3 horses in tow. We saddled up and for $14 US each we had a three hour ride through the gorgeous countryside, stopping at a waterfall and even a coffee farm for a fabulous cup of Joe.

Me, our guide and our horses.
Coffee, cerveza, fabulous view of Jardin!

And now, Ian’s Take:

As I mentioned before, Colombians love music. And even in this quaint rural town of Jardin things get cranking come nightfall. The four sides of the town square contain about 20 bars which are all playing their own choice of music. The music starts at about 10 in the morning which is a tolerable mix of latin ballads from decades past. But as evening approaches, the music gets louder with more bass. Some of these bars even turn on some spinny light contraptions to give out a disco party vibe.

Open, and loud.

The rest of the bars seem to enjoy some darker ambiance. And by darker ambiance I mean lights out, no candles. They are full of people sitting at tables full of beer bottles (they don’t seem to like to remove the empties) and at first glance the bar looks closed until your eyes adjust and your ears realize they are blaring music as well. So as the night goes on, each bar slowly turns up their favorite latin boom boom music to drown out the neighbors boom boom music as in some competition to have the best and loudest boom boom music. So loud this becomes that you notice that the loudest bar has now driven all their patrons down the street and is now empty. But hey, I guess they win. Well time to put in some earplugs and head out for a cerveza. Ciao!

Guatape, Colombia January 2020

The dramatic face of Piedra del Penol (The Rock).

The rock! I was afraid to climb the rock when I heard it was hundreds of steps straight up. At elevation around 7,000 feet. I don’t like stairs. Turns out it’s 705 to the very tippy top, 659 to a beer/food/ bathroom break. But, we made it in 20 minutes. Without throwing up. And the 360 degree view? WORTH IT!!

Ian makes his way up the hundreds of steps of Piedra del Penol.
View from the top of Piedra del Penol of the reservoir.
Made it to the top!
The zigzag stairs go one-way and are periodically marked with the number of step you’re on.
The stairs going up are mostly outside, and the stairs going down are built within a tight crack in the rock.

After catching our breath at the top of piedra del peñol and enjoying a cerveza while trying to keep our jaws from completely dropping off from the incredible views, we climbed down and caught a tuk tuk into town for $4 US.

Super colorful downtown Guatape.

Guatape is postcard perfect at every corner. Each section of buildings has its own bas-relief theme along the bottom. These range from simple geometric designs to 3-D sculptures of provential life.

Bas-relief on the buildings in Guatape.
Another charming corner of Guatape.

The place we stayed at was amazing. Homemade bread, homemade arepas, homemade jam. The organic eggs are from mountain wandering chickens. The chocolate in the hot chocolate is from a farm right around the corner. Free kayaks to use, a hot tub and sauna. No wonder they have the highest booking.com rating!

We stayed in a room at beautiul Serendipity Hospedaje.
Kayaking with a great view of Piedra del Penol.

Even though we splurged on our room ($55 US per night) we found that Guatape was more affordable than Medellin. For example a glass of wine in Medellin was between $4 – $5 US, but only $1.75 in Guatape.

Another gorgeous plaza in Guatape.

Getting to Guatape from the Poblado neighborhood in Medellin: take the metro to the Caribe station. Walk over the sky bridge to the giant bus station. Go to Window 14 to purchase tickets. It’s a 2 hour bus ride for $4.50 US each. Comfy, reclining seats and with the window open it was nice and cool as you go up in elevation. And the view of the countryside is worth the trip itself!

And now, Ian’s Take: I like beer. I like beer a lot. I noticed that in recent years while travelling abroad that the craft beer scene has hit the world. Sort of. Being from the U.S. and with the addition of imports from Europe, we are spoiled with hundreds of breweries with thousands of varietals. So of course I want try what the rest of the world has to offer. Or at least I did. Let’s just say that some of the world has a long way to go.

Ian and Surf Monkey Pale Ale (Costeno Beach, Colombia).

