It Never Rains But It Pours
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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After one final evening with Santiago and Camila sharing a Swiss fondue, a good bottle of wine and more travel yarns, we were eager to get back on the road. The next morning we headed out of Bogotá down the precipitous western slopes of the Cordillera Oriental and then south along the Rio Magdalena valley. Our plan was to visit the intriguing pre-Colombian statues around the remote southern town of San Augustín, with a side trip to check out the unique ecology of the Tatacoa Desert. Of course, we didn't reckon on DC3 having other plans! Only 200 km after being declared fit and healthy, she suddenly didn't sound very well at all. Running on three cylinders, with her motor wheezing and coughing, and a very significant loss of power, she decided that she was in urgent need of a few more caresses from a friendly mechanic. We rapidly came to the conclusion that heading further south was not a sensible option, but the question was whether we could make it back up the 6,000 ft climb to Bogotá. We decided to err on the side of caution and head back to the nearest city en route to the Zona de Cafetera - only about 100 km and a climb of 1,000 ft - and trust our luck in finding another decent workshop.
Ibagué is a rather nondescript commercial centre, and not somewhere that we would ordinarily have bothered stopping in to explore. However, by noon the next day we were on fairly intimate terms with the seedier side of the city where most of the garages and workshops seemed to be located.
Having now lost over a week whiling away our time in various workshops - and keenly aware that we have a shipping appointment to keep in Cartagena later in December - we reluctantly decided to shelve our plans for the trip to the south, and instead head further west to Colombia's famed Coffee Zone. This time we faced a very steep ascent up and over the 10,000 ft La Linea pass of the Cordillera Central and down into the Cauca Valley. Although less than 100 km, the trip took almost four hours as we took our place in line behind the grinding transport trucks and played cat and mouse with everyone else trying to take advantage of the few passing opportunities on the steep and winding road. The stunning mountain views that we had been promised unfortunately failed to materialize due to heavy cloud cover - it is, after all, still the middle of the rainy season. The final descent of some 5,000 ft in less than 20 km to Armenia filled the air with the pungent odour of everybody's severely overheated brake pads - including ours, even though we had come down rather cautiously in first gear. And what were those ominous grinding noises? Surely it couldn't be us - we just had a complete and rather expensive brake job done in Venezuela, only 2,000 km ago - or could it?!
After all the trials and tribulations of the past couple of weeks, you might expect that we would be feeling a little disheartened. On the contrary, we have again been quite bowled over by the beauty and hospitality of this part of Colombia. We spent three days camping and thoroughly enjoying the tranquil environment at 'Hotel Bambusa', about 20 km south of Armenia. This meticulously restored hacienda is the latest project for Santiago and his father Diego, and we found it really difficult to drag ourselves away, especially from the culinary treats conjured up by Zoraida.
Yesterday we travelled a short distance across this verdant valley for a day's visit to the Parque Nacional de Café. This is Colombia's version of a Disney-style theme park, and is stunningly located on a ridge in the valley with panoramic views across to the mountains - once again, disappointingly cloaked in thick cloud. Most of the 52 ha site is tastefully dedicated to telling the story of Colombian coffee (the most important export after the other more infamous 'c' crop), but of course there are the not unexpected amusement park concessions in the interests of keeping the younger set entertained. The coffee plantations are well laid out, with information on different varieties, agronomic management techniques, harvesting, processing and marketing. Displays set in architect-designed buildings have information on everything that you ever wanted to know about coffee - but were afraid to ask.