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Colombia Is For The Birds

<<< Feb 5

- Flew from Calgary to Toronto to Aruba

- Fairly quick passport control as we were two of the 4 people randomly selected to go through the automatic passport entry.

- Decided not to buy liquor at the duty free which we would later realize was a mistake.

- Picked up our rental car from Gmax and drove to our Airbnb

- Went to the grocery store which was incredibly busy. Spent two hours at the grocery store.

- Picked up some burritos from Senor Burrito and brought them back to our place.

One of the local cats hung out with us as we ate by the pool.

<<< Feb 6

- Woke up early and drove to Eagle Beach. Beat the cruise ship crowd there and watched them digging holes for the numerous umbrellas that would eventually be claimed by the masses.

- Found some shade near some trees and read our magazines.

- Took a dip in the ocean. Beautiful white sand, warm turqoise water, couldn't complain!

- Had lunch with our new friends the ants, and a sparrow tried to attack Chris. "I could feel the wind from its wings!" she exclaimed. (The bird was smaller than an orange).

- Meanwhile the cruise ship crowd arrived just as we were about to leave.

- Spotted a large iguana on our way out.

- Checked out the Fofoti tree. It wasn't too exciting, and too many tourists around to get a nice pic.

- Went to the Butterfly Farm. Saw some nice, large butterflies and quite a few different species. And one budgie from Australia.

- Came back and swam in the pool. Made daiquiris. Chris swam in the pool with her floating pineapple drink holder.

- Tried to go for 'Taco Tuesday $1 tacos' at Lola. There was an hour-and-a-half wait. But then we noticed that the 'Fat Tuesdays' right beside Lola was also offering $1 tacos, and had tables available. And then we realized they simply obtain their tacos from the Lola kitchen. Problem solved. Besides the tacos, we also had a really cold Hurricane.

<<< Feb 7

- Tried to visit Tres Trapi in the morning to look for turtles but the normally calm waters were looking rough. Perhaps due to the rainstorm the night before.

- Instead we went to Mangel Halto to try some snorkelling. 2 local dogs greeted us. We snorkeled around for half an hour or so and saw a few fish, including either a needlefish or a cornetfish). CB thinks she saw a glimpse of a spotted eel. .

- Drove to the south part of the island to check out Baby Beach. Set up our base underneath a tree. Thought we saw a turtle so we rushed into the water but couldn't find it (took us too long to get ready).

- Saw some Rainbow Parrotfish feeding on the coral. Quite large (2-3 feet) and very colorful.

- Drove to the Seroe Colorado Natural Bridge.

- Back to our hotel to make some lemon basil pasta for dinner and hang out with the friendly cat.

<<< Feb 8

- Went to Boca Catalina first, but still too wavy for snorkeling.

- Checked out Arashi Beach, sat and watched the waves.

- Drove to California Lighthouse. 100 narrow steps up to the top. Nice views of the island.

- Went to Palm Beach. It was very busy and we carried our stuff for a long ways (1.5km) trying to find anywhere that wasn't a congested mess of beach chairs. A lot of seaweed had also washed up from the recent storm.

- Came back, relaxed. No crashing waves in our pool. Just us and the cat again.

- Went to Eagle Beach to watch the sunset. Much nicer than Palm Beach, with way more room to walk. Saw some surfers at the endpoint.

- Back to our place, hung out with the cat and made dinner again.

<<< Feb 9

- Tried to snorkel at Boca Catalina *again*. But still too wavy. It was not meant to be.

Hung out at a nice beach in back of a large house.

Ate breakfast, yoga, and Tribond.

- Bought some average Middle Eastern wraps and ate them back at our place. One last swim in the pool.

- Drove to the airport and caught our flight to Bogota.

- And then rushed through Bogota airport. At first we thought there was no way we were going to make it through the immigration line in time to catch our flight. And then we realized there was a special line for Canadians, since we have to pay an entry fee. And that line had nobody in it (2nd station from the left, the only one with a credit card terminal).

