Thursday, March 27, 2014

Medellin, Colombia - Sightseeing

Chantal and I had a few days to explore Medellin before she returned to Canada. We decided our first tourist site should be the Museo de Antioquia. I was a fan of the bronze Boetero statues that I had seen in Cartagena and excited to see more.We looked at the map and thought we could walk from our hotel (61Prado) to the town square. The distance was not far. As we started walking, we got turned around a few times and lost our direction. At one point, a man walked up and told us it was not a safe neighborhood and insisted we take a taxi for our own safety. We obliged and were at the Plaza de Batero quickly. Taxis are cheap here and use their meters. I really like not having to negotiate the price. 
The Museo de Antioquia is filled with Fernando Botero paintings and statues. I knew little about his work when I arrived in Colombia but I was enthralled with the bright colors and voluptuous figures. I appreciated his artwork and realized they were not just fat people that he was trying to portray. He was making a statement about politics and life of the everyday Colombian. Botero exaggerated the size and colors of his subjects to add life and sensuality to them.
Chantal and I spent longer than we had expected at the museum. We loved the paintings and sculptures. Botero painted the lives of the Colombians and current events, including Pablo Escobar's death.
One of the more intriguing pieces was a gun-guitar. I can not remember if this was an AK-47 or what type, I am not a fan of guns or violence. But I was intrigued with the artists combination of two very prevalent parts of Paisa history- music and violence.
Chantal and I spent an afternoon in the Plaza Botero and watching the locals and tourists before returning to our hotel for a delicious filet mignon dinner.....and only $7.50!!! The beef was cooked perfectly with a fresh dinner salad and mashed potatoes. It was mouthwatering and the best meal I had eaten in several weeks. Unfortunately, Colombia is not known for its food. They have some delicious soups and I am a fan of the patacones (fried plantains) and juices but there is room for improvement in the culinary side if travel. But I will keep trying new foods. Why stop now? It is part of travel.

The next day we decided to take the metrocable car to Parque Avri. The Medellin metro system is one of the best in the world. It is clean, safe and cheap. The cable car system swept us over the cities poor neighborhoods (favelas) while young paisas told us about their city and flirted with the young girls in the car behind us. 
For a couple dollars, we rode the subway and then transferred directly to the metrocable.
The cable cars whisked us away from the city with beautiful views of the valley.
It stops in a mountaintop nature reserve, Parque Avri, giving the residents easy access to weekend recreation. There are several options - camping, hiking, biking and horseback riding. We went for a hike to explore the area. It was beautiful and the air was fresh. I felt like I was a million miles from the city, not a 10 minute cable car ride. 
After our hike, we returned to the farmers market. Locals were selling fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade scarves, ponchos and hats and fried foods.  
I bought a cup of fresh strawberries, blackberries and gooseberries. Fresh delicious berries for $1! Yummy!  
Afterwards, we celebrated with chocolate dipped strawberries for Valentines day! I was shocked...3 for $1! So cheap!! I have no problem treating myself for Valentines Day!  
On our return to the city, we stopped to look out at the Parque Biblioteca Espana (Spanish Library). It was under construction and covered with large tarps so we did not walk over. This is a landmark project, a beautiful architectural design for a library built in an area where Pablo Escobar's drug cartel recruited assassins. The city decided to build this library in the middle of the slums and to make it beautiful. Why? This was to allow the local people to identify with the beautiful design and love their library and the opportunities it provided. They wanted to put an emphasis in education, opportunity and art in the middle of a poor neighborhood. The goal was to create pride and love in each citizen's neighborhood and the city of Medellin. School children in Medellin are taught from a young age to be proud of their city and the beauty surrounding them. The citizens participate and feel they are involved in the construction, design and approval of public programs. I was amazed as I explored the city. Recycling bins were present. Little to no trash in the metro, parks or streets.  People were proud of their city. The Colombians frequently asked what I thought of Colombians and their city. They beamed with joy when I told them how much I loved their city and country. I usually got a hug as I explained how nice the people of Medellin are to the tourists. It was evident the paisas loved their city and the public programs were working. Crime and murders have reduced significantly. I was amazed by the exceptional and innovative measures the people of Medellin have taken to transform their history and the future of their city. 
The next day, Chantal packed her bags, we said our goodbyes and she flew back to Canada. I was going to miss my sweet friend and all the fun we had over the past 2 months. But, I have a journey to complete. Bye Skittles and your rainbow of color! 
The next day, I decided to explore Medellin's free botanical park. Yes, free! Each time I find beautiful spaces in this city, I am shocked and amazed. The park is full of paths with beautiful flowers and trees. I walked the area and enjoyed being in nature. I stopped along the lagoon to watch the feisty iguanas.
Most were sunning themselves along the lake but a few came towards people wanting a snack. Not my type of pet. I will stick to the dogs, I like the warm blooded pets with fur! I continued walking along the paths to the butterfly house. It was filled with flowers and butterflies.  

