Blog: Colombia Calling

05

Dec 2017

Colombia Calling

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Mark has just returned from Colombia; here’s a taste of what he found.

Colombian fruit

Colombia is a fruit-lover’s paradise. I don’t even know the names of half these fruit!!

 

Colombia pawpaw

Colombia: pawpaw with mellon balls ….. brilliant!!

Five for one: that sums up Colombia, visit one country and you are given four others for free. In a nutshell, or maybe that should be ‘in a coffee bean’ you have the inaccessible and wild Pacific Coast which is a mission to reach, wild and wet when you get there but full of hidden gems (whacky lodges, breaching whales and psychedelic birds); the Caribbean coast which is ‘mellow’ personified; the Andes, which are served up in three glorious high altitude strips, that include the Coffee Triangle; the Llanos, land of the gauchos, which is the grassy flatlands that form half the country’s land area and stretch from the Andes way out to the Venezuela border in the east and include the evocatively named Orinoco floodplain; and the Amazon Jungle that runs along the border with Peru. Five completely different zones.

You can’t do it all, not unless you have half a year free. And even then I’m not sure you’d do it justice; let’s begin with a coffee, because that’s what the place is so famous for. But first a lament: I’m writing this in Bogotá airport waiting for the London flight, and am devastated to say I have seen 3 Starbucks here in this, the country that knows more about coffee and how to serve it, than just about anywhere, so why the Starbucks? Why? A little part of my soul shrivels when I see examples like this of globalisation: the whole pleasure of travel is to experience the differences, and revel in the unexpected, to explore and discover. Dismounting my hobbyhorse … there are more varieties of coffee within the Arabica genus than you would ever believe. I thought Mocha was a fiendish combo of coffee and cacao, but it’s a coffee breed all on its own and yes, it does have overtones of chocolate. And that’s what’s emerging in the Colombian Andes, coffee degustation tours. Half a dozen different coffee bean varieties are lined up, roasted for varying durations, ground to varying degrees and barista-ed up in a variety of styles to bring forth the subtleties. Wine tasting in France eat your heart out! This is hands-on and full contact. I was served an expresso that tasted of oranges! Just amazing. And of course to do this on horseback adds a whole other dimension (a work in progress).

Colombia, where the coffee comes from

Colombia, where the coffee comes from

Colombia has been on the naughty step of world tourism for about three decades, so it’s in its infancy now. The country as a whole, and individual hotels, tour operators and guides are desperate for travellers to return after so long. I found Colombia consistently warm and welcoming and I didn’t feel at risk or threatened once. You see plenty of backpackers and even flash-packers, but just a fraction of the numbers of Westerners that you encounter in Ecuador or Peru. Colombia has a PR problem, which is unjustified now, but that’s the way reputations work: it takes a long time to restore confidence.

I notice the cruise ships are docking along the Caribbean coast and ‘doing Colombia’ in 72 hrs. Great for the local gift shops, but that’s not travel and doesn’t create a flow of tourism dollars from the West down to small hotel owners, local guides, drivers of 4X4’s and mule-skinners. Colombia needs the West to return. So if you’re independently minded and like the good old pioneering spirit, now’s the time to go, before the flood!

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