Our first visitor and good friend, Elizabeth, was Chimera’s saving grace. Within only a few days of her arrival in Bogotá we were back on the road and headed off on more adventures. We drove straight to the charming town of Villa de Leyva, where we enjoyed some leisurely hikes and an amazing market. Then we hit up the Zona Cafetera, the gorgeous coffee region, where we indulged in the locally grown, freshly roasted beans, showered in waterfalls and swam in hot springs, hiked through a fantasy land of wax palms, and made explosions.
Valle de Cocora
We were incredibly lucky that everything worked out as well as it did with the auto parts that Elizabeth hauled to Colombia for us. She was truly our mule and we are very grateful for her efforts, and for both her attractiveness and innocent smile, which helped her get the parts through customs unnoticed. Emily went to meet Elizabeth at the Bogotá airport and watched with bated breath as she strolled through customs with close to one hundred pounds of (illegally imported) parts in two bags without a single question asked. The two girls spent a day exploring the city before jumping on the overnight bus back to El Cocuy. Tim got to work early that morning while the girls slept off the painfully windy ten hour bus ride on which they got little sleep.
With the help of many town locals – including the machinist, no fewer than three local mechanics, the owner of the gated lot where Chimera was being worked on, and several others – Tim was able to get the engine running in two long days of hard work. Not one of the generous people whom helped out one way or another asked for money when the job was done and in fact some refused a small payment when we offered.
Tim getting ready to install one of the new heads (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Emily lowering a head into place (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
The beast has new heads!
Elizabeth enjoying the El Cocuy scenery.
Emily and Hobie on a walk above El Cocuy Valle de Cocora (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Elizabeth vs. the cows.
Got any grass?
Elizabeth couldn’t resist buying one of the beautiful hand-woven wool ruanas in El Cocuy.
Church in El Cocuy (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
The third morning after the parts had arrived in El Cocuy, we packed up, bled the coolant, bought a dozen fresh croissants, and hit the road. Tim was a bundle of nerves as we shoved off, driving a long eight-hour day over high passes, which immediately and harshly tested his work. We had to stop to bleed more air out of the coolant system and deal with a noisy CV joint, but the engine performed well and we rolled into the colonial town of Villa de Leyva just after dark.
On the road (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Stuck in construction traffic (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Over the next few days, we explored the plethora of waterfalls, ancient ruins, fossils, and the bountiful Saturday market in and around the town.
Our awesome camp spot just outside of Villa de Leyva. A big slobbery kiss from Hobie is always a good way to wake up.
The oversized central plaza in Villa de Leyva.
It was a dark and stormy afternoon and just in front of the mural a girl was sitting alone.
This is how Emily feels about avocados.
Tim and Elizabeth are a little less excited about the delicious avos, but equally charmed by the creative headdress of the vendor.
The awesome weekend market at Villa de Leyva.
What makes a market so good? Mounds and mounds of fresh, quality, diverse, and cheap fruits and vegetables.
Sacks of potatoes galore.
This is how much of the abundance gets to the market.
Locals at the weekend market, Villa de Leyva.
Bolsa de zanahorias.
Where deliciousness is cooked up.
When this adorable niño noticed us shooting some photos nearby he gave us this huge smile.
Emily and Elizabeth in Villa de Leyva.
Wall made of fossil shells, Villa de Leyva.
Stormy skies over shingled roofs, Villa de Leyva.
Villa de Leyva.
This is what happens when we find an awesome mercado.
We took a hike through the beautiful hills to what normally would have been a large waterfall, but was then only a trickle. However, this made for great exposure of the fossiliferous rocks so we entertained ourselves for quite some time hunting for treasures.
Emily on the thinnest part of the trail, only inches wide, with a drop of several hundreds of feet on each side.
Elizabeth tempting fate.