As I left the park, I walked back to the metro and stopped for a coffee at a local café. I love relaxing and watching the people. I could spend hours with a good book and a café just enjoying life.
I signed up for the Real City Tours Exotic Fruit Tour of the market. Why not? A great way to enjoy a the local fruits and learn the names. It was a small (5) group of us that walked through the markets.

We started at the outskirt of the market which had all the local wares, pets and farm animals. In Colombia you can buy anything you want. They recycle everything. We walked through stalls of dolls, fans, Amway products, TVs, remote controls and used toilets. If Colombians do not want it, then it is sold to a person that will clean it up and re-sell the items. If you have a broken fan, there is a shop to buy the piece you need. I was amazed at this part of the market. I realized how we are a disposable society in the USA. Many people want the newest and latest things and get rid of the old. Not in Colombia! Due to many people only earning $300-400/month they repair and use things as long as possible. I made a mental note to be better at recycling and buying items that can be repaired.

Our guide warned us before we walked through the animal section. If anyone did not want to see animals in cages we could stay back and meet the group on the other side. It was a nice offer but we all wanted to see the animals. Chickens, ducks, parrots, cats and dogs were all for sale. You name it, it was there. Our guide told us last week there was a llama for sale! Why not?!? I was a sucker for the puppies and started to play with a cute little guy. He cost about $35. I hoped he would find a home soon!
Afterwards we walked to the fresh fruit and vegetable market. It was large and I was excited to get started tasting the exotic fruits of Colombia. Hernan handed out napkins, gloves and spoons to each of us and we started walking. We tried so many delicious fruits. We tasted peach palm, tree tomato, Spanish lime, gooseberries, yellow passionfruit, guavasteen, guama, pitahaya (dragon fruit), guanabana, guava, sapote, passion fruit, starfruit, prickly pear, mangosteen, lulo, banana passion fruit, sweet granadilla and algarroba (stinky feet). The largest and most interesting was the one that looked like a dinosaur egg, the guanabana. It had little pods with large seeds. I popped it in my mouth and it had a delicious juicy acidic citrus flavor with the texture of gum. The fruit dissolved and left a large seed to spit. I liked it but it was messy to eat. I found myself thinking it would be delicious as a juice with some tequila.

My favorite was  the sweet granadilla.  I cracked the orange sphere like an egg and opened it. It has large seeds and looked a little like boogers. I took a scoop and my first inclination was to chew the seeds. They are crunchy and taste fine. Our guide suggested we compare the flavor of chewing the seeds to swallowing a portion the seeds whole. The granadilla was sweeter when the seeds were swallowed whole. Yummy! I was going to eat more of these.

The worst fruit and the only one I could not eat was the algarroba. The smell was was like sweaty, stinky feet. I was brave and tried the velvety fruit but I could not get past the smell. It was awful. I dumped that one in the garbage quickly!! The tour was fun and a great experience. I was armed with the knowledge of the fruits and ready to try a few fruits and fruit juices over the next few months of my travels. Mmmmm.

