Saturday, November 7, 2015

Last of Colombia

Sometimes you read about something and you just have to see what it is out of sheer curiosity. That curiosity sure captured us when we read about the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, built almost 700 feet underground. What in the world could this place be? Naturally, we decided to investigate. The entrance fee was a bit steep, but we crossed our fingers hoping it would be worth it. Ten minutes later we were on a tour with an over eager guide entering the side of the mountain where the Salt Catherdral was built, not really "underground" as the travel books has made it out to be, but okay. At least it was actually built into salt deposits inside of a mountain. We quickly, and to our dismay found out the one hour tour was just going through the 14 stations of the cross….oh man, boredom level: MAX. A collective daydreaming commenced as we nodded our heads pretending to listen to the guide, as he tried desperately to amuse us. The highlight of the tour was when we reached baby Jesus carved in salt…with ABS! No joke, the sculpture of baby Jesus was sporting a P90X 6pack.The guide asked us, "is there anything that sticks out to you about this scene here?" Giggling like kids, we comically blurted out "the abs!" and to our surprise, he said "yes… and the significance of the ripped abs is blah blah blah" Next, the guide had us each go through three seperate tunnels, and at the end told us who in the group is the most sinful based on their tunnel choice and then instructed us to walk up a certain set of stairs, in this case, if you are out of breath then you are very very sinful. Finally, at the end of the tour, we were let loose by the guide, and explored the cathedral on our own, taking advantage of some cool picture ops throughout. The architecture of the salt cathedral and carvings is actually quite astonishing, that we cannot deny… however, it was overshadowed by the odd mixture of religion and tourism in one place. Seeing scantily clad Colombian women posing sexily for dozens of pictures in front of each and every cross was humorous. Worse than that was the hallway o’ crap for sale… get your salt cathedral stickers, t-shirts, miniature figurines here! They even went so far as to sell every possible "Colombian" souvenir here including an entire store full of very expensive emeralds (which by the way do not even come from this particular area)! Overall, we left the Cathedral feeling like we were ripped off by an immense tourist trap in the name of Jesus… just not our thing. We left the cathedral laughing with our tour group companion from Isreal, who was just as baffled about the whole place as we were, and gave him a first class hitchhikers ride to the bus station before hitting the road!

The entrance to the church... Feels like the entrance to Dante's inferno
Mallary standing in front of a salt waterfall
I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy yeaaa
The actual cathdral. Quite massive, something like 150' tall and 400' long, carved in salt
Hall o' crap
How we transport hitchhikers sometimes

We spent so long at the Cathedral that we did not reach our destination in time and had to pull over to spend the night outside a dairy farm/mega store/restaurant. The people working in the store and the security guard thought we were a bit crazy... when people first see our car they just don't understand that we live out of it until we either show them the inside or explain totally what we have been up to. The nightly security guard was totally cool with watching out for us overnight, but still eyed us curiously as we sat outside eating and hanging out... guessing he hasn't seen such a sight there before! Regardless, being able to eat really good fresh chocolate cake, pass out, and wake up in the morning and eat more fresh chocolate cake took parking lot camping to a whole new level. Best cheese and deserts in a long time!!!

The stray dogs enjoyed our dinner as we did!

Amped up on a plethora of junk foods from the dairy store, we hauled onward to the town of Salento. A bunch of folks had recommended a particular campground/hostal outside of town called Serrano. Man were they right, this place had beautiful property, stellar views, great climate, a nice long walk into town, a huge organic garden, and free breakfast. The town was scenic... especially during the early morning hours and weekdays when no one was out to ruin the unique picturesque brightly colored colonial shops along the main road. The main square had heaps of amazing street food and coffee that complimented the amazing people watching of Colombians on holiday and locals parading through celebrating some sort of political win! As a break from the routine of tailgate cooking, we joined the backpackers for a delicious dinner at the hostel where the local chefs used mostly ingredients right out of their garden. Plus, we couldn't help a night in the unique dining hall that was decorated nicely with hundreds of empty wine bottles and lights hanging from the ceiling (a collection that we did not hesitate adding to)! The design was uber cool, until one day at breakfast an earthquake shook us pretty good, while seated in the room of hanging glass!! Luckily whoever put those bad boys up did a good job, and the jingle jangle of them added to the thrill of our second earthquake on this trip!