I keep trying these cerveza artisionals that are a bit lacking in either correct ingredients or know how. Let’s say I have stopped trying. A lot of these ‘artisional’ beers remind of some of my own home brewed attempts. I have had some decent batches, however most of them I choked down while gagging due to the fact I just spent $50 in ingredients and waited 2 months. I have tried some IPA’s that hadn’t met a hop if it bit em in the arse and had red ales that you could pour on your pancakes. Sorry Colombia. What Colombia does right is make some great tasting lagers or light ales. Let’s say the equivalent of a PBR, Bud, or Corona. And my go to favorite is the Michelada.

The makings of a great Michelada, Jardin, Colombia.

A very simple drink. Squeeze a lime or sour orange into a glass with salted rim and pour in your beer of choice served on the side. So refreshing! I can drink em all day. On a side note, I have had a couple nice micros in Japan. So if any of you have tried some quality craft brews abroad, please share. Until next time, bottoms up! And salud!

Medellin, Colombia January 2020

‘Life’ graffiti in Comuna 13

Medellin was the murder capital of the world when Pablo Escobar was making billions with his drug cartel. Comuna 13, a neighborhood of Medellin, was one of the most dangerous areas of that time. Now it’s a reformed tourist destination full of graffiti art, street performers and tourists following guides explaining the history of its reformation.

Graffiti and a lady selling roasted corn (which was delicious) Comuna 13.
Larger than life murals are everywhere you turn in Comuna 13.

The streets are situated on the steep mountainsides that circle Medellin. There are outside escalators to help you make it up to the many levels of street art. Plenty of t-shirt and hat vendors, beer, wine and michelada stands, small eateries and art galleries are sprinkled between the graffiti to help you spend a couple hours shopping and taking pictures.

The buildings are almost as colorful as the art in Comuna 13.
Incredible view from Medellin Metrocable!

The Metrocable is a 15 minute cable car ride that is FREE with your metro ticket. You’ll find the entrance at the same metro stop as Comune 13, so might as well take a ride.

Plaza Botero

Stolling through downtown Medellin is a great way to spend an afternoon. The metro system is cheap, clean and easy to use. We got off at Parque Berrio, saw lots of churches, palaces, artwork, and plazas and got back on the metro at San Antonio.

Iglesia de la Veracruz
Parque de Las Luces
Parque de Las Luces

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Medellin. People were polite, helpful and friendly. There were plenty of quality international restaurant options in the Poblado neighbourhood where our hostel was located. We felt like four days was a good amount of time to spend in this vibrant, hip city.

Monumento a La Raza by Rodrigo Arenas

Travel Tip: there are LOTS of neighborhoods that make up Medellin. When looking for a place to stay we recommend Poblado which was about a 10 minute metro ride from downtown.

The Botero Horse Sculpture, Plaza Botero

Next up, the beautiful town of Guatape and climbing the 659 steps of Piedra del Penol!

Minca, Colombia January 2020

The pool at Rio Elemento Eco Lodge

Feeling as lazy as the leaves that drift, sail, meander through the humid sunshine into the cerulean pool. A young lady tries her skills on the purple silk ribbons hanging from the giant tree covered in moss and bromeliads. Laughing, she falls into the pool with a splash. Hung over tattooed guests share their nightly escapades at the bar in quiet conversations. Tropical birds chirp, warble and gibber in the dense foliage. We’ve made it to Minca.

Ribbon dancer shows her moves.
Lounging in a giant hammock at the eco lodge.

Yes, we’re surrounded by coffee and chocolate plantations with sweeping mountain views but who can resist playing on a swing or relaxing in a giant net over the river?

Bird watching via scooter in coffee country!

We forced ourselves to climb out of the hammocks and rent a scooter to explore. The tropical canopy above is full of exotic birds and we stopped often on The Big Loop Tour to search for them. The Big Loop is an all day route that takes you to Pozo Azul waterfalls, Los Pinos viewpoint, coffee and chocolate tours, and Marinka waterfalls.

Cooling off like the locals do in Pozo Azul.
You can grab an arepa to eat at Pozo Azul (up on the right).

Travel Tip: the roads around Minca are rough and more like hiking trails than roads. Luckily Ian has lots of practice from our travels so although some areas were hair raising we didn’t crash. Most tourists either hire motorcycle taxis or hike this area.