The one last thing I wanted to do was visit the escalators in Communa Trece. Hernan, our fruit tour guide, gave me directions and assured me it was safe to visit the escalators. I left the market and walked to the San Antonio metro stop where I took the line B metro to the San Javier stop and switched to the 101 bus to the end of the line. A short walk and I arrived at the escalators. This the poorest and once the roughest slums of Medellin.  The slums were built on a steep hillside where residents climbed 300 steps every day, all of their groceries and any purchased items. The area was too steep for cars. The city of Medellin built a seven-station outdoor escalator which runs through the heart of the community. The project took two years to complete and cost $5 million.

The escalators, runs 18 hours a day and are covered to protect the residents from rain. This area transformed the slum providing easy access to the metro station, shopping and the job market.What an innovative approach to make the commute easier for the residents. These are the tings Medellin has done to improve the quality of life in the city. I loved it!

Medellin is by no means a perfect city.  Its murder rate has fallen significantly (80%-90%) since the Escobar cartel days. Many people still live in poverty. The education system needs improvement and the country is growing and changing. But there is an undeniable sense of optimism and pride that the city seems to be on the right path. I love Medellin  for all it has done to help the poor people and to improve the quality of life in the city. I did not have time to attend a soccer game but I heard they had 2-for-1 ladies night, the sports arena has 5 pools for use by the public for a couple dollars and the theater had free tickets. The love for the arts, sports and education make this an exceptional city that I can not wait to visit again. In my heart, yo soy paisa!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Medellin, Colombia - Real City Walking Tour

Medellin. Colombia. These two words provoked reactions in people. Many people asked if I had a death wish. It was usually followed by the question "what is wrong with you?" Most people associate Medellin and Colombia with fear, murders and drugs from the 1980's-90's. The days of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel. In those days, the city was one of the deadliest in the world. But things changed after the death of Escobar. The city changed it's image and was voted the Most Innovative City of 2012. Travelers and Colombians alike realize Medellin is special and smile when you ask about their favorite city. Medellin is a vibrant city with people that are proud, beautiful, friendly, strong, persistent and the happiest I have met on my travels. They are proud of what the city has become and where it is headed. The only time their demeanor changes is when you ask about Pablo Escobar. The Medellin paisas are adamant that Escobar did nothing for the city and he is not who they are today. The city is full of parks, artwork, free bicycles, restaurants and music in the parks. 
This picture symbolizes the city of Medellin and the paisas. What is a paisa? It is someone born in the city of Medellin, or the province of Antioquia, in the country of Colombia. They are proud of their culture and their city. I grew to understand the proud tradition and culture that the Medellin paisas when I took the free Real City Tour ( with Pablo. If you are visiting Medellin this is a must. Do it first, you will not regret it. Pablo is an engaging storyteller and provides an unbiased view of Medellin. He conveys the history of Medellin with warmth, charm and humor. 
I met Pablo and the rest of the travelers at the Alpujarra metro stop in the afternoon. We all walked to the Medellin train station for introductions, a group photo and a brief but informative history of Colombia. Pablo is passionate about his city and started off by reminding everyone this was not a Pablo Escobar tour. He explained to us the devastation, death, crime and awful atrocities that Escobar created in the city and the negative impression that Escobar's drug cartel has left on the city and which prevails 20 years after his death. Pablo was adamant that Escobar was nothing but a criminal that killed and bribed people. He warned us others will make him out to be a modern day Robin Hood. However, the homes he built for the poor were in exchange for criminal acts the families were later asked to provide as payback. Nothing is free. Escobar was a viscous, manipulative thug. He caused death and destruction in the city. He did nothing for the city of Medellin. Pablo wanted us to understand from the beginning that Escobar was a negative influence on the city. He realized it is part of the cities history and is happy to answer questions about it but the city is much more than the drug legacy.
Pablo welcomed any questions we had about drugs in Colombia, including Escobar, and he provide a valuable insight. At the time of Escobar's drug cartel, 80% of the cocaine in the USA was through Escobar's Medellin cartel. Today, drugs are still present in Colombia but the drug cartels have been broken up to smaller groups with less of a target on their backs (learned their lesson from Escobar). Most of the drug violence is now in the distribution chain (Mexico) rather than the source. The city of Medellin has become safer, there has been a 90% drop in murders since Escobar's death.  

