Medellin / Salento / Valle de Cocora, Colombia
I am sitting on the plane from Madrid to Hamburg. I am bored so I am finishing what I started and summarize my trip to Colombia one last time.
All in all I struggled with the stomach virus for a little over a week. Very uncomfortable.
I was sad to miss a lot of the fun that Medellin has to offer. It´s a fascinating place with an intense and violent history. I did manage to drag myself to a walking tour that was highly recommended to me: Through the communa 13, once the most dangerous city quarter of the world. And it was so worth it. Until the beginning of the 2000s, the quarter was under rule of several cartels, guerilla fighters and paramilitary groups who fought over control of the streets and drug traffic routes. Several brutal interventions my the military did set and end to the wars but brought new horrors to the people of communa 13. Supported by the state, paramilitary groups took it upon themselves to hunt down young men that were supposedly associated with the gang wars. They were executed without trial and buried in mass graves in the mountains.
Every family of this area is still missing brothers, fathers and sons. You can still see holes in the buildings that were shot at when tanks rolled down the small streets. The gruesome rule of the paramilitary found an end in the late 2000s and the communa 13 began its impressive transformation. Social projects, street art, graffiti, dance and hiphop brought structure, purpose and tourism. Today, communa 13 is a safe and lively quarter. The bullet holes are covered with art, children are playing in the streets and families gather for streetfood and in cafés. Without knowledge of their situation, one wouldn´t believe that only 15 years ago, this place was hell for the people unfortunate enough to live there. Strong emotions and a great vibe let me forget my hurting stomach and weak legs for a while.
Next stop: Vale de Cocora
Salento: A small village in the coffee region in Colombia. 7 hours on busses south of Medellin.
Valle de Cocora: Valley where the tallest palm trees in the world grow. 30 minutes in a jeep plus 5 hour hike from Salento.
Sometimes you come across places that inspire and move you on a different level. Salento and the nearby Valle de Cocora was like that for me. Maybe it was because I had just come out of a week of being sick from a stomach virus and I finally regained some energy again to explore and enjoy. Maybe it was because of the humble and generous people I met or because of the fact that the surrounding mountains look different every time you look at them. Located in the heart of Colombias coffee region, Salento is surrounded by lush green mountains and often covered in fog. I love fog. And I love mountains. And I love palm trees.
After spending 8 hours on busses from Medellin, I spent the first few days in a beautiful hostel on the edge of the village. I was still recovering, using the downtime to catch up with some work I had not been able to finish due to spending days on end in the bathroom. Ugh. Obviously there are better things to do in a place like this than spending time in front of a laptop. But there are few places I would rather be to get some work done. I had the place to myself during the day, because most other guests were out doing tourist stuff.
The Valle de Cocora was on my list of “must sees” in Colombia. Who would want to miss the tallest palm trees in the world? As it happens while traveling, you always find other people whose plans align with yours for a few days or weeks. So my lone hike to a mystical valley turned into a group thing before it even started.
The weather forecast looked promising until the afternoon, so we set out early. On the main square of the little town, the eight (!) of us caught one of the jeep taxis that drove us closer towards the valley. Cramped in the back of the car, some standing, holding on to the back of the roof and eyes watery from the wind. We figured, something wasn´t quite right with the jeep as we had to stop quite a few times and some locals got to work on the engine with worried faces. The jeep appeared to have issues with the brakes (very very old car), which meant, we didn´t get to our destination as early as we wanted. But we got there after all. Alive.
I guess that´s what matters.
We still opted for the hike instead of the tourist shortcut to the valley. It had rained heavily a few days before, which turned some parts of the trail into fields of mud and caused other parts of the trail to be closed due to broken bridges and raging rivers. Add so much fog to the scene that you can´t even really see the view, one might be disappointed. But honestly, I find excitement in these unexpected hurdles. It makes travel unpredictable and fun and turns boring days into stories one wants to tell and listen to.
And then, as it started to rain, some of the fog cleared and revealed breathtaking views of mountains and palm trees above clouds.
Food, sunset, watching local kids play ball, sleep. I skip a tour to a coffee farm the next day and spend the day catching up on work and the night on a very uncomfortable bus to Bogotá. My last days in Colombia are slow. I eat a lot, trying to gain some of the weight I lost, visit with Hannah and go to an arts museum. I am not really ready to be back in Germany but I do have exciting things, travel and projects coming up.
Talk soon <3
(translated from a little travel-diary I made for my family)