With the car back in great shape, we headed on from San Gil to Villa de Leyva. We weren’t too excited about visiting “another colonial town.” Villa de Leyva turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, with nice architecture (all houses are built in a similar style, white walls and mediterranean tiles), mostly Colombian tourists, and a really nice hostel where we camped. Nonurbia was there, too, and we would continue to travel with them throughout Colombia.
We headed on towards the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee-growing region, where we stayed at a coffee finca. The weather there is quite nice with warm days and cool nights. We took the coffee tour to find out how that stuff we drink every morning is made. Colombian beans have a bit of a more acidic taste than other places we’ve tasted – not quite our taste, but a great visit nonetheless. It was tough to stay away from the free coffee that came with our stay, and so we ended up drinking 6+ cups per day. We stayed a bit longer to help nonurbia reseal their camper, so that they would be rainproof for the countries to come.
In the south of the Zona Cafetera, we then visited Valle de Cocora, a beautiful valley that is home to wax palms, Colombia’s national tree. On the drive out we ran into some other travelers, Crepe Attack, with a really cool Vanagon setup (a Subaru boxer diesel engine!). We did a short hike through the valley, enjoying the vegetation. Heading out to a view point, Nikki decided to take the lead, and promptly managed to run into a barbed wire. It hit her on the eyelid, a really close call. After some near fainting when she found out that she was bleeding, we made her look like a pirate and headed back to the car. Luckily nothing serious happened, and now she’s got a story to tell whenever somebody asks about that scar – which to her dismay hasn’t happened that often yet.
One thing we were really looking forward to in the south of Colombia was Lago Calima, renowned for year-round constant wind conditions that are perfect for watersports. We spent the next four days camping by the lake, with Nikki taking her first few steps kitesurfing (she’s a natural) and me finally getting the hang of riding upwind and turning. Still a beginner, but things started to click and the sport is starting to show how addictive it can be. We’re definitely planning to hit up some more kitesurfing spots in South America over the next few months.
Further on, we stopped by JJR mechanic shop in Cali, a town that most people typically skip on their journey through Colombia. JJR focuses on 4×4 vehicles and is a hangout spot for all offroad enthusiasts in the area. Nonurbia decided to get a few things checked out on their Tacoma, and we thought it might be a good time to finally get some rust spots fixed up on our East Coast Sprinter before they become serious. Our fantastic mechanic experiences throughout Latin America continue on, those little rust spots are now all gone and we have one thing less to worry about with our car.
The more interesting part of our time in Cali, however, was accomodation. Since there’s no camp ground in or around Cali, and because our car was in the shop, we needed to find a place to crash. Promptly Jhon Jairo offered up for us and nonurbia to stay at his house. He drove us over to show us the place, and said that he and his son would simply stay with his mother while we could use his house. This offer was way to generous for us, although at this point it was completely consistent with the Colombian hospitality that has impressed us so much. Back at the mechanic shop, some other offroad people were hanging out – one of them, Humberto, said we should just stay at his place instead. He owns a finca in the hills above the city, which he only uses on the weekends anyways. We thought it might be a good idea to be outside the city with Leika, so drove up to the finca with him and were completely blown away. It’s difficult to describe just how impressive this place was – we stayed in a 100-year-old train waggon, which had been hauled up the mountain in 2 pieces, fully restored, and surrounded by a large roof structure, an industrial-size kitchen, and an open-air living room with a roof. It’s hard to describe, maybe the pictures will do it some justice. Humberto designed the space himself as a side project.
The following few days were truly remarkable in terms of the friendliness of the people. To sum it up in short, we got invited to pizza with Humberto and a friend who’d toured all of South America on a motorcycle; we went offroading with about 100 people on ATVs and 4x4s; we got a tour of Cali with our new friend, Papeto; and everyone at the mechanic shop was more than helpful. Our experience in Cali has been one of the highlights of the trip.
Still, we moved on south, towards Ecuador. We spent a night in Popayan, and then another night in Ipiales. Ipiales has a church built in a river gorge that is quite remarkable – it reminded us of Neuschwanstein in southern Germany. Of course, no day passes without running into familiar faces. As with the night before our border crossing from Mexiko to Belize, and from Honduras to Nicaragua, we ran into Nomadizens the day before crossing into Ecuador. I don’t think this is a coincidence any more!