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Colombia, Part 3: Zona Cafetera

Colombia, South America7 min read

May 24 - 31, 2010

After a nice weekend in Medellin, I headed to the coffee producing region, called the Zona Cafetera. Colombia is world famous for its coffee and its citizens are very proud of their product. I'm not really a coffee drinker but it sure did taste good. My contact was Jorge Peto, whom Sargento stayed with but due to lack of space, I stayed with one of his friends, Barba and he took me around for a few days. I then met Andreas, El Paton, a global motorcycle traveler who's planning to do the Transamazônica in Brazil this August, same time as me, so we've decided to ride together there.

Nice roads heading from Medellin to Armenia, about 260 kms (160 miles) away.

Yellow bridges and blue skies.

Well manicured roadside flora. I was stopped by police at a check point and they demand to see motorcycle insurance in Colombia. I was stopped earlier outside Cartagena without having insurance and it was a big racket, but they finally let me go saying I had to buy insurance in the next city, which I did for $15 and no problems after that.

Crossing a big single tower suspension bridge near Pereira.

My host in Armenia, Barba taking me around to visit a plantation. On the way, we stopped at a friend's coffee plant nursery.

Plantains freshly cut from the groves. It was raining heavily and we had to wait until all the plantains were cleared from the road.

Cutting the plantains from their stem, washing and preparing them for the market.

A pineapple field.

Weigh bridge at the entrance to the plantation to measure how much produce is being taken out.

Lunch at Barba's house of rice with steak, potato salad and patacones (twice-fried plantain, so tasty).

That afternoon we played a bit of pool at one of the numerous 'billiares' pool houses around.

The break. The aim of the game we played was to put in the balls chronologically, with a small bet placed on who would sink the black 8 ball, which I accomplished thrice. You can see the smaller numbers are placed on the outside with the larger numbers in the middle.

The more popular game at this pool house was played on a table with no holes and only 3 balls.

Downtown Armenia. It's a modern city as the original town was destroyed by earthquakes. Elevation is about 1,500 m (5,000 ft) and it was pleasantly cool.

A modern-looking church in the central plaza at dusk.

An interesting thing about Colombia is these cell phones for hire by the minute. People wearing numbers indicate how many pesos a minute (100 pesos = $0.05) it costs to borrow their cell phone to make a call. Very handy and more available than phone booths.

The promenade in Armenia.

Another cool thing about Colombia is these guys walking around with thermoses filled with hot coffee. It was usually served in a small espresso-sized cup.

That evening, Barba's friend here, Cordoba, who's a retired policeman, invited us to dinner after playing pool.

Having some fine Ron Viejo de Caldas Colombian rum, aged 3 years. Was very smooth.

Cordoba let me inspect his revolver, a Llama Scorpio. It's a Spanish double-action police revolver and is chambered for the 0.38 Special cartridge with a 2-inch long barrel and fixed sights.

Six chamber cylinder. I've never fired a gun and thought I should at least try it before leaving the US, but never got around to it. Make love.

The 0.38 Special cartridge bullet.

Cordoba's house was in this tightly packed row of houses.

Having to reverse down the ramp into the underground parking at Barba's place. It's so tight that even compact cars have to make a 3-point turn to get down.

Taking a day trip the next day to nearby Salento, a small colonial town with Barba and some of his friends.

Lunch at Cocora's Restaurante in Salento of Cayana de Trucha Dorado, which was a smoked fish similar to Salmon with a huge crispy tortilla.

From Salento, we headed down to Valle de Cocora.

It's a lush valley surrounded by mountain peaks.

It was raining slightly and the clouds were hanging low. Dairy cow enjoying the pasture all to herself.

The strange thing about Valle de Cocora is the super tall palma de cera (wax palm) tree that thrives in the cloud forest. They grow up to 60 meters (200 ft) tall.

Having some hot chocolate, which is different from hot chocolate in the States. It tastes watered down.

In Colombia, a slice of cheese (very tasty on its own) is usually served with hot chocolate and the crazy thing is you're supposed to put the cheese in the drink so that it becomes soft and stretchy. I don't know, but it didn't seem to go well together.

But she was making it look so tasty. The women in Colombia are definitely very beautiful and a lot of emphasis is placed on beauty, encouraging a booming plastic surgery market, sometimes even for teenagers.

A freshly made Arepa con Queso (corn pancake with cheese).

Getting a clear view of the peak as the clouds cleared. I was told there's a dirt road leading along the valley to even more spectacular sights. I need to come back and spend more time exploring Colombia.

It was Thursday night again, so bike night in Armenia.

