We didn’t actually dance. Thought about it, though.
Our first stop after our two and half month stint in Jardin.
Salento is the rich man’s Jardin, in that it will cost you more for less of an experience. It’s discovered. Gringos roam the streets like the bulls of Pamplona. It’s touristy. Hawkers hound you on every corner. It’s costly. Lodging and food are fifty if not one-hundred percent more than other areas of Colombia. And it’s colonial-esque. A smattering of modern buildings have inserted themselves amongst the old buildings.
Salento is fetching, though, it’s just not Jardin fetching. But we’re biased. Nostalgic. Jardin was the only stop thus far on this trip that felt like “home”. A temporary one albeit. (On that note, if anyone is interested in diversifying their international real estate portfolio, shoot me a message. Jardin gots potential….)
Valle de Cocora
Despite what’s written above, Salento is worth a visit, if only as a leaping-off point for the marvelous Valle de Cocora just thirty minutes down the calle.
The Valle de Cocora is famoso for its wax palms, the tallest palm trees in the world, often shooting two hundred feet into the sky. Once in danger of being endangered — locals chopped ’em down for Palm Sunday — the wax palms are now back on the up-and-up (quite literally) thanks to a concerted conservation effort.
Part of what makes the wax palms so fascinating is their seemingly incongruous relationship to the mountains from which they grown. They’re Dr. Seuss-ian. Cartoonishly tall palm trees jutting from granite cliffs. No beach or tropics in site.
The hike around the Valle de Cocora is fairly steep (you climb nearly two thousand feet), rocky (good hiking boots are a must), and adventurous (you cross multiple streams and rivers, often on hastily fashioned bridges; see videos below). But, of course, you’re rewarded for your efforts. Sweeping vistas around every bend. Gorgeous flora and fauna.
The loop takes about five hours, six if you detour to visit the Acaime, a hummingbird house recessed deep in the mountains — where for 5,000 pesos (about a buck and a half) you get to watch hummingbirds whiz past your face while sipping muy rico hot chocolate.
Love motels — identified by overtly romantic names, like Love Stop, Casa de Amor, Mi Corazón, Place to Discover STDs — have been sprinkled alongside highways throughout Latin America. From what Andrea and I can decipher, locals use these motels to, sort of, speed date. Or wrestle. Or perhaps both. We’ve never actually stopped. But we have witnessed that most are concealed behind walls and offer hourly rates and drive-in convenience. You can park right in your room. Pretty sure there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere.
Our last stop, besides the border of course.
Popayán is a white-washed Spanish colonial city, famed then for its strategic halfway location between Quito, Ecuador and Cartagena, Colombia. Famed now for its gastronomy — it was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage food city, or something like that, for its rich culinary history — and for its University — The University of Cauca is one of Colombia’s oldest and most distinguished.
Popayán reminded us both of Patzcuaro, Mexico, mostly because of its homogeneously white colonial structures, and Guanajuato, Mexico, mostly because of its university carisma. In fact, while we were there, students were having some sort of hissy fit. They’d blocked off a block to yell stuff. Also shot up the whiteness with variegated paintball guns and spray paint (see photo above). College students, amiright?
Colombians love biking. It’s become, second to soccer, their national pastime. Road bikers are everywhere. Always. Everett’s best buddy in Jardin, Juan Antonio, practiced twice per week and raced on the weekends. Colombians are starting to dominate the equivalent of the Tour de France in South America — and they think they’ll start dominating the actual Tour de France here soon too.
Mountain biking is also popular, though less so than road biking. Salento offered downhill and guided tours that looked amazing. Jardin doesn’t offer tours. Yet. Nor does Jardin have much (if any) singletrack. It does have some excellent Jeep trails. I rented a bike one day to explore them and was both shocked how quickly I’d fallen out of shape and about how much potential Jardin has to become a mountain biking mecca. (On that note, if anyone is interested in diversifying their international mountain biking portfolio, shoot me a message. Jardin gots potential….)
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Venezuelans were stopped at the Colombia/Ecuador border, attempting to cross in either direction. The Red Cross had setup gigantic tents to both screen and shelter them. It’s a crisis. Maduro gotta go.
Fond farewell Colombia! We’ll miss you. Our favorite country we’ve visited on this trip to date.