We stayed in the gardens of a beautiful finca called La Serrana which had spectacular views across 2 valleys, one on either side. We ended up camping here for 5 nights because we met some lovely people and because it was so relaxing! We went on a tour of a coffee plantation and learnt about the production of coffee from the planting, the growing, the picking, the sorting, the drying and the drinking! We had a fabulous guide called Matthias who was the grandson of the owner and we all drank the coffee at the end of the tour. We bought a couple of bags of coffee beans as we have a little grinder.
We met some wonderful people at the finca. There were 2 men from Argentina who were travelling from Argentina to Alaska in their ford chevy camper van, playing music wherever they go. Their musical style is reggae and we bought one of their CDs and really love them! We also saw them play in Salento one afternoon and we really enjoyed listening to them. They call themselves Los Old Greens, and are well worth a listen. We also met Claudia and David from Switzerland in their ford pickup with demountable camper. These two were awesome! They had bought their car in Canada and were driving down to Argentina, so had already been on the road for a year. We spent a lovely evening sitting around their table inside their van sharing travel stories and such like. They were both social workers in Switzerland, so we had a lot in common! We also met a lovely couple from Australia, Deejay and Shilo, who were back packing for 10 months through South and Central America and who were near the end of their trip. We really hit it off and spent a lovely few days with them.
We did a day trek to the Valle de Cocora. We caught a Willy`s jeep to the start of the hike, about 20km away. The jeep was packed so I got to hang on to the back of it with a young lad from Holland and one from Istanbul. We had a right good chat whilst hanging on for dear life and then the heavens opened and we got drenched! The hike took us to a viewpoint where hummingbirds came to feed and the latter part of the walk was through the Valley de Cocora, which is one of very few places that has enormous wax palm trees. It was wonderful scenery, the like of which we had never seen before. We met a lovely couple here called Janice and Andrew who were on a 14 months around the world honeymoon!
One evening we went with Deejay and Shilo to play the traditional Colombian game of Tejo. This involves chucking a metal puck towards a target which contains small paper containing gun powder. When you hit a target-they explode! As you can imagine, this was great fun, particularly with a few beers, although nothing could improve my poor aim! However, I was delighted to score the point that won the game for my team!!
We used our barbeque for the first time although our first attempt failed miserably! We stoked up the fire, got the homemade coleslaw ready and the tortilla wraps-all we needed were the lovely looking sausages that were on the BBQ. The sausages, however, were disgusting, in fact-we have not tasted a decent one yet in Colombia! The dog got the sausages and we had to make do with coleslaw wraps-we were not amused! We did manage to have a successful BBQ the following evening-with pork, chicken and steak from the local supermarket. Gav and Shilo shopped for the food, although Gav was told off in the grocers as he was handling the veg and apparently this is not the done thing here!
We also need to mention Blondie-the dog as he was also one of our highlights in Salento. On our first day a beautiful Labrador appeared at the finca, and we called him "Blondie". It turned out that he did not belong to the finca, although he looked very well kept. He slept outside our landy and loved a huge fuss. In the mornings, he would be besides himself at the bottom of the roof tent ladder, waiting for us to come down. He also got lots of titbits from us and the others, including the crap sausages, which he loved! Blondie followed us all the way into Salento one morning (about 20 mins) and even chased the jeep we were in for the Cocora valley-although he gave up after a short time as it was about 15 kilometres away! That evening, none of us had seen Blondie and began to worry that he had got lost or hurt his little paws running after the jeep. During the height of the failed BBQ. he suddenly came slinking back onto the camp site and enjoyed all the fuss and the sausages. The next morning, one of the workers at the finca came over to the landy, under which Blondie was resting, and put a rope around his neck and led him away! Deejay and I ran after them and saw them put him in a car. Luckily, Santiago was there who could translate and we frantically asked where were they taking him and why as we had visions of a sad ending for Blondie!! However, all was well and they were going to take him to try and find his owner and if not, they were going to take him to their other finca some way away where there were no other dogs. We asked to say goodbye to Blondie who was sitting quite happily in the back of the car wagging his tail! I even shed a tear or two! Well, we thought that was it. You can probably guess the next bit. Later that evening-guess who slinked back onto the site? Yes, Blondie!! Everyone was so happy to see him and he got such a fuss!!
The time came to leave the lovely finca and our new friends. We were heading for the Tatacoa desert. All started well and we headed out of Salento and through Armenia. The hills were steep and the lorries were so slow-so we ended up in and out of first and second gear. Suddenly, a lorry driver who was overtaking us, frantically pointed to Ruby and Gavin responded really quickly by pulling off the road and turning off the engine. Whoops! Lots of smoke came from Ruby`s bonnet and when we got out-a load of water was on the road. Gav popped the bonnet and saw that one of the core plugs had literally blown out (we found it on the road later!) So how long before we got help? About 30 seconds! This was clearly a stretch of road where breakdowns are common as within seconds-a mechanic on a motorbike pulled up besides us and we rolled Ruby back down the hill a little bit to his workshop. Within minutes they had the engine in bits and then one of them went off on a motorbike to get another core plug! We made the rookies mistake of asking them how much it would cost after the engine was in bits. The price was not huge compared to UK prices but was by far the most we had been charged in Colombia so far-but we felt we had little choice given they had the landy in bits! Gav went off with one of them on the back of the motorbike to the nearest cash point about 10 miles away! So after about 3 hours-they told us it was fixed and we paid them the money. We set off again and nearly made it to the top if the big hill and then we saw we were heating up again. We pulled over and opened the bonnet to find a crack in the expansion tank which meant we were leaking water again! We decided not to return to the mechanics all the way down the hill as we were worried we would never make it up again, they were unlikely to have the parts and also they were overcharging. So out came the trusty gaffer tape and we taped the crack, refilled the water and drove about 30 more miles to Ibaque where we spent a couple of nights deciding what to do about the repairs.
A phone call to Ben of Black Paw 4x4 confirmed that we needed to get it sorted and not try and limp on to Ecuador with it, and he gave us some ideas of what the problem might be. We decided that we would back track to Bogota, where Alejandro was, as he was a landy mechanic and we trust him. I called him on my mobile, however communication was difficult due to my Spanish and his English! He conference called Carlos, who we had met at the landy show who spoke good English-so we had a 3 way conversation about what had gone wrong, what the mechanics had done and how much they had charged. When Carlos heard how much they had charged he exploded! He explained it to Alejandro who also exploded-so all I could hear was the two of them shouting in Spanish to each other about the other mechanics and then in the middle of it all Carlos shouted " the mother effin (he used the real word) robbers"!!! We laughed so much and keep saying it to each other! Carlos wanted to send some "boys" around to get some money back but we explained we had been naive and had learnt a lesson for next time (if there is one??!!).
Anyway, to cut a long story short we are here back in Bogota, it was a 130 miles return trip so not too bad. We checked the water levels every 25 miles (thanks Ben) and drove steadily. We took about 6 hours to get there, the last 2 hours just spent in traffic in the City. So Rubes is securely parked with the mechanic and guess where we are? Yes-another hotel!! I can hear the roar of disapproval but, blimmin heck, it`s a beautiful hotel and we have a suite-consisting of 4 rooms-a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and lounge!!! We are meeting the lovely honeymoon couple tonight in Bogota and we hope to be away again to the desert next week. I hope we manage to steer clear of any mother effin robbers!