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Colombia: the end

Salento The drive is endless, but beautiful. Nestled between mountains and valleys, Salento is a small colonial village that is charming at first glance. The weather seems to want to play tricks against us, we have not seen a drop of rain since we stepped foot in South America. We take a jeep to the coffee plantation region. Following a recommendation, we visit a smaller plantation, that is rain forest alliance certified. The owner, Carlos, spends three hours, alone with Daniel and I, to show us his coffee plantation and share his passion. Unlike the others, his land has more than 200 species of trees and plants, he hardly needs any products to cultivate and he integrates coffee

with the environment. Flowers, fruits, medicinal plants, coffee growing; he explains everything. During harvest season, he has to hire pickers for the coffee fruits, and he pays them more than the other farms: 21 cents per kilo of coffee picked! (To put things into perspective, the average price for 0.454 kg of coffee is $10 in Canada.) I cannot recommend enough to encourage small producers, the work they do is huge, for very little money. Choosing Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance (the little frog) has a great impact on the environment and the lives of those who allow you to enjoy a coffee every morning. We walk 1:30 to return to the village, but every minute is worth it. We constantly stop to watch the landscape and plants on the way.

We feast on the famous local trout (which actually has been bred from Canadian eggs!) For the big price of $3.75. The owner lets us know of a hidden place where the locals go to go to play the popular game Tejo. In a basement, bottles of beer pile up on tables, loud cheers of encouragement and boozed up locals; welcome to Tejo! The goal of the game is to throw a metal ball in the middle of a circle surrounded by explosive triangles. Exploding a triangle gives points, so when it explodes, it sounds like a gunshot! Watch out sensitive nerves (poor Daniel!). We meet a very nice Irish-British couple, who join us and helps show the ropes.

We start our second day early to trek to the Cocora Valley, the major attraction of the region. We are the last one to jump on the jeep, so we stand on the rear bumper, holding on to bars on the roof. We have the absolute best view possible. Already, the valley is magnificent; the cool morning breeze, the mountains, the giant trees, Daniel with both eyes in the same socket because he didn’t have his coffee...

We start the trek with the 'jungle' part. we first cross a plain before entering the jungle and see the vastness of the valley. We have to cross several wooden bridges through the dense jungle. About 20 minutes in, Daniel decides to follow boys crossing the river by jumping from rock to rock instead of taking the bridge. Guess what... on the last rock? Splash! Tarzan finds himself both feet in, nose dives, and drops his sweater in the water. Shoes filled with water and his only extra layer completely wet (it is still chilly, important to mention) ... for the next 6 hours of walking.

The trek makes us appreciate the nature; we look for the birds in the trees, we see a toucan ... The higher we go and the more the sky is covered. We are above the clouds as they fill the valley. And then we arrive at the important point of the trek: Los Palmas. This valley is home to the tallest palms in the world, and the only ones growing in altitude. They are huge, and line the flanks of the valley. We sit down and take the time to appreciate where we are. The air is thick and the clouds create a cinematic effect. It’s extremely peaceful. We drive back standing outside the back of the jeep, but this time we have a smiling and cheerful Daniel, despite his feet being still wet.

We are not done discovering this incredible region, and today it shall be on horseback. We show up on a family farm: 'Hello, we want to go for a ride!' Ten minutes later, we are on a horse, alone with a guide. The horses know the road by heart, and the guide is behind while my horse guides. They start with an easy trot, and I already have flattened buttocks. We go down into the mountains, enter another thick jungle, cross the river at least a dozen times, meet gold diggers (actual ones), before going up the other side of the valley. We walk along the cliffs on a very small track where I would not even walk by foot! We arrive at a formidable waterfall, so powerful that the rocks where the water flows are completely smooth and form a natural water slide. Our guide says: go for it! I can already imagine the temperature of the water, but I cannot miss out. So, in my tighty whities I go! I slide on the rocks and land in a pool formed at the bottom of the fall. We hop back on our horses, and we finish this spectacular ride up the mountains and gallop through the

village. The day ends with another big game of Tejo with locals and a group of tourists we met over dinner. Our stay ends with another day of forest trekking chasing waterfalls. This little gem of a town is surely one of my highlights.

Bogota Our bus to Bogota is long. But luckily the landscape is beautiful (sounds familiar?). We arrive at our hostel completely exhausted, but we land in this old Victorian house renovated in the 40’s style - with brass everywhere and dark walls. The hostel is worthy of a magazine. And what about the shower; a real shower with boiling water, which wraps you completely. The small pleasures sometimes! We meet two girls from Amsterdam (Tara and Sophia) with whom we have good discussions. Our first day of exploration begins with a visit to the largest market in the city. It's always an experience to see the daily life at the market, the smells (from the scent of fresh herbs to room-temperature fish), the bright colors, people screaming ... Then we walk to the historic center to join the girls. You can find everything sold on the sidewalks here: plugs for the sink, fresh fruits, pictures of you with a real donkey wearing a hat. Chaotic and crowded.

Our tour takes us through the street art and graffiti of the old city and teaches us more about the current social situation of the country. We get a makeover at the barber, before enjoying a local beer, where we meet Bryan, a very nice American guy. The next day, the two girls, Bryan and us climb Montserrat, the sacred mountain overlooking the city. It's Sunday, it's crowded, like Boxing Day crowded. Bad idea. The climb is long. The view from above is nice, but we wasted a lot of time because of the crowd. Back down, we visit the historic district a bit. The rest of our time in Bogota, we visit museums, old neighborhoods and some good food. In all, the city did not make a lasting impression on me.

Colombia, on the other hand, will have been beyond my expectations. The prejudices we had before arriving made us unnecessarily nervous. People are welcoming, kind, curious. The landscapes are sublime and of a great variety. One of our regrets is to have bought our departure ticket in advance, because we would have stayed longer. There is so much to discover and do. The bar is high for the future: Hola Mexico!

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