More Than Coffee and Cocaine
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Hello everyone, again! Thank you for subscribing, supporting and following along with Sonia and my travels through South America. Since the last posting we have left Peru and have been in Colombia for about 2 weeks. Now for some of the stories and turbulences from our travels.
Puerto Maldonaldo, Peru
After getting back from our 4 day trek through the mountains to Machu Picchu, we realized we had not planned ahead like we should have. Peru has 2 seasons for much of the country; dry season and rainy season. We were not in the beginning stages of rainy season which was very evident. For example, some of the hikes like the famous Rainbow Mountain was not visible due to clouds and snow. This was fine and we had expected this. Unfortunately though, like I said, we did not plan ahead fully with plane/bus routes out of Peru, and thus were stuck with the issue of not knowing where to go next and wherever that might be, the plane flight being expensive.
We decided to take a bus to a town bordering the Amazon rainforest called Puerto Maldonaldo for 5 days, then catch our flight out of there to eventually end up in Colombia where we are now. The town itself was disappointing....coupled with 100 degree humid weather and mosquitoes with a malaria risk, we definitely took a bit of an "L" including this in the itinerary. We managed to find a few day tours and met another local family that was the highlight though! Sandoval Lake was the first day trip we did which is one of the most biodiverse areas of Peru. We saw some monkeys, unique birds, crocodiles, turtles, etc. which was thrilling to see and fun to practice using my telephoto lens for the first time. On top of the day trip, we also met a local family who spoke only the indigenous language and taught us to make a fire by hand and shoot a bow and arrow. All and all, would not go back to this town but was fun for about 2-3 of the 5 days.
After a bus ride from Medellin, we arrived to Jardin, Colombia. Jardin was a colorful colonial town nestled in the mountains south of Medellin and North of the Coffee Triangle & Cali. We arrived here to enjoy the local waterfall hikes and relax after a few busy and hectic days of flights and bus rides. We took a tuktuk up an unpaved muddy road then hiked about 6 miles to see the Cueva de Espelendor. This was a river that carved through rock to create a waterfall through the ceiling of a cave. The hike was on private property so we could only enter with a guide but still were one of the few people to hike down. The cave was beautiful with water streaming down several walls around the main stream of pounding water. The thunderous sounds were audible from a distance and the speed at which the water fell was intense.
After this hike, we decided to head up to the hillside and enjoy a nice stay at the Creo Ecolodge. This was a cozy lodge with a stunning deck overlooking the valley and city. This ended up being where we stayed most of the day since I got cut by a barbed wire fence and shocked pretty good by an electric fence in the morning (all healed and ok now!).
Jardin is a town we wish we stayed another day or two in as it had good food, nice places to stay, and it was unfortunate we didn't get a chance to see the other waterfalls due to the injury.
Salento & Cocora Valley, Colombia
Salento is in the heart of the Coffee Triangle, where the majority of Colombian coffee is farmed. We arrived not knowing it was Colombia's equivalent of Spring Break so the town was filled with hundreds of people. We had an amazing time at a local cofffee farm and doing a day trip to the Cocora Valley, home to the tallest palm trees in the world.
Salento was another colorful colonial town known for the coffee farms, cute places to stay for vacation, and a hub to the Cocora Valley. The coffee farm we visited was called Finca Momota where we met Carla, the owner. Carla showed us the organic and inorganic farming practices, about the different coffee varieties, and crops grown throughout the property. She gave us a private tasting with cupping. The reason coffee is grown in this area is due to the climate and high elevation. Coffee actually originated from Ethiopia and legends say it was discovered from a goat eating the bean and becoming extremely energetic. It wasn't until years later that it was discovered roasting the beans and making them into a drink would create the flavor and caffeine levels we associate coffee with today.
Carla explained that coffee has first quality (high quality) beans, and second quality (lower quality) beans. The difference is noticeable and comes with a price difference. She gets her beans scored in order to sell them at the higher price. Due to her dilligent practices, she is able to score a 85+ (score for cupping or rating the quality and taste). The highest the rating goes is around a 92 which is rare and usually only in Ethiopia. She explained that Ethiopian beans for farming are protected and very illegal to smuggle as they are of such high quality.
The next day we went to the Cocora Valley, home to the Quindio Wax Palm Trees. These palm trees are not only the tallest in the world, but also can only be found in this region. The trees only grow in certain elevation, with acidic sandy soil and with certain climate types making this valley perfect for growth. They were once cut down and used for you guessed it, wax. The wax were used for candles and other products but now are protected as there are minimal quantities left. These palms are absolutely massive. They can be well over 200 feet tall and have a trunk you can wrap your arms around which is baffling. Taking the hike through this valley was amazing and felt like a little tropical paradise.
