Jardín & Valle de Cocora

February 1st, 2013

Leaving Medellín after three wonderful months, that allowed our lazy non-cycling legs to turn to jelly and our hardened camping selves to go soft, was always going to be tough. The exit from the city was as ugly as we expected but we were pleased to be back on the move and making progress.

Perhaps a reflection of the fact that we’re a bit out of the cycling groove, is that for me, the two most memorable sections of the last few weeks back on the road have been where we’ve been stopped for longer than expected, had time off the bikes (again) and made the most of some of Colombia’s most picturesque places.

Looking over the valley at Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia

Only two days out of Medellín, we were invited to stay in Jardín, Antioquia. Nestled in the mountains and a bit further than planned, it made our second day of riding tougher than I'd have liked but worth the effort.

The church and town square in Jardin, Antioquia

Having made friends with Carlos, a fellow bicycle tourist who organises the Fiestas de la Bici in Medellín, he all but insisted that we pass by his pretty home town on our way south and who were we to refuse?

The view through the window at Carlos' house, Jardin, Antioquia

Relaxing with Carlos and his family was just too enjoyable. We arrived late on a Friday night with plans to spend the day in Jardín on Saturday and then leave....we were there until Tuesday.

Carlos & James drinking beer at the mirador - Jardin, Antioquia

First on Carlos' introduction tour to his home town was a trip up to a lookout over the town, where we lazily drank beer in the midday sun and James and Carlos talked endlessly of "urban bike strategy" and converting the potential of cyclists in Medellín into a reality.

Enormous pan of Colombian sancocho - Jardin, Antioquia

Carlos' brother Alvaro - who just happens to be the mayor of Jardín - then invited us to join him in the countryside for sancocho. A dish that is the pride of Colombia and containing yucca, corn, potatoes, pork and plantains it's a cyclists' carbohydrate filled dream.

Clara, James, Sarah & Alvaro eating sancocho in Jardin, Antioquia

It was evidently becoming hard to tear us away from our favourite department in Colombia; the food, the culture and the hospitality of Antioqueños is going to be hard to forget.

Water mill for making panela from sugar cane, Jardin, Antioquia

We've been eating a lot of "panela", dried sugar cane juice, with our morning porridge, so we were keen to see it being made. Carlos took us to a "trapiche" the mill where the cane is gathered...

Man presses sugar cane ready for panela in Jardin, Antioquia

...crushed in a medieval looking press...

Man tips molten panela into a trough in Jardin, Antioquia

...boiled over an intensely hot furnace and poured into mixing troughs...

Two men prepare the panela for moulding in Jardin, Antioquia

...scraped, turned and manipulated...

Moulded panela ready to sell in Jardin, Antioquia

...scooped into moulds and then finally stamped with the mark of the mill from where it was made.

Gathering to drink tequila shots in Jardin, Antioquia

Carlos was an incredible host and treated us like royalty. We flinched a little when he suggested a night on tequila but before you could say "salt and lemon" we were doing shots in the town square.

Riding horses into the hills near Jardin, Antioquia

The following morning was thankfully hangover free. We had an an early start and found ourselves swapping the comfort of our trusty bikes for the less predictable saddles of local horses, for a trek into the mountains. It's more than ten years since either of us have ridden a horse so we were a little nervous...

James and Sarah riding horses in the hills near Jardin, Antioquia

...but thanks to some authentic Colombian headwear to put us in the mood and a pair of trusty and docile steeds, we soon got into the swing of it.

James and Sarah at Cuevas del Esplendor near Jardin, Antioquia

The ride took us to the pretty waterfalls at Cuevas del Esplendor, where we dutifully posed for a photo to show off our splendid, borrowed, hats.

James and Don Eduardo drinking rum in Jardin, Antioquia

And then another unplanned night of shots - this time it was tasty Colombian rum, with Carlos' dad, Don Eduardo in a little bar on the town square...this photo was taken after the second of three bottles.

"I love Jardin" souvenir attached to James' saddle

Finally we tore ourselves away from Jardín, graciously declining the generous offer of the Carvajal family to terminate our travelling plans and live indefinitely with them in Antioquia. We were delighted to find our bikes had been decorated with various souvenirs of Jardín while we were sleeping...

