We have spent five long months riding our tandem around Colombia. Long for many reasons. First of all because of the mountains stretching from the north to the south which we climbed day after day in the burning sun and raging rain. Also due to the lack of language knowledge, which we had to improve every day in order to learn and understand. And because of so many new information, which we had to process. We really wanted to remember our time in this very exciting country.
Colombia seems to be a very young country. Just like a child who has been waiting for a very long time, before it could grow and develop. Destroyed by the civil war between guerrillas and paramilitaries as well as the drug business, Colombia endured many years of crisis to finally take a deep breath and start over.
This development is going pretty good, we have to admit. Without hesitation, one can say that the tourist business is booming and soon Colombia might be as popular travel destination as Mexico or Peru. There are many roadworks all over the country and there is a lot of construction going on. Colombia is opening up for new markets, seeks contact with the outside world and soon it will be famous not only because for Pablo Escobar and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Be sure of that.
Talking about Pablo Escobar we discovered that this topic frustrates most Colombians or even makes them angry and upset. And, we admit that there is nothing surprising about that. Imagine that your country is famous mostly for a narco-terrorist, a guy who killed hundreds of people. Imagine that you want to tell people about the great history of your country, the beautiful places within it, and the music which Colombians love- Salsa; but the only thing people want to know is if the situation was really like they showed it in Narcos. One can lose his patience, right?
The truth is many people here really suffered during that time. They had their family members killed or kidnapped, their lively possessions taken. At the same time, they also admit that the fast development of the country wouldn’t be possible without the cocaine business. There is A LOT of drug money invested all over Colombia and this money makes the impossible happen.
We entered the country through the border with Venezuela in July. A couple of months earlier we haven’t really seen the huge migration of the Venezuelan people into Brazil. We, however, witnessed first hand the sheer unbelievable amount of people crossing the Colombian border with us on that day, carrying suitcases, backpacks, and children in their arms. We saw them walking through mountain passes in light jackets, pulling their luggage up the mountains. We were absolutely astonished of the courage and bravery of the tough Venezuelans which made us completely forget all our hardship. Imagine you walk with nearly no money for food, a backpack, some flipflops and your entire family 1000ths of km through mountains to look for a better future because some egoists destroy your and your nations complete existences? We spend more than 3 months in Venezuela and have met so many of these people and we still cannot believe what this country goes through.
The first highlight of the Colombian journey was surely the Berlin mountain pass and the valley connecting Pamplona and Bucaramanga. Very high up in the mountains we could see the real countryside life. When we saw people wearing ponchos and children horseback riding on the dirt paths as well as herds of cows running through fields we felt for the first time like we imagined South America to be.
One day, after a long and painful climb which involved many tears and breaks, we ended up in Zapatoca, which we consider the most beautiful town in Colombia. The peacefulness we experienced there can’t be described with words. It’s an undeniable must-see place. Click here if you like to read more about the most beautiful towns in Colombia.
Each region in Colombia has something wonderful and unique to offer. In Antioquia, we enjoyed the most, riding through the gorgeous countryside. The small dirt roads with little traffic and many beautiful landscapes made us speechless. Visiting Medellin was from the beginning on our bucket list and we wouldn’t miss it for the world. The city appeared to us as very modern, full of young people, music and good parties. It is certainly one of the most booming cities when it comes to electronic music parties. We visited Guatape, ‘the most colorful town in Colombia’ with Piedra Penol and the most beautiful lake Embalse del Penol. Kayaking there was spectacular and strolling around the beautiful little alleys kept us busy for a long time.
In Risaralda we have seen the most marvelous birds and flower species. In the Caldas region, we went to the lovely city of Manizales, took a bath in hot springs and went for a motocross ride through the hills.
Those two states- Risaralda and Caldas, together with the most famous one- Quindio -are known as The Coffee Triangle. This is the place where the best coffee in the world comes from.
We had the chance to get to know everything about the cultivation, processing, and many ways of coffee preparation. Did you know that the best brewing temperature is between 60 and 90 degrees? Depending on how hot the water is, the taste of the beverage will differ. It is also important to rinse the filter before brewing the coffee in a Chemex or a coffee machine.
The roasting is also very important. The lighter the coffee beans are the more caffeine they contain and the better the quality. The dark beans can be stored for a longer time but the flavor and the quality of the coffee slightly decrease with time.
After leaving Quindio we rolled down to the Valle de Cauca and, for the first time since months, we found ourselves in a flat valley surrounded by hills and mountains. This experience was quite refreshing. We had the opportunity and great pleasure to meet wonderful people in this valley. Thanks to them one of our dreams came true and we were paragliding for the very first time in our lives.
Before we set off, Marta’s instructor said: “Now I will show you freedom”. He did. The feeling was unforgettable and incomparable to anything else. It might sound cheezy, but the sky was the limit.
Soon after that, the real climb began. At the south of Colombia, right after the city of Cali, the three Andean mountain ranges come together creating a hard-to-pass road with many steep inclines and crazy downhill slopes.
The unexpected highlight of South Colombia was surely the village of Silvia, which is inhabited by an indigenous community- the Misak people. Together with them, we walked around the local market asking about herbs and plants we didn’t know. There was also a great display of traditional handcraft.
Those were definitely the most exhausting days in Colombia, yet very rewarding. Day after day we cycled till late at night to reach our destinations, cursing the pouring rain. At the same time, we have seen many magical spots and some incredible sunsets.
Finally, we crossed the Ecuadorian-Colombian border, once again accompanied by hundreds of Venezuelans. Here as well they astonished us with their perseverance and strength.
Exploring Colombia took us a long time and, despite all its beauty, it cost us a lot to conquer it. We’ve met many great people who showed us their care and love, but there is no doubt that we didn’t get along with Colombians as well as we did with so many other nations. Unfortunately, we were constantly exposed to aggressive vibes in most parts of the country and we did not really feel welcome at all.
Nevertheless, we found the country extremely beautiful and the people very hardworking and devoted to the development and progress of their country. Leaving Colombia we can surely say that we’ve learned a lot. Not only we improved our Spanish but also learned a lot about the history of South America in general. We got to know the local cuisine, were taught about the salsa tradition and understand better the culture, customs, and values of the Colombians. For all that and for all our big and little adventures, we are very grateful.