Next stop was Juanchaco, a small town on the Pacific Coast only accessible by boat. We ventured here straight from Salento via bus and took a 1 hour speed boat ride. Upon first glance, we were thinking what the hell did we get ourselves into. The beach and town were littered with garbage and we found there were seemingly no tourists. This was some of the most difficult times of the trip emotionally. Most of this trip has been very few international tourists so days could go at a time with out seeing or speaking English or to anyone but each other. Juanchaco we found would be more of that. Thankfully, a local we encountered named Elmer helped us (via Sonia's Spanish skills) find a nicer hostel than we originally planned on staying at, for a cheaper price. It was located on a much prettier, cleaner beach so we at least felt a bit more relaxed there and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets. However, the lack of tourists made it very hard to do any activities we wanted to do. With no people, no boats would take us to see some of the more scenic areas. One day we went whale watching with another family and the last day we lucked out and were able to check out some really cool waterfalls.
The highlights: We arrived at the tail end of whale watching season so we didn't see many whales. At the peak, we saw 2 baby humpback whales but only the breath holes and back fins. This was still a fun time since they are huge and majestic creatures. The other highlight was our day boating between a black sand beach, swimming holes, and 2 waterfalls. With how ugly Juanchaco was, we must admit that there were some hidden gems there. Each destination was as unique and breathtaking as the next. It was also the first moment we could go swimming with warm weather in warm water so we were stoked and had the adrenaline pumping most of the day. This was very needed to lift our spirits after a few tough and disappointing days.
This trip has taught me a lot. Though I have had some extreme highs there have also been some lows. Now that it has been almost 2 months, I can look back and say I am very proud of myself and have a different perspective on things.
Some Real Struggles:
Not interacting with people due to less tourists with Covid has its pluses and minuses. There are many cool places we have to ourselves but there are also many hostel stays where we are the only guests. Tack this on with mostly national tourists, there could be days at a time without speaking English to anyone but each other. Not to say this is everywhere but it can be emotionally tough at times.
Not having a job with a consistent paycheck can have its drawbacks and is a constant reminder when paying for flights that aren't cheap or a trek that is expensive. It is a mental roadblock but we are reminded that money will always come in unexpected ways and hard work will pay off.
So much food in South America is fried. It gets really tough to find foods with vegetables and it makes finding a place to eat at times really difficult. We cannot wait to come home and have home cooked meals consistently again.
Last year I wanted to create a tour guide business to show people some of the amazing places I have been to and create a vacation that is all planned out and prepared to enjoy every second. Due to saving for this trip and liability of starting a business, I talked myself out of it last year. This upcoming year I will create a few trips and share some of the many things I have learned on this trip to incorporate into a weekend trip.
I have taken my art which is usually sold via prints and turned it into crypto art (NFT's) while traveling. This has been exciting to see the art sell for significantly higher than it would via a print or in a shop. I have enjoyed learning more about the crypto community and how to grow my photography as an art.
Words have always been a struggle for me, as I talk in very simple language and struggle to put what is in my head to paper. Creating this blog/email newsletter and getting good feedback has been a big proud moment and thank every one of you for reading especially if you have gotten this far.
Throughout traveling, the biggest surprise for people is we are American and on a trip more than 1-2 weeks. It is strange how American culture is so different from many other places in the world. I am inspired to try and get others to see that there are more options out there. That does not necessarily mean quit your job and travel, but to pursue your passions to the fullest and take time for yourself regardless of what the culture tell us we are supposed to do.
I went through a period where I was frustrated with feeling bored and unhappy and could not figure out why. I loved Peru so much and was not feeling excited for all Colombia had to offer. Through many conversations with Sonia and self reflection, I found that it was due to judging myself for how I should feel on a trip like this versus how I actually felt. I thought about how I should be feeling the best I have in my life and wasn't. It was the expectations not being met that caused negativity. It is important to realize excessive expectations often lead to negativity when they are not met and to instead enjoy each moment for what it is.
Believe it or not, neurologists have found that the physiological lifespan of an emotion in the body and brain is 90 seconds. I found the importance to let negative emotions be just that and positive ones be what I live through time and time again through memories and storytelling. I am finding through travel one of my biggest passions is sharing the stories so thank you again for reading and the support!
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