Tag Archives: drivetheamericas

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.

Oaxaca City, Mexico…mucho culture

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Oaxaca City, Central Park

A walk through the park on a Wednesday afternoon looking for our friends and we stumble upon this lovely orchestra performing.  This city was beautiful and full of handicrafts of all kind.  However, by the time Christian and I arrived we were over crowded cities.  We just didn’t have the energy to explore more while we were here, so we looked for a camp spot nearby.

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Wednesday afternoon in the park in Oaxaca.

We had two choices here in this area for camping.  We could park in a gated gravel lot in the middle of the lively city with no shower or bathroom.   The other option was a campground twelve miles outside the city that had WiFi and a bathroom however it was located between abandon buildings and in the middle of nowhere.  We chose the latter.  The next morning with our WiFi we found out there was a small public water park within walking distance.   PERRRRRFECT it was 100 degrees with no wind, and we were in the dessert.

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On top of Monte Albán, alone!

Now that we are seasoned tourist of Ruins, we got to the top of a small mountain range where we found Monte Albán before it opened.  Monte Albán sits 1,300 feet above the valley of Oaxaca and it’s City at an elevation of 6,400 ft.  This humdinger was inhabited for over 1,500 years by at least three different civilizations who literally chopped off the top of the mountain, almost as it stands today.  This site contained tombs, temples, inscriptions and it even had a ball court!

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friends buying crickets-snacks at the market

This is Josh and Jenna (from Travel Amateurs) they are our overlanding friends that we met along the way.  So glad we did.  While in spanish classes in Guanajuato they heard that crickets are a greeeeaaat protein (as Tony the Tiger would say).  Some really took this info to heart, like Josh and Jenna.  On the other hand Christian and I decided that if chicken or any other food was more accessible that we would choose everything else.

The next day six of us overlanders went up a 10,000 ft mountain for the Oaxacan experience.  The six of us hiked for four days and did 35 miles at 10,000 to 8,000 feet depending on the next town’s destination.  I wish that I could say that hike was glorious and maybe for some of the other five it was. My experience was…”Stay alive, don’t fall it will hurt, eventually this will end!”  One day for about 1,000 ft we slid down a “trail” with 40lb packs on our backs.  Tons of Fun.  This hike wore us all out so much that we never had the energy to check out the waterfalls, caves, and view points.  Pro-tip: Drive to the small Eco-towns and hike to the cool stuff.  Ex-pro Tip: Anything tastes better than crickets, like CHIPS or peanut butter or real trail mix.