Pablo took us on a 4 hour walk around the city showing us sights and explaining the importance of each location. He started by taking us to the city hall and explaining the artwork and history of corruption within Colombia. From there we moved on to the Plaza Cisneros and the 300 vertical lights.  
The area we were standing in had been one of the most dangerous areas of Medellin. But the city government decided to change the areas legacy. A library was built at one end of the square and the Department of Education refurbished the buildings at the other end of the square. The points of light were in the middle. The Medellin city government made a statement that the future of the city was changing and education was important.
As we stood listening to the history, a gentleman working in the building waved to us. He welcomed us to his city and told us to enjoy ourselves. Once again, the friendliness and happiness of the Colombians was demonstrated to us.
We continued our journey through shopping areas and street vendors. Pablo stopped to point out places where legally the people were not allowed to be selling their goods, but the Colombians took liberties when the law was not looking. He also pointed out street food and restaurants that we should visit as we walk through the city.
We stopped at the Veracruz church, one of the oldest religious monuments in Medellin. This is the church of the travelers. It was known for being the church where foreigners were given last rights.
As we stood listening to Pablo give the history, we looked around. Hmmm. What are the women by the telephones doing? Along the opposite side of the church were woman that were obviously working in the oldest profession. Pablo explained this was where men came looking for love. The local priest ignores the prostitution. Pablo explained the Catholic church in the lives of the Colombians. Many Colombians will go to the church to "wash their hands of their sins." He explained that the Colombians may have been asked to kill someone but they would tell the Virgin Mary, they were only going to pull the trigger it was her choice if the bullet would kill the victim. This allowed them to commit murder but wash there sins away as Jesus/God/Virgin Mary willed it to happen. Yes, it is a messed up justification but many people use religion for their personal benefit with no regard to the real message of religion. As Pablo was explaining this, several Colombians came and joined our circle. They would listen and then walk away. Pablo explained that they were not interested in him or what he was telling us. They came to see us and what we were doing. There are few tourists in Colombia and we are an interest to them. Pablo would ask us to get in a circle shoulder to shoulder and stay tightly together. If we left a hole, the Colombians would come, squeeze in and start asking what he was telling us. I laughed, they just wanted to be included in the circle.  
We continued walking to Plaza Botero. This was one of my favorites in Medellin. 
The plaza is filled with original bronze statues of  Fernando Botero.  Most people think he sculpted and painted fat people. Actually, his figures are voluminous to represent political criticism or humor, depending on the piece. Botero is considered the most recognized artist from Colombia and Latin America. 
People relaxed and posed for photos next to his statues. Men stopped to run the gorditas for luck and couples pose for pictures. People were relaxing and enjoying the plaza.

Our tour continued to Parque Barrio metro station where Pablo explained the artwork and why Medellin Paisas are so happy. He explained that the years of terror and fear taught them to appreciate life and live every second. He also asked us if we had used the metro system. Most of us had an we all loved it! I was floored when he told is it was 20 years old. Why? The Medellin metro is the cleanest metro I have ever seen. It is cheap ($1/ride), efficient and clean. The paisas are taught from childhood that the metro is special and not to be abused. There is no graffiti. The windows are not scratched. No litter. It does not smell like pee! I was impressed and in awe. The metro was built to transfer people from all parts of the city and improve their lives. He encouraged each of us to ride it and observe the people and the areas. He recommended that we all take the cable car to Parque Avri and stop at the favelas to see the Spanish library (Black Library). In the opposite direction, he recommended the escalators in the Communa 13 neighborhood to see how the poor people live and commute to work. I added these to my must do list for Medellin. 