- Caught our flight to Pereira. Finally found the ATM in the PEI airport. Took a taxi to our nice little apartment in a gated community.

<<< Feb 10

- Woke up to quite a variety of birds in the trees in the park outside our balcony.

- Walked to the grocery store to buy supplies for the upcoming week.

- Took a taxi to pick up our rental car. Drove to the Hotel Termales Del Ruiz. The hotel was part of an old ski lodge and sits in a gorgeous valley often covered in mist. There's a large waterfall on the property, along with 3 thermal baths, and many birds, particularly hummingbirds.

- Went for a dip in the thermal baths. Met some friendly Colombians who offered us a drink. Went for dinner at the restaurant which was excellent and very reasonably priced (soup and empanadas).

<<< Feb 11

- Woke up at 5 AM due to loud people talking in the hallway.

- Checked out the hummingbird garden. Saw some nice looking birds eating the bananas and grapes (scarlet bellied mountain tanger and lacrimose mountain tanager)

- Had breakfast, which was an 'American' breakfast that came with a lot of food (soup, fruit, eggs, cheese, areipas, mini-croissants, and hot chocolate).

- Went on our guided walk, using Google translate to listen to our Spanish speaking guide. At the front desk they gave us little pink flowers with sugar water in them to attract the hummingbirds.

We learned that our hotel was built in 1937 and was actually part of a ski resort. In the 1950's there was actually a ski club in this part of Colombia with ski races that attracted skiiers from around Europe and South America.

- Walked down to the waterfall. CB pointed out some Andean Condors to the guide that were soaring overhead. Went to the second waterfall.

- Then we went into the hot springs.

- CM had a nap while CB did some yoga.

- Ate lunch in the hummingbird garden and then went back into the hot springs.

- Had dinner and moved the chairs away from near our door in the hallway in an attempt to steer any future morning 5 AM hallway conversations away from our room. It did not work.

<<< Feb 12

- Woke up and checked out the hummingbird garden.

- Went for a walk around the property on the short trails they had. Heard an ornate eagle-hawk but couldn't find it.

- Had breakfast at the hotel. Same as the day before only we tried the panela agua (didn't really care for it, too sweet)

Went into the hot springs for the final time, taking a break half-way to feed some hummingbirds near the waterfall.

- Drove about half-way back to Pereira, to Hacienda Boutique Santa Rosana. Most of the drive was fine, but there was a bit of a steep, rocky, dirt road in sections.

As we climbed to the top, we parked our car inside the gate, and checked out the amazing view of the surrounding valley.

- Met Aremis the cat sitting on the chair.

- Saw an Andean motmot (bright turquoise with a black mask). Heard a cuckoo, which was apparently rare, but never saw it.

- Ate a delicious Italian dinner. Carbonara pasta and pesto pasta. Mint gelato for dessert.

<<< Feb 13

- Hung out on the rooftop and listened to all the birds. Most interesting were the flock of blue headed parrots that flew back and forth a few times.

The cat and the dog both came to visit us.

- Went to the main level for our breakfast which consisted of homemade eggs, honey from their beehive, toast, areipas, fruit, and of course some Colombian coffee.

- Then we went on a tour of their coffee farm and learned all about the production of coffee. How the coffee plant is grown, how the coffee beans are harvested, how they are dried, how they are cleaned, how they are fermented. It looked like a *lot* of work.

We wore our ponchos and practiced harvesting the beans ourselves. In the hot sun, collecting a handful of beans was enough for us. We would not make good coffee farm workers.

- Then we had lunch and learned how to make a traditional coffee farm worker lunch by wrapping the food in a giant leaf. Inside the leaf we placed the rice, chicken, chorizo, banana, yuca, and an egg.

- Next we went back upstairs and Lucca gave us a coffee tasting. We tried 2 varieties of coffee: honey and washed

We learned all about the different qualities that go into differentating coffee taste and quality: acidity level, fermenation type and time, altitude, etc.