One of the riders had this beautiful 2009 Suzuki GSX-R600 (I had a 2004 model) and he let me take it for a spin. I'm such a squid, riding in sandals but the thrill of hearing 15,000 rpm again threw ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) out the window. With high import taxes, this bike cost $17,000 here, compared to about $9,000 in the US.

The bike night then moved to Jorge Peto's new Beef Parilla (BBQ). V-Stroms again were very popular with a few sport bikes, a KTM and a 2 BMW GS's. A rider on a Yamaha R6 owned a motorcycle shop in town and said I could use his shop and mechanics for the day if I needed anything done on the bike.

Two Suzukis, built for different purposes but both thrilling in their element.

Barba's cute little two month old Chinese Pug. A lot of character in a small compact body. The way it was hoping around all over made it look like a robotic toy.

Spending a day at Otto's motorcycle shop. I had a few small tasks to do on the bike. Here, Roberto is helping me figure out why my Solstice LED lights keep on blowing a fuse. He pointed out that the metal tab on the seat was making contact with the frame and the exposed part of the fuse from my Centech fuse panel and shorting out the lights. Easy fix.

Doing my first valve check of the trip from San Francisco and everything was in spec. The bike has been running great with no problems. I also inspected and cleaned the spark plugs, washed and re-oiled the air filter and installed new in-line fuel filters in anticipation of dirty gasoline further south. Barba and the others were impressed that I was doing my own maintenance, a must in my view on a trip like this, to make sure you're aware of all aspects of the bike.

Being escorted by the local police back to Barba's house after a late dinner. They were friends of Peto's and were glad to oblige. They liked the bright Solstice LED lights.

Meeting up with Andreas, El Paton who lives in nearby Calarca and has traveled the world on a Honda Africa Twin. He's been around South America, up to Alaska, spent more than a year in India, then did South-East Asia and Mongolia to the Stans and Iran. He's planning to ride the Transamazônica highway through the Amazon in Brazil this August and has bought a DR650 for the trip, saying the Africa Twin is too heavy. Right on. Since I'm planning to ride through there at the same time, we're hooked up and plan to meet in Porto Velho. He'll be coming down the river from Colombia to Manaus.

Having a tasty steak with a great view.

That night, we were invited to Andreas' friend's farm house near Armenia.

Our host grilling some steaks under the watchful eye of his aging great dane, 11 years old and showing it.

Steaks and arepas. I was having a bit too much red meat for my liking by this point, but hey, who's complaining. Can't wait for Argentina.

They had three great danes and even though they weren't allowed in the house, they all gathered near the door and Dorris here is staring at the dining table.

We spent the night there after finishing off a few bottles of aguardiente, splashed with good conversation. Nice view.

Outdoor hot tub and lovely farm house.

Dorris looking so cute. Awww.

Having Sunday lunch with Andreas and his parents at the newly opened Bakkah restaurant in Calarca. Having some fried fish with shrimps and calamari in a yellow sauce with mashed potatoes.

Spending the afternoon at Bakkah with Andreas going over maps of Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. He's an interesting guy and we had a lot to talk about. Plus, he was the first and only English speaker I came across in Colombia. My Spanish is pretty decent by now, as I'm spending time with only Spanish speakers and can hold a decent conversation, but need to learn more vocabulary. Looking forward to our trip on the Transamazônica.

Spending the night at Andreas' apartment in nearby Pereira. He got a real kick out of serving me hot chocolate in this toilet bowl of a cup, haha. The crazy things you can buy in America.

A hardy Toyota Land Cruiser truck at Andreas' farm in Calarca. I'm enjoying seeing proper Land Cruisers, Land Rovers, Nissan Patrols and Mitsubishi Pajeros being used as they were intended down here, compared to all the soft, luxury versions in the US plying the Interstate. I grew up with Land Cruisers in Zambia and nice to see the design hasn't changed much. I bet these models wont be suffering from Toyota's recent poor quality and faulty brake computers. Keep it simple.

Andreas is into birds and has collected various parrots from around Colombia.

Colorful, noisy parrots in their huge tree cage.

Entrance to Andreas' farm.
Onwards to Cali.

Next: Colombia, Part 4: Cali, Popayan, Pasto

Previous: Colombia, Part 2: Medellin


Jammin thru the Global South was the 3+ year, 100,000+ km ride Jay did from the US to India via Latin America, Europe and Africa. Explore the photojournals at the Journey Posts tab.

Jammin Global Adventures is a tour company run by Jay Kannaiyan. He organizes small group, premium motorcycle adventures in Peru, Kenya, Mongolia, India and more.

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