We continued our walk past the Parque Barrio metro and through a lively plaza. Pablo told us to watch as we walked down the alley next to this church.
I giggled as we walked. Wow! For sale along this alley were movies. Any movie you could possibly want to see. DVD of kids movies mixed with action, comedy and pornography movies. I saw a lot of pornography for sale and it included all possible genres. Right next to a Virgin Mary calendar or a book about the Pope. And next to a church!! Afterwards, Pablo explained the corruption extends beyond the government but also within the church. The priests pretend none of this goes on and they go on with their daily lives. He left us to think about corruption and asked I one type is any better than the another? No. It is all corrupt. 

We continued on to another plaza and sat as he explained the life going on in the area. A police station on one corner, hookers on another, drugs use on one side of the park. All of this is real life Medellin. But he wanted us to see the diversity in the people and in the plants of the park. It was active and coming alive with music and families strolling in the evening. 
We ended our tour at San Antonio Plaza. Pablo had given us insight into the history and future of Medellin. At the end of the day, I had grown to love this vibrant city, the paisas and I had an understanding of the history of Medellin. The good and the bad. This tour was phenomenal, it was the highlight of my time in Medellin.  Thank you Pablo for sharing your city with me!


Friday, March 7, 2014

In Route to Medellin, Colombia

I have learned that all plans can change. Chantal and I planned to leave on the early bus from Salento to Pereira and onward to Medellin. There was one small problem. We did not tell our hotel owner and unfortunately, Martha decided to sleep late. We were packed and ready to leave at 6:15AM. Unfortunately, Martha was not awake and we were locked into the hotel. We crawled back into our beds and waited for someone to wake up. At 7:30AM, we heard people in the kitchen. We said our goodbyes to Martha and paid our bill. We decided to have one last meal at Brunch before we left town on the afternoon bus.  We heaved our backpacks over our shoulders and walked to Brunch. 
Brunch won us over with the homemade peanut butter sign!
Oh, what to eat on our last day? I ordered a bowl of fresh fruit, granola and yogurt to keep me full for the day. So delicious!
We relaxed and used the Internet and wrote our goodbyes on the wall.
But before we left we each ordered a peanut butter brownie for the road. Yummy! I may want this at the end of the day! We heaved our backpacks onto our backs and walked to the bus station. The  bus for Pereira arrived on time. We bought our tickets on board the bus. I loved his outfit!
When we arrived in Pereira, we checked the times for the bus to Medellin. We realized we would be arriving at night and decided to spend the evening in Pereira and go to Medellin in the morning. Neither of us like to arrive in a new city at night. So, we booked the Kolibri Hostel and grabbed a taxi to the hotel. We settled in and talked about going to the thermal springs in Santa Rosa. When we realized it would be a 6 hour adventure, we decided to go see a movie instead. One of the joys of Central America and Colombia is the movies are really cheap! We walked to the Cinema and bought tickets ($2.65 each) to 12 Years a Slave. Neither of us knew anything about the movie except that it was in English and up for an Oscar. The movie was excellent! I am surprised at how little I know about the tv and movies that are popular. I have watched very little tv this past year and have decided I will not buy cable when I return. Why should I? I just need Internet and I can watch anything. Same goes for a cell phone plan. Travel has made me realize the plans in the USA are ridiculously expensive. I am bucking the system and buying a pay as you go plan. These are just the beginning of the changes I am making in my life when I return. Yes, I will be the crazy, hippy lady! But I am fine with it!! 

The next morning, Chantal and I took a taxi to the bus station and bought our tickets for Medellin. As we were waiting, I found a stand with fresh fruit for sale. Fresh pineapple chunks for $0.50!
I also got a couple and apples for healthy snacks on the bus. The fresh fruit is another thing I will miss when I return to the USA. With our obesity epidemic, I don't understand why we don't have fruit stands everywhere. as I have traveled the world, fresh fruit is readily available at most places. I love buying fresh cut fruit and freshly squeezed fruit juices as you walk down a street. 