We were apparently supposed to be able to taste different flavours and notes, although I'm not sure we could.

We also learned the best way to make coffee while preserving the taste. Which was through simple induction with approximately a 10 to 1 ratio of water to coffee beans.

- Drove towards Filandia and picked up Diego at the gate. He showed us our place, a nice cabin with a great view and a small hot tub out front.

- Went into town and picked up some groceries. Came back and went for a dip in the hot tub. Had cereal for dinner. Noticed there were a lot of fireflies around.

<<< Feb 14

- Got up early and drove to Cocura Valley. Decided to do the loop clockwise to see the wax palms first, before the crowds. Two dogs accompanied us for the first little while. One dog was well behaved, the other liked to chase the horses.

- The wax palms were very tall. Heard a lot of birds but didn't see any. Gradual uphill. Down, past the stream, over some hanging bridges.

Had lunch by a nice waterfall with some butterflies that liked CB's pink jacket.

- Came back and played Lost Cities. The hummingbirds visited us a few times. Made bucatini for dinner. Went in the hot tub and watched fireflies.

<<< Feb 15

- Walked around Filandia. Took pics of the colorful doors and houses.

- Went to Barbas Bremen. CM rode on the back of the jeep.

- Trekked into the forest to search for howler monkeys. A puma crossed our path, but only the guide and one other guy in our all Canadian group saw the puma.

- Continued searching for howler monkeys, but no luck. Steep climb down to a nice waterfall. Waded into it to cool off.

Walked back up a steep hill to a second waterfall. Still no howler monkeys.

Saw some really cool caterpillars all linked up into one giant caterpillar. 10 of them climbing the tree as one, their bodies would compress and shrink as they walked. They also had little spikes on them.

Saw a Pava Caucana bird.

- Finished the hike we drank some Limonada de Panela (Colombian Sugarcane Limeade). Tasty.

- Took the jeep back into Filandia. Tried to go for lunch at Helena's but were told it was not available at this time.

- Came back to our place for a short rest and then went back to Filandia. Tried to get in again, but again, we could not, and needed to come back 1 hour later.

- Went and bought a traditional basket made from the type of vines we had seen that morning.

- Back to Helena's for the third time, and we were successful at getting in. It was pretty good, but maybe a little overhyped. Nice cocktails, and the croquettes were good. Great view.

- Back to our place for another round in the hot tub.

<<< Feb 16

- Woke up early and drove to Salento where the bike company was waiting with a truck full of bikes to take us up to La Carbonera, which is described as Valle de Cocora on steroids.

- Met a nice couple from South Africa / Bend, Oregon and shared the 90 minute journey with them up the somewhat rough mountain road.

- Reaching the top we biked down about 10 km and had breakfast. Then we visited a nice waterfall just a few minutes away.

After that we drove back up to the top, and this time biked down the full 32 km.

Nice views most of the way, although not always easy to appreciate them while keeping your eyes on the road.

- Made pasta bucatini, had another soak in the hot tub, and watched fireflies.

<<< Feb 17

- One last soak in the hot tub. Dropped off the rental car at PEI and flew to Medellin (EOH).

- Took a taxi to our hotel (Orange Suites) and went to the Modern Art Museum to beat the heat. I'm not sure we really appreciated all of the modern art. Some of it was pretty weird.

- Went to the rooftop to check out the views of Medellin.

- Stopped by a bakery and grabbed a snack.

- On our way to dinner we bought some laundry detergent. That's right, things are getting wild on a Saturday night in Medellin!

- Walked to the restaurant: La Bonhomia. On the way, there were no shortage of restaurants / clubs / bars, each of them trying to attract people with loud music.

Bonhomia was really nice, in a garden-esque setting with lots of trees and plants. We had a crispy cracker crust pizza, and finished just as the live band was starting. Perfect timing.

- Went back and did laundry. Wild Saturday night in Medellin complete!

