Colombia is famous for its coffee. So we went looking for Juan Valdez, the campesino and his mule Conchita that has been advertising Café de Colombia all over the world for many years. Leaving Bogota we headed west and first drove to Los Nevados National Park in the central Cordillera of the Colombian Andes. The 5,300 m-high volcano Nevado del Ruiz dominates Los Nevados. At the Thermales Ruiz we camped, relaxed in the hot water and did some bird watching. The next day though the fog rolled in and the trails to the volcano were closed due to recent volcanic activity. On our walks we could not get over the unusual and beautiful wildflowers and other plants that grow at such a high altitude.
We left, crossed over the Rio Magdalena to Manizales and camped at Hacienda Guayabal in Chinchina. 64 hectar of coffee plants on steep hills, we saw the coffee harvest and production and drank great coffee. There we finally ran into Juan Valdez.
On to Salento we went, broke out the bicycles and rode to the Valle do Cocora, famous for the very high wax palms, the nation tree of Colombia.
Salento is a pretty town , has great climate and is a major tourist destination. People from other parts of Colombia come here on the weekends. It is also crowded with backpackers and has many hostels. We did the popular hike to the hut in the hills, drank hot chocolate with cheese (you put them in the hot chocolate) and enjoyed the views.
In town we talked to the owner of a bicycle rental and he pointed out a road on a map that goes over the mountains to Ibarra. He said there are many more wax palms on that route. We wanted to see that, so we took off and headed out of Salento up into the mountains again. It was a beautiful drive, single track dirt road (4×4 not needed) and winds its way over passes and through valleys. In Toche we took a left and continued up again. When it got late in the day we camped beside the road under the peak of Cerro Machin Volcano, near a hot spring. There was no traffic at all other than people on horseback or on foot. And the wax palms were everywhere, whole forests, we came to realize that they actually grow in/as a forest and what we had seen in the Valley de Cocora were sad remnants of a forest that had been cleared for cattle farming.
Roadside attractions on the drive from Salento to Ibarra via Toche and Machine volcano.
It was a two-day drive and we are glad we took this route. Günter has driven over 40 000 miles by now and is doing a great job. I, Sissi, have driven 100 meters so far.