Emily and Hobie walking through ancient giant stone phalluses near Villa de Leyva (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Size doesn’t matter right? (photo by Elizabeth Frank)
Spectacular sunset from our hostel near Villa de Leyva (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
On Tim’s previous travels to Colombia, one of his favorite spots was the Zona Cafetera. This region is roughly the triangle formed between the cities of Medellin, Bogotá, and Cali. It is dominated by lush rolling green mountains, prime for growing coffee. The days are warm and mostly sunny and the nights cool. It’s a eco-conscious, coffee-loving, hiking-enthusiasts wet dream.
We spent our first night in the coffee region on a plantation where our van door (and Elizabeth’s tent door) opened up on to the coffee fields. Inside the hostel we had access to as much freshly-brewed, free coffee as our nervous systems could take. We didn’t even bother adding milk as we normally do with coffee, it was that good.
Amazing camp spot on a coffee farm in Manizales. The van door opened out onto fields of green bushes covered in bright red coffee berries.
Coffee! Hacienda Venecia, Manizales.
Tall stands of bamboo and banana plants offered welcome shade.
Then we moved on to the picturesque little town of Salento. In contrast to the endless whitewashed walls of most of the Colonial towns in Colombia, Salento is full of color. The doors, window frames, and trim are all painted in vibrant hues, giving the small town a festive vibe. We camped on the grounds of a beautiful eco-hostel a short distance from town, which is situated on a ridge with an incredible view. We spent several lovely days there touring a small family coffee farm, playing Tejo, enjoying the colors of the town, eating arepas, and visiting a nearby waterfall and hot spring.
Our first view out over Valle de Cocora (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Finca Don Elias (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Drying coffee beans, Finca Don Elias, Salento.
We took a tour of the great little family coffee farm of Don Elias in Salento. Everything was done by hand, from the planting and picking to the shelling and roasting. Here Emily is checking out the grinder that is used to remove the husks on the coffee beans.
Tejo, basically exploding horsehoes, is an awesome and totally Colombian game where you throw heavy lead disks at a spring buried in thick clay, on which small packets of gunpowder have been placed. Usually played with beer in hand. Awesome.
Elizabeth attempting to make explosions.
Tim and Elizabeth in Salento.
Screechy yellow visitor.
Cute little flycatcher, La Serrana Hostel, Salento.
The view from La Serrana Hostel, Salento.
This waterfall was above an amazing natural hot spring pool.
The water was cold, but we were just a short walk away from steaming pools.
Emily enjoying the heat (and awesome microbial mats and travertine formations!) of the hot springs.
Not far from Salento is the incredible Valle de Cocora. Hiking through this region was one of the most memorable experiences on Tim’s previous Colombia trip and he raved about it for months before we arrived. We were not disappointed. Even the drizzle couldn’t detract from the incredible scenery of the valley with its lush green fields and tall wax palms, and the tree ferns and hummingbirds of the could forest.
The bright green hills and sky-high wax palms make the Valle de Cocora truly a magnificent sight to behold.
Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora (photo by Elizabeth Frank).
Hummingbirds at a sanctuary in the cloud forest.
Valle de Cocora in the mist.
Tall wax palms in lush green hills…not even a rainy day could detract from the incredible scenery of Valle de Cocora.
Valle de Cocora (photo by Elizabeth Frank)
Before we knew it we were dropping Elizabeth off at the bus station and saying our goodbyes. It was great to have a visitor, we loved sharing our adventures, and hearing all of the gossip from back home.
Back in Boulder the three of us humans play pick-up ultimate frisbee with an awesome group of rowdy friends. They gave us this cone as a going away present and we’ve kept it strapped to the roof ever since. With Elizabeth about to leave we thought it was time to finally put it to good use.
It was time to head south, time to say our fond farewells to Colombia and all of its colors and culture. We stocked up on good coffee, ate our last few delicious, greasy arepas, bled the radiator again, and started the long drive toward the equator.
Happy to offer another overlander a jump.
We picked up this hitchhiker when we left Salento and it turns out he’s an accomplished violinist. We were blown away by his serenade as we navigated the steep winding road.
We passed through a region in southern Colombian where the hills were ablaze with these flowering yellow trees.
Our last stop in Colombia was at the elaborate Santuario Las Lajas, a stone’s throw away from the border.