The drive to Medellin was suppose to be 5 -7 hours but it took 9 hours. Road construction was in progress and the bus stopped several times and waited for 20-60 minutes. We watched as local salesmen sold food along the roadside. I was happy to see fresh mango slices! 
The small van with 13 passengers was not comfortable. Chantal and I got stuck in the backseat and were thrown around with an old lady. I watched as a 4 year old played in the aisle and ate anything her parents stuck in her mouth. I knew that was not going to turn out well. It was just a matter of time before she vomited all over the aisle, down her grandmothers seat and the front of herself. Seriously!?!?!? It smelled so bad and my sympathy vomiting was starting. I gagged as I reached into my bag and grabbed a tube of Vick's nasal. I suck it up my nose and covered my nose with my sweatshirt. Yes, it was probably rude but it was better than me vomiting. Unfortunately, it was a curvy mountainous road and the vomit swished up and down the aisle. I wanted out of the van. I was relieved when the parents finally started to clean it up. So disgusting! I prayed they were going to change her shirt too. No luck. I kept inhaling the Vick' was the better smell. I was ecstatic when we finally pulled into Medellin's bus station and I could get away for the awful puke smell. I looked around the station and was pleased to see Medellin nestled in the valley. My first impression was that Medellin was a cool city. We hailed a taxi to the 61Prado Hotel and decided to stay in and have pizza and watch tv. We were exhausted but happy to be in Medellin.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Don Elias Coffee Farm Tour in Salento, Colombia


Salento is part of the Colombian Zona Cafetera, coffee region. It is a farming community and as I walked down the streets, I saw men in gum boots, ponchos, a machete on their hip and a hat. Many were mustached and I searched for a Juan Valdez look-a-like. As I hiked the surrounding area, I saw the farmers out on horseback. This is all part of the charm of the region.
One of our first experiences was exploring the cafes of Salento in search of the best coffee in town. Chantal and I walked from cafe to cafe trying the coffees and searching for the best brew.
We eventually found our favorite, Jesus Martin! There was no other after we found this roasted goodness. Mmmm! The chocolate nut cake paired beautifully with the coffee. We spent time here every day having a coffee to get our day started.
We finally decided to take a walk out to Don Elias' coffee farm. We started walking and met up with a couple from our hotel. They had a jeep and wanted us to join them. Why not? We jumped in and the driver seemed to be waiting for someone. He kept saying Don Elias coffee and pointing in the opposite direction. We waited. An older gentleman walked across the bridge and up the hill. He walked up and we were introduced to Don Elias. The jeep owner was waiting for him before we went to his farm. He was so charming and welcomed each of us to Salento and to his farm.
Don Elias explained that his coffee farm was family owned and operated with the help of a few others that helped during the harvest season. He introduced us to his grandson, Carlos, who was giving us the coffee tour. He was 20 years old and has grown up on the farm. He apologized that he only speaks Spanish but he spoke slowly and I could easily follow his explanation.
We walked down into the coffee fields. Carlos showed us the coffee bean trees and explained the Arabica beans turned red.
Carlos pointed out that there were plantain trees surrounding the coffee plants to keep the coffee plants cool.
Don Elias is an organic coffee farm and there are multiple fruits and vegetable plants surrounding the coffee. We saw yucca, lulo, plantains, mandarins and pineapples.
Carlos explained that all of the coffee was picked by hand and each plant produced for 12-15 years. He picked a few ripe coffee and placed them in the basket.
We returned to the house where he showed us how the coffee bean was removed from the seed.
The beans were then spread over the ground in a greenhouse to dry.
Once the beans were dried, 80% of the harvest was sold to the Colombian coffee federation and the remaining 20% was kept for Don Elias' farm. The coffee beans that remained at Don Elias was removed from the shell and the beans were hand roasted to a beautiful brown roast.
Next, the coffee is ground and we all sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee with Don Elias. It was a delicious brew and I bought a bag to take home.
Chantal and I had a fantastic day at the Don Elias farm. Afterwards, we jumped on the back of the jeep and stood as we drove back to town. It was a beautiful view of the valley and the coffee farms. The next morning, we were leaving for Medellin. I would be returning in a week to move into my little cabin in Salento. Hasta luego my beautiful little town of Salento.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Everyone comes to Salento to visit the Valle de Cocora. I asked Colombians about the area and they all smiled and said it was the most beautiful place on Earth! I had to see it. Since Chantal and I arrived in Salento, it had rained heavily each afternoon. We decided we were going to have to tough it out and do the hike in the mud and rain. Whatever was required to see the national tree of Colombia, the Palma de Cera (Wax Palm). 
Chantal and I befriended an Russian girl who was traveling solo and staying at our hotel. We asked if she would like to join us on our hike in the morning. We made arrangements to leave at 9AM to catch the jeeps in the center of the square. The only concern she had was that she only had strappy sandals to wear. Chantal and I laughed as we had searched the internet looking for information on the hike. I did not have hiking shoes, I sent them home after lugging them around the world for 9 months. I had water sandals that were good for light hiking. We had been told it was muddy and noticed everyone in town that returned from the valley were covered in mud up to their knees. As I searched the internet, I found a suggestion to hike Valle del Cocora for the lazy hiker ( We decided to follow the suggestion. It was confirmed when a huge thunderstorm rolled in at night and we could hear the rain pounding on the roof all night.
In the morning, we walked to the town square and asked for a jeep (Willy) to the Valle Del Cocora.  
 We all piled into the jeep. I was surprised as we kept adding people. It was scrunched with 11 of us inside the jeep and 3 men hanging on the back of the jeep. We bounced down the road, around the turns and up into the hills a half hour away. As I stepped out of the darkness and looked into the sky. I was surrounded by stunning views.
These are the wax palms of Colombia. They can grow up to 60 meters tall. It only grows in the Colombian Andes at altitudes of over about 3,200 feet (1000 meters).
Everywhere I looked I was amazed by the beauty of the Valle de Cocora. We followed the sign for the La Montana hike up the road. Within 5 minutes of walking we were surrounded by the majestic palms and landscape.
We passed a horse waiting on the side of the road. I stopped to scratch her ears and nose. She was beautiful and I started contemplating a return trip to the valley on horseback.

