Category Archives: South America

Our adventure to the real Valle de Cocora

There’s so much beauty to see in Colombia and on top of that the people we met were fantastic.  cocora-7

Off to the coffee plantation with our great friends, Bernardo and Krystina.  First of all, I would like to thank Christian, one who can’t stand the smell of coffee for doing a tour with me here.  I looked online to find a tour and with some luck I found one outside the cutest town, Salento at the base of the Valle de Cocora.  We took the tour and a million pictures to capture the moment of sipping this fine cafe in the coolest cup.  (The cup made many appearances in the show Narcos, so it had to be genuine.)  Here are some pictures of the cafeteros(coffee plantation towns) and Valle de Cocora.

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Salento, Colombia

While we were in and out of the cafetero towns we slept at a cafe/rest stop in the middle of the highway for five nights.  They had wifi and clean bathrooms, which has a huge appeal these days.  We spent a day visiting the town Salento that sits just above the Valle de Cocora.  Later that evening a local shared invaluable information about a road behind his restaurant that would take us from Salento to a town called Toche.  The drive between the two towns is untouched and has an exuberant amount of Cocora wax palm trees, the tallest palm trees in the world.  The touristy Valle de Cocora had nothing on the amount trees we saw on this drive, for miles it’s all one could see.  It would take us about a week to go thirty-five miles through this portion of the Andes Mountains over a gravel road, the views are out of this world.  We went camping for a night in the touristy portion of Valle de Cocora and hiked through it the next day.

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Our beautiful drive through farms, mountains and the Cocora palms
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Colombian jungle
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You can not beat a drive like this

The next morning we stocked up on food, water and essentials for a new adventure to find where all the real wax palms lived.  The road was not in our GPS so really we were just going off of what this stranger told us almost blindly.  We were with our friends and traveling as two vehicles feels safer and gave us all the confidence to do it.    The first day we got a late start and probably only made it seven miles where we found some space off the side of the road to camp for the night.  We parked over tons of wood, made a huge fire after dinner and tried to come up with ghost stories.  It was pitch black out, no one around for miles and then in the trees behind a vehicle we heard a woman’s voice.  Everyone jumped and we all turned on our bright LED lights, Christian of course grabbed the machete.  I told them “I know I heard it from inside their camper.”  So Bernardo took an axe and went in to investigate.  “AHHHH, I mean Oh it’s the bluetooth speaker turning off.”  The ghost stories seized right there.

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Rickety-shoddy bridges make me nervous

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Local Colombian Farmer explaining who knows what

We all got up pretty early the next morning so we could make the long trek to reach this minute town called Toche.  When we arrived we asked the local store attendant where we could camp and sleep for the night.  He invited us to stay on to his farm that was next to a river.  It was perfect for us, other than when he wakes up for work he blasts dance music at 5:30am like his is dj’ing for a wedding.  The guys went trout fishing in the river and chased after the farmer’s chickens with a bow and arrow around the farm.  It couldn’t have been more relaxing, so we stayed for three nights.  Relaxing eventually gets one restless so we figured lets head up to the Volcano and check out the hot springs here.  The four of us piled into The Globe Trol up a mountain and over the worst road ever we went.  We spent the day hiking and after we tried to relax with a dip into an odd concrete thermal pool off the side of the road.   The goal is to always make it to camp before sunset, it was about that time.  Sunset was on our heels so we piled back into The Globetrol and down the gravel road we bounced until I asked Christian to pull over.  I thought our friend’s dog was acting weird and possibly needed to go to the bathroom.  We hopped back into the van, immediately Christian noticed the check engine light was on and the oil pressure dropped to nothing.  He ripped the keys out of the ignition parked us in the middle of a one lane road on a mountain.  Our oil pan had met a piercing rock and every drop of oil lead to a trail up the road to the culprit.

We were stuck; miles from the country’s smallest town, in the dark and blocking the road.  Christian waited hours for the engine and oil pan to cool before he tried to repair it enough for us to make it to the closest farm.   The plan was Christian was going to try and seal the oil pan with silicone and put our old oil that we just so happened to be lugging around with us, back into the van.  Then he could drive the van just to the closest farm and park it for the night to wait for morning and make a new plan.  Krystina stayed with Christian in case he needed any help with speaking spanish to a nearby neighbor. The father of the family took Bernardo and myself on his tiny motorcycle back to their vehicle parked at the farm near the town.  Bernardo and I were going to brake down camp by the river in the dark and bring their camper up to where The Globe Trol was.  This all played out until we woke up the next morning and Krystina and Bernardo had a flat, so we had another farmland repair on the spot.  The silicone held up throughout the night, the guys fixed the flat and off we went.  If Christian would have waited another ten seconds to turn off the vehicle, our engine would have seized up and it would have been the end of this adventure.