Our view from one side of camp
A garden with kale! Whhhattt!?
Not sure if OSHA would approve of glass bottles loosely dangling over dining room guests, but it sure makes a cool setting
Main street, and the original photobomber
That poor Jeep


Although life at the hostel was great in and of itself, the real attraction here is hiking around in Cocora Valley. We joined forces with another overlander couple from Germany, Andy & Julia, and jumped on an old Jeep Willys that dropped us off at the start of the trail. Soon we were crossing a bunch of suspension bridges through a narrow lush canyon, and eventually reached a property that must have the highest density of hummingbirds in the world. Even though we have seen plenty in our lives, it was amazing to see SO many up close, including a fluorescent green species with long, vibrant tail feathers. We were still giddy with the clicking of our new camera, and took the opportunity to snap waaay too many photos of the cute colibris fluttering in front of us like perfect models. The trail went onward through a field of the tallest palm trees in the world. These goofy looking Quindío wax palms sometimes reach 200 feet, and are stunningly tall from far away, but just plain baffling when you stand at their base! The hike was all together an exceptionally nice hike, which we were so happy to share the trail with Andy and Julia who were not only fun, but had heaps of tips to share with us about places further south, as they had been traveling north for the past year! After the hike, it was back to the chromed out Willy’s for another "hang on or fall off" ride back to town, followed by an evening of studying maps and tagging a bunch of "must see" places in Patagonia! Thanks guys!! :)

Look at that tongue!!
Check out how they fight in the air, who knew!!
Badass hummingbird
One of the girls in this group had a little crush on Chris, and was quite disappointed when she finally saw who he was with!
Flannel crew!
Cocora Valley
Snack break with a view!!
Chris standing next to one of the many gigantic palms
Awesome public transportation
Us hanging on the back of an old Willys

Like every other place in Colombia, Salento was hard to leave, but we had more friends to meet up with whom we hadn't seen since since Oaxaca, Mexico! After a two day ride, and one very random but cool campground in the middle of nowhere, we caught up to our French friends Lise and Laurent. Like true overlanders, they had found a grassy plot next to a Chalet overlooking a beautiful mountain ringed lake called Lagoon la Cocha. Arriving here was great, they had planned an overlander cookout with another cool couple from Chile, Carol and Victor. The Chilean cooked BBQ was amazing, and the beer would have been good too had Chris not bought non-alcholic beer on accident. Palm met forehead when Lise pointed out the "CERO" in big bold letters on the cans! Earlier in the evening a few soldiers from a tiny army base next door stopped by to say hi and ask us for a beer. We obliged and handed one over, only later realizing why they gave the can a funny look before leaving! Sorry guys, that's what you get for trying to drink on the job! The weather turned to crap for our three days there, so we passed the time cooking massive meals, catching up on life and travel stories, and warming up around a cabin fireplace courtesy of the nice staff at the chalet. We had intentions of hiking around the island, but it was freezing up there at 9,300 feet, and the fireplace was always more enticing than a hike in the cold rain!

Chowing down, no time for posing for pics!
Hanging by the fireplace... All day and night!
Colombia had been our favorite country so far, but it was time to move. We were close to the border of Ecuador already, so we made one last stop. Just 5 miles from the border is a church built over a canyon, and looked like something only found in Europe. The Las Lajas Cathedral was so unique that we had to at least take the time to check it out, especially since it was free unlike the Salt Cathedral we felt ripped off on. We roamed around with the Frenchies, and after feeling satisfied with our visit, set up camp in an empty and distant overflow parking lot. Stove top popcorn and BLT’s were devoured as our "last night in Colombia dinner." So much for sleeping in, starting at 6am, a steady stream of packed buses started filling the massive parking lot. With each bus came more and more people draining their bladders all over the parking lot, unaware that there were people sleeping in the cars nearby! No wonder why it smelled funny when we got there last night!! We drew the line after an elderly woman dressed in traditional attire, hobbled by our car, hiked up her skirt and squatted within plain view of us. We all climbed out of our cars, laughing at the scene around us, and agreed to quickly get out! Ecuador here we come.
The odd cathedral down in the canyon
Las Lajas cathedral
Mallary clearly excited for BLTA's!! A = avocado
She had no shame fertilizing the parking lot
Chris trying to finish up dishes before more buses arrive



  1. Amanda and I enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing! No matter what you do, never forget the significance of the ripped abs!

  2. The suspense is killing me. What is the reason for the ripped abs? I have to know.