But today, I was hiking the glorious hills and valleys. We followed the path and enjoyed the natural sights.

We continued following the road until we came across a river that had flooded the bridge. In the distance we could see a footpath and plank bridge. 

We decided to turn back and walk into the hills covered with the wax palms. As we wandered back along the road, we passed a guy camping on the side of the road. He suggested that we go through the fence and up a path. We took his recommendation and it was breathtaking. We were surrounded by the palms. 
They towered over us and each of us was snapping pictures as we said "wow!" 

We continued walking up over the hills an through pastures with cattle grazing. A dog joined us on our walk and liked chasing the cattle. We had to keep an eye on him. 
At one point we heard the loud mooing of a cow and looked to our left. We could see a cow running at full speed down the hill. Luckily, it was not because our dog was chasing him! We walked and enjoyed natures beauty. This was one if the most beautiful and tranquil places I had visited. I will never forget this beautiful valley in central Colombia. 
We walked back towards the jeeps and and stopped for ice cream at a roadside stand. Mmm! When we got back to the jeeps there was a gentleman that wanted to go back immediately rather than waiting for a full jeep. He had been told the cost was 27,000 pesos ($13.50). We all agreed to split the cost and go back. The 4 of us loaded I to the jeep. As we started down the hill, I suddenly felt tight chested an had severe stomach cramps. Ugh! I started sweating and felt sick to my stomach. I told the others in the jeep and we discussed if it was altitude sickness, motion sickness or bad ice cream. We asked the driver to let us out at our corner. When I got out of the jeep, I could barely stand up. I walked back to our room an laid down. I heard thunder in the distance and raindrops on the roof. Luckily, we arrived before the thunderstorm! I laid flat for 15 minutes and I felt fine. We decided it was a little motion sickness. Whew! I felt fine the rest I the day and ha taken beautiful photos of the Valle de Cocora.