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Through the Valle de Cocora
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No one was injured during this bright idea
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The Globe Trol makes it to South America!

We arrived to Cartagena, Colombia, South America the same night that The Globe Trol did.  The very next morning we started the grueling task of retrieving our vehicle from the port.  Mounds of paperwork and back and forth in taxis all over this city, two eight hour days later Christian is at the container with his hard hat on and watching the doors open to find our beloved rolling home in one piece.

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We spent the next few days hanging out in the boiling hot colonial city of Cartagena, it was more perfect than I imagined.  If this was any indication of what Colombia was going to be like, we were going to have the time of our lives exploring the rest of the country.  On our way out of the city we get pulled over right away, which is nothing new to us.  They pull us over to let me know my bikini is on the hood of the car and about to blow away.  Whoops, I told them I was air drying it.

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Our next destination was Medellin and it was going to take couple of looooong driving days to get there.  We found a cool campground outside of the city high up in the mountains that overlooked the valley where Medellin sat.  We stayed there for over two weeks relearning a new slimmer budget due to the insane cost that it takes to ship yourselves and the vehicle from Panama to Colombia.  Outside the cost of camping which was extremely low we budgeted out our daily allowance to $12 for the two of us.  So each day we would come up with a strict grocery list and walk over to the market and only pick up three meals worth at a time.  By the end of the two weeks we saved a few dollars to take the bus to the national park nearby and ride the gondola down to the city for sightseeing, pictures, gardens, the center plaza and street food.  A few days later our friends that we met in Guatemala, Krystina and Bernardo (bkexplore) came to the campground and we traveled the rest of Colombia with them for about a month and a half.  At night up at the campground where we had wifi we would pull out netflix (thanks to my brother for sharing his acct) and watch Narcos season 2.  I mean we were there and its kind of like the city’s history.

Just a couple hours away from Medellin is a majestic lake called Guatape with a colorful quaint town.  We boon-docked here for a few days, made cute dinners together and we even made chocolate chip cookies out of the dutch oven.  It shocked me how perfect they came out.

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Cafeteros (coffee plantation towns) where next on the Pan-Americana road going south.  Home to hundreds of coffee plantations set in the Andean Mountains and in the middle of Colombia.  Coffee is one of the top three things that I love second only to red wine and chocolate.   I was stoked to go out for a tour and drink the best coffee on the planet.  On our way there we were going to stop at some thermals, it just so happened to be Colombian Valentines day so the thermals were packed and we were not going to be able to camp there for the night.  Instead on the way we saw a family off the side of the road near a river and with our tight budget we asked if we could park and camp next to them.  They were happy to have us and we drove onto their land and found ourselves in the muddiest place on earth and surrounded in cow meadow muffins.  The next morning they took us on a tour of their property on the other side of the river where I experienced my first mini jungle tour.  We bathed in the ice river that we camped next to and overall enjoyed ourselves for free in this mud-hole with the sweetest family.

Just before the coffee plantations was the Valley Cocora where the tallest palm trees in the world live.  It’s a little touristy but worth the visit, it also had a sweet little town called Salento outside of it.  Stay Tuned for the next chapter in Colombia, it only gets better.

San Blas Islands, Y’all.

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Birthday dance party on a Boat!

(I’m sharing a ton of pictures from this trip, don’t miss out)

One can drive from Alaska/Canada all the way to the most southern tip of South America along the Pan American Highway all for one minor interruption called the Darien Gap in Panama.  It’s a deep forested jungle separating Panama, Central America from Colombia, South America.  For us, other overlanders and all other travelers going south or coming north one has two options; fly from Panama City to Bogota, Colombia or sail a portion of the Caribbean Sea along the San Blas Islands Archipelago to reach Cartagena, Colombia.  We put our van in a container and it would take about a week for it to make it to Cartagena, now what to do with ourselves.   I could dream all I wanted to sail along perfect islands but to have the stars align in order for everything to workout; timing with our vehicle, Christian agreeing to this and it falling on my birthday was just never going to happen.

