Being that New Year was rapidly approaching, I learned the sacred ceremony of Blowing Shit Up purveys itself into Colombia with gusto. The road to Jericó was periodically lined with varying degrees of death on a stick: from the poor man's bottle rocket to some sort of "Grande" cow-size explosive experience - I was in awe of the silly-dangerous fun we could be having, but my cries of "Yo quiero!" were only met with stern looks and stories of blown off limbs. It made me think: Why not dress up semi-lifelike effigies, and then pump them full of explosives? Isn't that something the whole family could enjoy? Well my friends, the reason I am but a poor traveller is because they already bloody thought of that. Hundreds of the bloody things on the side of the road - all staring menacingly and ready to maim on your command. Need a marketing angle? You buy one that looks like your boss (you can choose the one with the mo, or the one with the beard), and then you blow the friggin bajeezus out of it in the comfort of your own home. Genius.
We stopped off at a surreal little "closed community" called Cauca Viejo just before we were to commence the treacherous hill climb to Jericó, which although being "closed" was in fact open to anyone with a few Pesos willing to bribe a guard (ie. us). Consisting of ridiculously priced holiday homes, the new little village was built to strict guidelines... to look like an old little village. Although it was all very pretty and full of nice rich people, I still couldn't quite see the point of it all.
One thing I never fail to see the point of is hammocks, and that's exactly what was waiting for us under a setting sun once we reached Auntie's place. Although I hadn't actually done much more than be driven through the countryside, I was mentally hemorrhaging under the load of two very talkative passengers going at it for four
consecutive hours without missing a beat - as if challenging the mere notion of an uncomfortable silence to dare rear its ugly head. I hid in the back garden for a few minutes in attempts to scoop my murky sanity up out of the grass, but then Marcela came to the rescue by suggesting we hover above the town on one of the surrounding hills.
Viewing from above, I was finding it hard to rationalise the precarious location on which the town had chosen to rest. Still, haphazardly creeping up the valley walls as far as they dare venture, the undeniable charm of the rickety cobbles on calf-burning angles seemed comfortable with themselves and willing to take a complimentary back seat to the saturation of churches.
More popular with every passing year, I imagine Jericó will soon be like one of those places you visited as a kid, only to return years later to discover the place was ruined. If there was ever a catalyst for this, then surely a bloody great teleferico (cablecar) would be a contender. Never fear - it's near completion...
Ascending by foot out of the valley the following day via the "12 Stops" path (something Jesus-related), halfway up we stumbled across a homestead with an assortment of farm
animals and a young boy called Daniel who was a bit of a legend. He agreed to be our guide into the National Park because he had a few hours to kill, but he was a little off the mark when describing the rest of the climb as "not too bad". Admittedly it wasn't that bad, but it was steep, slippery mud, and the ease at which he scaled it was not making it any easier for us. We made it to the top for some spectacular views and just in time for another clear sunset, but then quickly realised we were standing on top of a hill in the dark. He guided us back to his house, where we met his lovely family and arranged to meet up with them later in town for the New Year celebrations.
New Year was a drunken event, culminating in a fireworks display, followed by a day in bed. I guess it doesn't matter where you are.
With one more adventure on the cards, we drove around town in search of a horse rental place. As per usual, I hid in the car while the bargaining was done, only to emerge once a rate of 6000 Pesos/hr had been reached. Our poor beasts were a tad on the ruddy side - sores all over them and a few protruding ribs - but we had a waterfall to get to so we
saddled up and spurred into action. About 30mins in I had lost all feeling in the arse region, and was struggling thanks to my feet not fitting properly into the stirrups - they basically slipped out at high speed, to transform me into Ragdoll Gringo. Apparently hilarious to onlookers, but less so to me as we wound our way through picturesque valleys of coffee plantations. We found the waterfall and had a bit of a skinny dip (ignore the photos - the water was really cold!), before heading back to return the horses just in time for them to become dog food.
While we were paying, a spritely old timer wandered in - totally off his face - muttering about changing
his hat because he had somehow sprayed blood all over it while having a casual beer down the road. Glancing down at the bar he had come from, not only was there some bloke tending to a blood nose, but all the barflies had just tied their horses up outside - Wild West style!
Once again suffering Itchy Feet Syndrome, Marcela proposed a road trip to a place called Jericó. Home to a disproportionate number of churches, steep cobbled streets and her Auntie's place - sure, why not? Well, cramming into a tiny car with Mum, Auntie, and a bunch of pot plants for a 4hr drive may have deterred others, but I was keen as mustard for probably the first 30 minutes...