Colombian Paisa souvenir attached to James' bike.

...a reminder of our time with wonderfully generous Paisas. This souvenir represents a typical Paisa campesino from this area - with his trademark hat, coffee been, machete, Colombian flag and carriel satchel.

Clara, James, Carlos and Sarah on the road between Jardin and Rio Sucio, Antioquia

Carlos and his friend Clara accompanied us on their bikes along the beautiful but misty dirt road towards Río Sucio and we said cheerio on an incongruous bend shrouded in drizzle...we hope it's not a permanent goodbye and we'll have a chance to ride bikes or horses again with Carlos one day.

Chicken, bike and James on the dirt road to Rio Sucio, Antioquia

Linking us from Jardín to the next beautiful spot was the Eje Cafetero, Colombia's coffee growing region. First down the dusty hill, past the fluffy chicken to Río Sucio...

View of Guatica from the road.

...next past Jorge's home town of Guatica...

James and Gloria - San José, Risaraldas

...on to San José, a tiny village in the heart of coffee land where a chance meeting with Gloria on her motorbike led to the offer of an emtpy house where we could camp for the night...

Christ statue at Belalcazar, Risaraldas

...from there, past the second biggest (and somewhat out of proportion) Christ statue in South America at Belalcázar...

James and Sarah eating breakfast in front of a fire engine, Alcalá

...a brief overnight stop and breakfast in front of an ancient fire engine, with the hospitable firemen at Alcalá...

Afternoon sun in the town square at Filandia, Quindío

...brought us to an unexpected half rest day in the pretty and relaxed town of Filandia...

Overlooking the Valle de Cocora, Quindío

...before the 10km slog from Salento up to the Valle de Cocora. Acting on another recommendation - this time thanks to our other cycle touring buddies Raul and Marta - we made the trip into a valley of incredibly tall and beautiful wax palms and we didn't regret it.

Tent and bikes, Valle de Cocora

We had to dust off the cobwebs and try to remember how to put up the tent for the first time in nearly four months...a live action version of the tent raising can be seen here.

The restaurant and campsite at Valle Hebron in the Valle de Cocora, Quindío

...before treating ourselves to some of the yummy food at Valle Hebron, the spot we had chosen to camp:

Patacone and hogado in Valle Hebron in Valle de Cocora, Quindío

Enormous, delicious, crispy patacones with piping hot hogado (tomato and onion sauce)...

Palm tree, tent, campfire and a full moon in Valle de Cocora, Quindío

...followed by a dreamy camp spot under a full moon.

Wax palms in Valle de Cocora, Quindío

We spent a day trekking up the valley, through the majestic fields of palms. We realised that part of the reason they seem so striking is because the rest of the land has been cleared for grazing cattle, making the trees (over 200 years old and more than 60 metres) seem even more impressive.

Hummbingbird at Acaime sanctuary in Valle de Cocora, Quindío

Up into the woods, to a hummingbird sanctuary where there were hundreds of these incredible little birds...

Blurred picture of two hummbingbirds at Acaime sanctuary - Valle de Cocora, Quindío

...feeding, flying and fighting.

Walk up to Finca La Montana in the Valle de Cocora, Quindío

Onwards and upwards to the highest spot of our walk, La Montaña - at 2,680m it kind of puts stumpy old Ben Nevis into perspective!

Single palm tree bending in the wind - Valle de Cocora, Quindío

We wandered back down to admire the palms again before heading back to our comfy campsite.

Lettuces in the early evening sun - Valle de Cocora, Quindío

Luz, the owner of Hebron had gone home for the day and we had the place to ourselves but before she left, she invited us to delve into her organic garden, so with the last of the light, we raided the lettuce patch...

James and his carrots in the organic garden at Valle Hebron - Valle de Cocora, Quindío

...and Peter Rabbit would have been proud of Juancho's haul of pilfered carrots.

Sun sets behind the palms at Valle de Cocora, Quindío

With the sun setting on Cocora we munched on delicious fresh organic veg and breathed in the incredible view...a perfect end to a couple of magical rest days.