Rough roads on The Big Loop around Minca
We passed lots of mules and donkeys whose owners used machetes to trim vines out of the coffee shrubs.

Travel Tip: Minca is lush, dense, tropical. BRING BUG SPRAY.

Soooo itchy! I Don’t Like Mosquitoes.

And now, Ian’s Take:

Aaahh, the bliss of travel. The wind in your hair on the fast boat to las playas. Dipping in the pool of an exotic waterfall. Or trying tantalizing new foods as you watch the sun sink in the sky. But it’s not perfect bliss. In the last 48 hours I had serious food poisoning, gotten eaten alive by bugs, and white knuckled our way through a 4 hour dirt track on a tiny scooter. So three lessons I knew previously but just got reminded of.

#1 When traveling, try and eat at busy restaurants. The food is fresh with the constant turnover and obviously tasty. In my case we did eat at a busy restaurant. Ocean did not share much of my food so she was ok. Bad luck of the draw for me though.

#2 I heard there might be some bitey bugs here in Minca. Now we don’t like to wear bug spray unless necessary. We arrived at Rio Elemento Eco-hostel and after check in, went to check out the pool, river, and giant hammocks. Meanwhile tiny gnats unknowingly bit us to pieces in like 20 minutes. You can’t feel the bite but 12 hours later you’re like a cat in heat rubbing your body against any stationary object while trying to avoid straight up digging your own claws into your flesh. I could barely sleep. Douse yourself in bug spray. Cuz ya gonna get bit!

#3 Get the better bike. After my sleepless night with food poisoning, I felt barely well enough try the 4 hour loop around Minca on motorbike. Now I have ridden manual motorcycles all over SE Asia but due to my shakey condition and since it had been a couple years, I wanted a mindless automatic scooter. They said we could do the loop ‘no problemo’. Now imagine two grown people riding a miniature horse up a cliff. No suspension with wheels the size of dinner plates. I spent the next 4 hours trying not to kill us. Next time man up and get the motorcycle. Even though the last 48 hours have been sleepless and a little hellish, the exotic foods, majestic waterfalls, and wind in my hair make it all worth it. Bring on the next round! Ciao!

Things to do and see while in Cartagena, Colombia

These beauties can be found by the marina in Cartagena.
A man sells fruit in Getsemani

Getsemani is the neighborhood next door to the Historic Center of Cartagena. It’s considered a backpackers haven with graffiti murals brightening buildings and umbrellas strung above the streets shading the alleys from sun. It’s also a more affordable option for dinning and accommodation.

Shaded from the hot Colombian sun in Getsemani
Beautiful graffiti murals abound in Getsemani

A short cab ride can take you to the Castillo de San Felipe. Construction of this fortress was begun in 1536 and completed in 1767. The entrance fee is $7.50 US and you can explore tunnels, touch rusty cannons and climb ramparts. The view is expansive from the top.

Castillo de San Felipe
Ian is almost too tall for the tunnels.
It’s hard to see but the walls are made of coral blocks.
Great view of the city from the top!

The Emerald Museum in the Historic Center is free, air conditioned and our guide was very informative.

This hefty emerald has carbon inclusions (the black stuff).

We saw some amazing emeralds, learned how the Mayans used emeralds and a crystal skull as a lie detector test (a hand was placed over the emerald and the skull would turn a certain color) and were shown the difference between the world’s three types of emeralds.

The Emerald (and crystal skull) Lie Detector
We were told the purpose of this item is a mystery. Our guide asked what we thought it might be and Ian said ‘a beer opener’.

There are many beaches nearby. You can take a boat for $3 US per person one way from Castillogrande Beach to Punta Arenas Beach. Among the beach frolicking and bumping music we found a spot where we spent $17 US to drink 4 mojitos and 1 beer and sat in plastic chairs in the sand.

A hawker sells dessert on the beach, Punta Arenas
Boat taxis on Punta Arenas Beach

Another beach option is gorgeous Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca can be reached by several methods. We chose to take a 45 minute shuttle for $11 US each to get there and a ‘fast boat’ for the return at $7 per person. The fast boat also took 45 minutes, was terrifying, and seemed about to break in half. But we lived to tell the tale.