We had an insanely strict timeline for our vehicle because we shared a container with four guys from Argentina in a combi.  We dropped off our vehicles at the same time and we absolutely had to be at the port together in Cartagena to unlock and pick up The Globe Trol.  Christian and I researched how much flying out on short notice, booking hotels for six days, eating out every meal, taxis and buses to get us around because we would be waiting for our van to arrive compared to an all inclusive sailing trip.  It wasn’t a huge savings to not jump onto this once in a lifetime trip within an already great adventure.  While sweating in Panama we just had to find the perfect boat that would line up with our vehicle shipping dates, dammit.  Most people would consider me as positive and hopeful person.  I usually just know “something will workout, if not it wasn’t meant to be.”  But this time this dream was just to good to be true.  One hundred things could have gone wrong to keep us out of the water and put us on a plane.

Instead of flying we found the perfect outgoing boat with impeccable timing and for the cherry on top a magnificent group of people were grouped together.  Christian and I packed a backpack each and brought a box loaded with beers, wine and snacks.  A cab found us and we took a two hour ride out to a remote tiny village immediately after we said goodbye to the van.  We met the captain and chef at a palapa restaurant on the water and waited for the eight other travelers to arrive.  Late that night we hopped on dingys to take us out to our new boat-home for the next five days.  Christian and I had no idea what to expect and what the next week of our lives would be like, but these days we’re quite adaptable.  The next five days blow the hell out of our expectations, we kept checking in on each other to see if we were sailing through a dream or not.

That night Jari, our captain stays up all night and the next morning to sail us fifteen hours to the first island where we pay our ecotourism island fees to the Kuna Yala Island Tribe and pick up some supplies ( as in 128 beers, 7 bottles of rum, 3 bags of cookies, 4 bags of chips and any chocolate in their tienda/store they had available) The guys ran out of beer and we all ran out of rum by my birthday festivity.

Cesar, our chef whips us up some pancakes and a fruit salad while we all try to block ourselves from the intense sun that morning.  Jari tells us that we will visit two islands per day until the last day where we will sail onto open water for the last leg of the trip to get to Colombia.  We didn’t take all of these pictures, our new friends Dan and Luke shared their photos with us, thank you guys. img_3761img_3730img_3772

At our disposal we had a kayak and snorkeling gear available to us to for added exploring since there’s 365 islands here.  Sometimes we would pull up to spot in between seven small islands.  Some islands were inhabited with a one hut or a few or just a few palms.

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Chilling in our hammock on the deck

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For our second night Jari told us another boat was having a birthday party bonfire, so we all took the tiny boat out to a third island and met easily 50 other travelers either camping for a few days on the island or other sailors on a similar trip.  They had a huge cake that they shared with us and passed around.

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Christian and I talking with Luke

The following day we were brought to another small island where Cesar was going to grill up five different types of meat in a grill-hut with the most insane spread while we played volleyball and ran around the beach.

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One afternoon spent here, probably one of our favorite days
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Volleyball and a cookout on our own island
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The Meat Hut: Cesar spent two hours in here and it was about 100 degrees outside!
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our spread and lunch with the group

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Local Kunas would paddle out to our boat to sell Lobster, handmade jewelry, fabrics or weed basically anything you wanted or needed.  img_3813

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Lobster delivery
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Cesar prepping our Lobster dinner
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blowing the horn to leave the island

The next day was my birthday and our last night Island hopping, time to party.

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a perfect night

Everyone partied their butts off with us for my birthday, danced the night away on the boat, swam in the perfect temperature water and blasted music for everyone to hear.  While we were having our party a small boat pulled up with a bottle of rose champagne and asked if we would care for some?  “Are you kidding me?!  A Colombian angel wants to join our party and he is bringing my favorite birthday drink?!”  “Get the hell up here!”  So Pablito who was going to college in the U.S. along with his cousin, had perfect English with the cutest Colombian accent and the generous charm of any Colombian.  They were the perfect addition to our night.  No one held back that night, plus it was our last night to hang because the next morning and for the next 32 hours we would be out on the open water with some slight rough seas.

The next morning half of the group maybe more had their heads hanging out the back overthrowing breakfast, dinner from the night before and what was left of their dignity.  I being the most matured and the eldest on the boat was able to hold my own.  I grabbed my kindle, sunscreen and read the day away like a cool cucumber while the late twenty somethings who I had fed tons of rum the night before ralph’d away.

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This dream was coming to an end.  Soon we would have to hunt down the van in a city…

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After five dream-ful days on a sailboat we found Cartagenga, Colombia in our horizon