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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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Our Last Bit of Mexico, Chiapas

 

We left the insanely hot beach of Oaxaca, Mexico and headed straight for the Aguacero Waterfall in Chiapas.  It’s 742 steps down in 98 degree weather to a creek bed.  We walked through and across the creek bed and looked up at a breathtaking waterfall.  It pooled in several places covered in moss, plants and purple flowers.  The water was crisp and cool.  “We found Fern Gully!”  Christian gave me a hand and helped me up the slippery moss covered boulders to make our way to the bottom of the cascada.  We played under the chilling fall until our feet went numb.  Okay Chiapas, you got our attention, you are beautiful.

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That night we took a short drive to find the Sumidero Canyon.  We arrived after dusk and when everything was closed so it was diffilcult to find secure parking right away.  After an hour we found a locked gate fence where some guys where chatting under a street light near possibly the opening.   They figured out what we needed through some rough spanish and whislted for the night guard to let us in the parking lot of the canyon because we wanted take a boat ride the next morning.  We read other overlanders had done the same in the past and it seemed like a safe camping option for the night.  The next morning we headed down to the dock for a giant speed boat tour through the canyon.

The walls of the canyon were towering above us at 3,280 feet in some places.  This canyon is thought to be as old as The Grand Canyon.  The canyon was started by cracks in the earth’s crust and the Grijalva River dug its way for 35 million years.  Flying through the canyon our captain would abruptly stop for wildlife and the first stop was “Vulture Island.”  I don’t know, but to stop for a hundred vultures at once was probably the least appealing thing for me.  Moving along our next stop was a tree where two monkeeys were wrestling and showing off.  This was our “first monkeey sighting of the trip!”  Half way through the two-hour tour I notice that all of our life jackets have crocodiles on them and we haven’t seen one yet.  We get all the way down to the dam and pull up to a boat that is selling fruit, chips and soda.  Latin American culture “never miss an oppotunity to sell something” I believe is their moto.  For the return the captain speeds back through the canyon and then all of a sudden we come to an aggressive hault and a sharp turn.  I’m thinking “Hell yes, this must be it, the Crocs!”  This captain has laser eye sight or something?!  He pulls the boat right up alongside the croc so we all can bend over the side and take a million pictures, and nicely enough the crocodile stays motionless.  “How cool, it’s like he is posing!”  Them we speed off and head to another favorite spot for the captain where the next croc is out of the water and is also posing for more pictures.  A few minuets later a crocodile is actually moving and he swims by our boat for 10 seconds and then poof, gone.  The group is now satisfied and we head back to the dock.  When we got back I couldn’t let go of how strange our crocodile show was and I mentioned to Christian ” Do you think those crocs were real or staged? ”  Oh well if they were fake, they were really good ones.  Weeks later we ran into friends who had also done the tour a week prior and we compared our photos and had the exact same two crocs, same spot, same pose, same same.  However they never saw a crocodile swimming, Yea we saw a real one.

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Our last stop in Mexico was a spanish colonial town called San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It’s set way up in the mountains so the air was a lot cooler, and less sweating for us.  It rained a few hours every late afternoon, just enough to cool you off.  We found a campsite a mile outside of town and took the scooter back into town for sightseeing, groceries, chocolate and beer runs.  Our campsite was underneath tall evergreens, I absolutely loved it here.  I loved being in the woods but also only a mile to town, five days here flew by.   Chocolate shops, cheap decent wine and coffee everywhere, my little heaven and not a bad spot to spend a few dollars and a couple of days.

Next stop…Guatemala here we come.

Zipolite, I can’t quit you

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We rolled up to this mystical beach late one hot mexican night.  Looking for a perfect spot to set up shop for maybe two or three days we lucked out and found Habana’s Cabanas.  Ok, sounds kinda cool let’s go talk to the boss.   For $7 USD a night, you can park behind the cabanas 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean, a few feet away are the bath/showers, WiFi incl, cold beers and water in the office and shade underneath the cabanas.  That’s not all, our hammocks hung underneath the cabanas and fresh food will walk-by you just in case you’re too lazy to move to get snacks or dinner.  A margarita guy will pass-by, the ice cream man delivers and chocolate croissants show up at just the right time.  Pizza calzones, taco lady, herbal pastries  you name it, they make it and deliver to your hammock all day long.

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This place made it feel like we were on vacation, not a trip that takes a lot of work; straight-up, kick-back.  We took long walks on the beach, starred at the sunsets, laid in the hammocks for hours reading, telling jokes and stories.  Oh did I mention this was a clothing-optional beach, we may have tried it out or not.  We planned on two nights and it quickly turned into ELEVEN awesome days.  Friends were made here and other friends joined the scene a day later.  With nothing but time on our hands I decided that I would try making almond milk from scratch, after ton of messy work it turned out great.

Christian loved catching happy hour everyday and taking a walk down the beach for a brick oven pizza or a plate of Al Pastor tacos for about $1.  On semi-windy days he would bust out the kite and attach the go-pro to it for our make shift version of a “drone shot” along the beach.  It’s been a few months since we were here but this is a place we will return to.  We still talk about our time in Zipolite, in our six months of traveling this ranks as top 3 favorite moments.

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A few times we took the scooter out for great adventures and sightseeing, why not.  We headed out on the scooter for a gorgeous twenty minutes ride towards a lagoon called La Ventanilla Mangroves where we tour a small boat tour to check out some crocodiles, birds, Iguanas and turtles.   The next day we went to the Turtle Sanctuary in Mazunte the town over from Zipolite with our friends in a teeny tiny taxi and 6 of us crammed in an almost clown car while it was around 100 degrees.

The rest of our day was filled by sitting in our hammocks and people watch.  Naked old  guys would wear flip flops and a back pack, nothing else.  One occasion a chic was holding hands with two guys one on each hand and making the men walk backwards naked the entire length of the beach.  So as you can see we were entertained sitting on the beach for a short eleven days.