The ‘fast boat’ taxi and turquoise waters of Playa Blanca
Fun refreshments on Playa Blanca

And now, Ian’s Take:

Now I have seen some boob jobs here and there but wasn’t aware that Colombian women seem to pair theirs with a big ‘ol bootie job. I mean some serious big booties. Some of these gals will round the street corner and their trunks won’t disappear with them for about 8 more seconds. Colombians love music and love to dance. So it appears that these enlargements are not only there to turn men’s heads but maybe more are used as status. Because on the dance floor, the fastest biggest shaking bootie gets the most points. Now I like to dance. I don’t have a big bootie but I do have a big beer belly. I don’t think that is going to get me any points back home but I am going to continue to shake it and maybe just pretend I am on the Colombian dance floor earning me some serious points. Until next time, keep it shakin’ folks. Ciao!

Cartagena Historical Center, January 2020

Colorful Cartagena, Colombia

Founded in the 16th century, the walled city of Cartagena is known for its cobblestone streets and pastel colonial buildings with balconies draped in bougainvillea. Afternoons are warm, slow and easy. Evenings are bustling with horsedrawn carriages and people dining at sidewalk cafes.

Hola from Cartagena!

We enjoyed a four night stay in an apartment with this incredible view.

Evening view from our apartment in Cartagena
Morning espresso

Our place was next to a small university housed in a historic colonial building so we were treated to live orchestra practice in the morning as we sipped from our elegant espresso cups. The sun sets to the right in the Caribbean Ocean. But nothing is perfect, so keep in mind the ants. Even on the 7th floor the little buggers found our bag of chips and had a heyday all over the dinning room table.

Beautiful Cartagena Streets

We spent three days just wandering the beautiful streets taking in the sights.

Bougainvillea drapes from the balconies
Feeling romantic in Cartagena
Palenqueras (the ladies selling fruit)
Every corner is beautiful in the Historic Center!

It’s hot and humid, especially around noon. Your best bet is getting home to some air conditioning or duck into a restaurant or bar around this time of day.

Ceviche for lunch
Our view from Cancha Cevicherea

Travel tip: We had delicious ceviche but didn’t ask the price for our Hendricks gin & tonics which cost us $18 US EACH! We normally wouldn’t make the mistake of ordering without seeing a price but I claim sleep deprivation from our red eye flight from San Francisco.

Maybe don’t buy this. Unless you really like licorice.

Aguardiente is the national liquor. Of course we bought a 750ml bottle for $10 US and couldn’t wait to mix some in mango juice with lime. Nope!! This is anise, folks. However, I had a lovely drink at a Colombian restaurant mixed with several things that tasted delicious even though it was dressed like the Grim Reaper.

I wish I remembered the name of my drink!

We thought the streets were clean, the hawkers will leave you alone after a couple ‘no gracias’ and people were generally polite and friendly. Did I mention you can drink the tap water? Yay!

Catching some rays in Colombia
The bustling nightlife in the Historic Center
Another gorgeous alley in the Historic Center

And now we have, for the first time ever! Ian’s Take:

Wow man! I am really enjoying the historic center of Cartagena. Locals carry around big coolers selling water and beer. I buy beer of course to drink while we wander the streets taking in the culture and acting like tourists taking pictures of EVERYTHING! It’s a very picturesque town. In fact I rate it among my favorite romantic towns. The Colombian women all wear sun dresses showing lots of skin with no bras on. Lookie but no touchie married peeps! I am still trying to get Ocean to take her bra off. There are hawkers everywhere selling everything. Sunhats, jewelry, trinkets, tours, etc. It amazes me of how multi-talented these guys are. The hat guy with his 4 foot tower of hats he carries around doubles as a tour guide and can sell you a trip to the off-shore islands. And if you are so inclined, he can also hook you up with a little white coffee (wink-wink) or weed. However we are not interested in visiting the Colombian jail so for now we will just stick to the sunhats. Ciao!

Bonita!