<<< Feb 18

- Next morning we went to Park Balerina by our hotel and then took an Uber to Laureles neighbourhood, allegedly 'the coolest neighbourhood in the world' according to TimeOut. We had breakfast at Cafe Pergamino, which had another nice garden setting. CB felt she had to order a black coffee, to maintain the integrity and flavour of the coffee, like we had learned about.

- Walked around Laureles. Seemed pretty quiet for being the coolest neighbourhood in the world.

- Ubered over to the Jardin de Botanico. Right off the bat we saw a large iguana in the tree. And some turtles in the pond (it turned out they weren't statues after all). And then another small, and very bright green, lizard.

Walked around checking out the flowers and trees. Headed over to Orchideorama, a very interesting looking structure, with it's 10 hexagonal metal flower-trees.

Went and bought a few delicious premium popsicles from the train and ate them under the flower-trees.

- Then we decided to ditch the Science Center / Aquarium idea and took the metro to the cable cars that climb the mountains of Medellin.

The payment system was a little confusing, at least to us, but we managed to get to Park Arvi. The cable car ride to Park Arvi was nice, and at times felt like we were passing right over the tree tops. Park Arvi itself wasn't that exciting. CB bought some not-so-great warm juice. Never did figure out what kind it was.

- Went back down the cable car(s) and took the Metro back to the heart of Medellin. We commented that the Metro seemed nicer than Calgary's C-train.

- Back in Poblado, went for dinner at La Revuelta, right next to our hotel. Delicious Mexican food. Large portions of guacamole, and somehow I ordered 4 tacos instead of 3.

<<< Feb 19

- Flew from EOH to VVC (Villavencio). We had some communication issues with the taxi driver, as we were trying to tell him we would like to go to the bus 'station' which seemed to be very confusing to him. Eventually, we figured out he was asking us which destination we wanted a bus to, and that was the key. He dropped us off right at the bus that was going to Puerto Gaitan, and it was nowhere near where we thought it was.

- The bus to Puerto Gaitan was pretty nice (Macarena bus) and took 4 hours. Checked into the Best Western. Had a nice dinner (fajitas and salmon with passionfruit) and then swam in the large checker-bottomed pool.

<<< Feb 20

- Had breakfast at the hotel and then took a moto-car (tuk-tuk) into Puerto Gaitan to meet Cristian.

He took us down the river on his boat to look for pink river-dolphins. He would try various things to make the dolphins appear, such as whistling for them or slapping a paddle.

We did catch glimpses of them here and there. They mostly seemed grey, although I did see one that was quite pink. We did learn that the river dolphins rarely jump out of the water which makes them tough to spot.

- Back at the hotel we went for another swim. An iguana joined us this time and came for a drink out of the pool.

- Our driver for the next place came and picked us up, and we began the long, bumpy journey through the Los Llanos region to get to our hotel "Fincas de Mururito".

- At the hotel, no English was spoken, which we had expected. Luckily there was a nice French family who offered to help us communicate about what we were hoping to do and see during our time there.

- Dixon took us on a walk through the jungle, to a mirador overlooking the river. On the way back we spotted a monkey.

- Had dinner with the nice French family. Went to bed very early, as we learned there was to be a hike the next morning, leaving at 6 AM.

<<< Feb 21

- Woke up very early and we all piled into the French family's SUV to the start of our hike.

At Dixon's place we met a crazy pig that loved to run, a bunch of goats, and most entertaining of all, a monkey that seemed to enjoy riding one of the goats like it was a horse.

- We went on a nature walk, spotting some birds: parrots, a brown-collared hawk. We did hear a few tapirs in the bushes but didn't spot them.

- Took a tractor back to the hotel and had lunch.

- Relaxed for a while and then walked to the swimming hole. Saw a tiny glimpse of an ant-eater running away from us through the dense jungle.

- Went on a sunset walk to try and find more anteaters. Didn't see any. Walked up to a viewpoint with views of the Los Llanos area.

- Took the tractor back, and went off-roading a bit. Might have caught a glimpse of the tail of another anteater. These things are tough to find!

