The Colombia I was hoping for, Valle de Cocora
Colombia = cocaine, jungle, Spanish & gangsters…right?
It seems that many people have not changed their ideas since the drug cartels and rebel groups were terrorizing Colombia several decades ago… but let’s get with the times!
It’s worth noting Medellín’s rapid change from “drug cartel city/ murder capital of the world” of the early 1990s (home of Pablo Escobar) to today’s city of social inclusion and sustainability. Medellín’s success has not gone unnoticed. In 2012 it was named “Innovative City of the Year” by a joint Citi/ Urban Land Institute/ Wall Street Journal contest.
How I found this place
One of the many perks of traveling often is that you start to have friends from all over the world. I had friends in Barranquilla and Bogota and my friend had an old coworker from Armenia, part of the beautiful and world-famous coffee region locally known as Eje Cafetero. I love getting local recommendations about a place (shocking, I know), so when my friend’s friend said we’d ride horses up the mountains in Valle de Cocora, I was down. Would I feel like a tourist? Would I step into the shoes of a finca worker? Either way, there we went.
On first glimpse, I couldn’t help but think of the luscious green landscapes of Ireland. It had previously rained and the path ahead was filled with thick, sloppy mud gushing under hoove and foot. Cliff sides greeted us with stunning views of the streams below as we climbed through the valley. I had to trust the four legs of my horse, despite the mudslide-like conditions, a harder task than you’d expect! I just kept telling myself, she is twice as balanced as I am with all those extra legs. Plus, she doesn’t want to fall either. She does this a million times a day. We made it up the mountain and though I was enjoying the beauty, my calves and ass were already sore just from the leg up. It felt amazing to get off the Maria. I could almost feel my pulse slow.
among the Hummingbirds
In the dark wooden shelter at the top, we tasted local tea, which sounds great, until you learn that they put a hunk of squeaky cheese into it! (Culture shock!!!) Luckily though, up in that precious little corner lived a hummingbird community who frequented the four or five bird feeders set up there. I could have watched their quick, perfect wings flutter in a blur for hours. I was calm. It was one of those moments where you aren’t thinking about what you’re doing later, how your calves are burning, or how the aftertaste of cheese infused tea is still on your breath. I truly loved being there and it was perfect.
The unforgettable journey back
But it was over before I knew it, and Maria was at the front of the pack. She raced ahead with enthusiasm, eager to rest at home after schlepping this gringa all through the valley. I was confident and comfortable enough by now, so i let her push us ahead of the group. Before much time had passed, we were alone, separated from the group. The colors seemed deeper and I felt more connected to the beauty around me, more connected to Maria as well. The greens were intense and odd shaped purple trees dotted the landscape, as if drawn in by Dr. Seuss himself. I had never felt more free or more present in the rest of my travels in South America than I did in that moment.
There’s something to be said about having a moment alone, hearing the world in silence except for with muddied horseshoes slapping the earth below, my body bobbing up and down with the rhythm of Maria’s steps. I was smiling my brightest smile. Even my eyes felt more open than normal, taking in every ounce of color.
Thank you, Colombia, for giving me such unforgettable moments of peace, solitude, and beauty.