What a difference a week makes.
Just last week our departure from Canada was delayed ( twice ) due to sub zero and we were two days late into Colombia. This week the weather could not have been better and having made our way back up to charming Villa de Leyva, and picked up our vehicle, we eventually set off for Colombia’s famed “coffee triangle”. On our arrival back in Villa we discovered that a new litter of puppies had been born – ever so cute, they took a particular liking to our step box !
Just prior to leaving Villa de Leyva, however, we were in for an unexpected surprise. As I was finishing off a little repair and replacement work on the camper a familiar overland vehicle pulled into the Renacer campground. “Familiar” only in that we had seen pictures of it before and spoken with its owners via a Facebook overlander group – turns out it was James and Claire Young ( www.thisbigroadtrip.com ), fellow travellers from Kelowna and themselves well into their own journey to Tierra Del Fuego ( already 2 years on the road in fact ). While we each knew the others were in Colombia, we had yet not made specific plans to connect – simple serendipity brought us together. Talk about a small world ! An enjoyable evening of catching up followed and some note/tip sharing in the morning before we parted, along with a young Dutch fellow on a motorbike heading the same way – quite likely all to connect again at some point.
En route to the coffee triangle, one passes a famous Colombian landmark – Puente Boyaca ( Boyaca bridge ). Scene of a famous battle in 1819 that secured Colombia’s independence from Spain, we decided it was worth a stop being right on the highway. One unexpected discovery for us was the plaque commemorating the involvement of a band of British and other foreign mercenaries, the “Legion Britannica” who helped secure the victory. A little history lesson for us.
It would be an almost 15 hour drive to the coffee triangle ( the towns of Salento and Filandia to be more precise ) and while we expected the trip to be uneventful, while en route fate provided us one of the most memorable ( yet simultaneously heart-wrenching ) experiences of our trip to date. Traffic was brutal putting us well behind schedule – with darkness closing in we were forced to find a campsite in the small town of La Mesa. There being no campsites in La Mesa, in desperation we approached the owner of a “parqueo” ( parking station ) to ask if we could park overnight. While unusual, he agreed, and he ( Luis ) and his wife, Rosa, made us feel very much at home. Simply charming people. Turns out he was a minister and he and his wife had just accepted a family of refugees from Venezuela – the family had walked out of Venezuela ( as many were doing ) but had been robbed on the road, losing all their cash, documents and many possessions. Imagine – basically destitute, with two teenage kids and unable to work in Colombia and the kids unable to attend school. They had been there several months. The tales they shared were shocking. What was once the richest country in South America was now a failed state, an economic basket case, and 4 million Venezuelans were living outside Venezuela – many in Colombia.
As we left La Mesa, thinking how fortunate we were to be from safe, developed first world countries ( and counting our blessings ) we decided to “pay it forward”. The minister had bailed us out when we were stuck, so we made a donation to the Venezuelan family – happenstance had afforded us a the opportunity to do so. Daicy, the mother, was in tears and the younger son hugged Lois tightly as we left. It was not until a few hours later, when we got an email from Daicy, that we understood why – turns out they had no money for the next meal. I know we all donate to worthy causes ( as we should ) but it’s not often you get to do so in quite as direct a manner and to hear the personal story behind the situation. To say that this chance meeting, the awareness it gave us, and impact it had on someone in such desperate need, would be a cherished memory of our time on the road would be an understatement. It certainly made the things we often complain about seem pretty darn trivial.
The second day’s drive, again, was tortuously long ( with windy, elevated roads heavily used by commercial trucks ). Just 239 kms took us 8 hours but did provide stunning scenery all the way to the town of Salento, right in the heart of Colombian coffee country. Salento is extremely colorful and reminded us of Guatape, near Medellin. Even tried our hand at horse-riding with the coffee farms making for a spectacular backdrop. Caught up with yet more motor cycling overlanders while there – this time a Pole and his friend from Vietnam, both headed the same way as us; destination Ushuaia. People definitely travel from all over the world to do the Pan American !
Filandia was our next stop. Beautiful in its own right but also renowned for one of the most popular overlander camping spots in Colombia – Finca Steelehorse. Read the interesting background here ( www.steelhorsecolombia.com ) but suffice it to say a prettier natural setting would be hard to find anywhere. Run by a couple of ex-overlanding Brits it’s the kind of place you come to for a day and often stay a week – I’ll let the pictures tell the story:
There is some blogging to catch up on, some drone flying practice to be done and a whole bunch of other overlanders to share travel tips with. The weather is divine – we just might stay a while…….!