- Had dinner and went to bed early again, as we would be getting up at 5:50 the next day.

<<< Feb 22

- There was a bird (baby tanager) trapped in our hotel. We tried everything to push it out the open door, but it would always fly up into the rafters.

Eventually when Nixon arrived we captured it with his hat and freed the bird.

- Went for another early morning walk with Nixon. First we saw a "wolf" which may in fact be a fox (Zorro Cangrejero).

- And then we saw 2 burrowing owls. And one toucan in the distance.

- Relaxed in the hammocks for the afternoon.

- Rode on the tractor to the sunset point again (well, slightly closer). Still no anteaters.

<<< Feb 23

- Another early day. This time we walked to the stables to meet Nixon and our horses.

- Saw an interesting bird on our horseback ride, a Great Potoo (the 'Ghost Bird'). They remain completely still during the day and look exactly like part of the tree.

- Rode on the tractor (again) to the sunset point again. Still no anteaters. Saw a different caracara bird (Crested Caracara, aka the Mexican Eagle).

- Went on a night walk through the jungle. A pretty long one (2 hours). Saw some puma scat. Followed our Colombian guide through the night jungle. With his machete at his side, when he pulled down his baclava to cover his face (likely just due to spiderwebs), we're not going to lie, certain thoughts did run through our mind. But all was ok. The only thing we ended up seeing was a frog. Maybe that was for the best.

<<< Feb 24

- Picked up a little late by Gustavo in his pickup truck. Made it back to Puerto Gaitan by 9:20ish to catch our bus to Bogota.

The bus ride was slow with a variety of stops (driver needs an empanada, driver needs a smoke, etc).

Somewhere just outside of Villavencio the bus suddenly stopped. We weren't quite sure why. It was getting really hot inside, so we eventually got off the bus, and then it became clear that the highway must have been closed ahead. There were a lot of ants and garbage around so there wasn't really anywhere comfortable to hang out.

- After about 90 minutes to 2 hours it became obvious that we were supposed to get back on the bus. The driver didn't hang around long or seem to check to make sure everyone was back on board, he just took off. He jumped out from his bed underneath the bus and started driving.

- We drove for approximately 3 minutes and then we stopped again for a while. At least this time the A/C was working.

- Then it was some scaryish driving through the mountains leading to Bogota. And then we stopped again and there was some issues with the doors. We sat for quite a while. By now things were getting painful and we were thankful we did not rely too much on public transport on this trip.

- The drive through the mountains was actually quite scenic but darkness was approaching quickly. We made it to the Bogota bus terminal tired and dishevelled. Hailed an Uber to our apartment complex (Life72) which had 3 layers of security upon check-in.

<<< Feb 25

- Went for breakfast at Arbol Paine. Nice breakfast sandwich and pan de chocolate. Homemade kombucha.

- Took an Uber to Parque Bolivar. Lots of Colombians out enjoying their Sunday, biking, jogging, exercising. Many had their dogs with them.

- Walked by the Biblioteca Pública Virgilio Barco. Kind of interesting looking, although not overly exciting. More exercise classes were happening outside of it. Guns N Roses dance mix being played at a rapid pace.

- Walked to the Jardin Botanico. Up and over the bridge, by the fountain, walked through the Rose Garden, tropical gardens, butterflies, no birds.

- Took an Uber back and tried to go to a cerveceria but it was closed.

- Went to a Japanese / Italian / Colombian fusion restaurant (Takuma Cocina). It reminded us of Japanese Village (ah-so!? awesome?)

The presentation of our meal started with a lot of knife juggling and a fireball that seemed it might have a chance of serious eyebrow damage.

Next was a Mt Fuji (Fiji!) made of onion.

CB burnt her finger on one of the hot bowls that was sitting next to the grill. They came over with some burn cream, so it must not have been a rare experience.

After plating our main course the chef stood silently and watched us eat for a while which was uncomfortable.

For dessert they decorated our plate with a Canadian flag and a moose.