Erin & Simon sold everything they owned and left the UK in March 2010 to travel the world forever. They recently spent two months renting an apartment in Medellin, Colombia, getting lots of their location independent work done. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Erin and Simon, as they explore Columbia.
Day 1: Friday
10AM – Ten boxes packed full of fluffy yellow chicks are loaded onto the back seat of our bus to Jardín. Animated cheeping is the soundtrack to our journey.
We travel through lush green hills covered in banana and coffee plants, but it’s windy and we’re glad to get off.
1:30PM – At the main plaza in Jardín it only takes us a minute to find the hotel recommended by a friend. The room is basic with hard beds and fluorescent lighting but it has a prime spot on the plaza with a balcony overlooking all the action. We drop our bags and head to a small cafe on the plaza for coffee and juice. We’re surprised at small town prices after two months in the richest area of Medellin.
Jardín is a small pueblo surrounded by hills with brightly coloured colonial buildings, a wide plaza and a church that seems too big for the town’s size. We seem to be the only gringos.
We take the teleférico up the hill for views of the town. It’s a private ride as nobody else is around. We have a drink at the obligatory cafe at the top. Simon enjoys not doing anything: it’s been months since he had a real break.
On the way back to the hotel we look for a pizza restaurant that has been recommended. We’re vegetarians and every item on every menu is meat or fish-based so finding an option for dinner is a priority. Naturally, it’s on the last street we check but it’s a good excuse to wander.
3:30PM - Back at the hotel we read on the balcony overlooking the plaza, then take a walk to the bus station. A helpful old driver gives us the low-down on getting to Salento — three separate buses and over 7 hours. Out on the plaza we people-watch as the sun sets. The main square is the heart of every South American village, town, and city, but this is a premium example: full of trees, benches, attractive cafes with colourful chairs and tables, horses, carts and old men in cowboy hats.
6PM – We head to the pizzeria we found. It’s edible although the Colombian cheese is too salty.
7:30PM - Arrange our horse riding trip for the next day then watch some TV on our laptop. Sleeping isn’t easy as the bed is hard, the pillows smell mouldy, and the sheets are rough. I’m glad of my ear plugs as the noise from the bars on the plaza easily penetrates our thin wooden shutters, but even they can’t stand up to the cacophonous church bell ringing at midnight.
Day 2: Saturday
7:30AM – We wake early to those infernal bells and get breakfast at the panadería next door. We’re picked up for our horse ride to La Cueva del Esplendor and the hotel chef unexpectedly gives us a packed lunch which makes our bag too heavy. Our jeep taxi stops a few blocks down and picks up our guide Jaime and a Colombian family of 6. No one told us that anyone else was coming. The jeep takes us up a dirt track past coffee and banana plantations and on into the hills. We are kitted out with cowboy hats before mounting our horses and riding further up the hill. The path is narrow, steep and rocky with dramatic drops to one side. The views are expansive – down into Jardín and to the lush green hills around.
10AM - We reach a small cafe – really someone’s home – and leave the horses behind for the final stretch up to the cave. One of the men from the Medellin family brings out a bottle of brandy and it’s shots all around. I manage to resist, but Simon wants to be polite drunk. There are rivers to jump and steep muddy paths to clamber up and down.
11AM - We reach the waterfall within the cave after clambering over thick jungle vines. More brandy and some swimming in the icy water, though we aren’t tempted. The men in the family are now drunk. More worryingly, so is the guide.
1:30PM – On our way back to the stables, Simon’s stirrup falls off during a gallop and one of the older ladies falls off her horse on the last treacherous steep section. We eat lunch – our packed lunch is full of meat despite telling them we’re vegetarian so we’re happy we brought leftover pizza.
3PM - Back in Jardín muddy and exhausted, we have a much-needed shower and relax at the hotel before enjoying a coffee in the plaza and soaking up the bustling scene in the late afternoon light.
6PM - Pizza for dinner again as there are no other palatable vegetarian options. We go to the town’s second pizzeria, more of a takeaway really. Some boys drool over our pizza as they pass the open restaurant front.
7:30PM - Back at the hotel we write our journal for the day, read, watch more TV, and wish the people sitting on our balcony would go away – they sit about a foot away from our bed.
10PM - Things get interesting as the gauchos ride into town. The plaza is shut off to cars and well groomed horses are ridden around – the riders seem to just be showing off, occasionally stopping at a bar for a drink, still astride their mounts. The plaza is busy until late with children, families, teenagers and old people. As many people are drinking coffee as beer.
Day 3: Sunday
9:15AM - After a quick breakfast we head to the bus station. We manage to get lost even though it’s only a block away and walk in panicked circles for 20 minutes. Luckily we find it in time and get a minibus to Andes, 45 minutes away. There we get our second bus to Pereira. More windy mountain roads and cramped seats. Soggy, leftover pizza for lunch.
4PM - We make it to Pereira in time for our third bus of the day to Salento. It’s only an hour but it’s pouring and we have to wander around the plaza looking for a taxi.
6PM - The hostel has made a mistake with our reservation and we have to wait 45 minutes for them to move some people and clean our room. We’re exhausted.
7PM – At the food stalls in the plaza we try a local speciality: patacones – mashed plantains that are flattened to make a giant crispy tortilla chip. We get ones topped with cheese and a pineapple sauce.
9PM - Early night. The earplugs come in useful again as the travellers outside are talking and playing music.
Day 4: Monday
8:20AM - The housekeeper barges into our private room to get something from a cupboard. She enters without knocking, using her own key. We are shocked and angry at the intrusion: we feel the lack of privacy going back to hostel living. Breakfast is just sweet bread rolls and coffee as we don’t like eggs. We end up hanging around for a few hours trying to figure out which room we are supposed to move to.
11:30AM - Walk into town to buy groceries, come back and make sandwiches and then move to a new room: this one has a lock on the inside.
1:30PM - We walk to a coffee plantation for a tour but shortly after we leave it starts raining heavily so we turn back.
3PM - We try again as the sun has come out. We walk through pretty countryside but don’t find the plantation.
5PM - Reading and writing at the hostel. The internet isn’t working. We’ve been without it for a few days now and wish it were.
7PM - Vegetable curry dinner at the hostel with a big group of guests.
8:30PM - Reading, writing a post and sorting through the photos we’ve taken in the last few days.
Day 5: Tuesday
8AM - We planned to do a hike this morning but Simon woke up with a horrible headache after a night kept awake by allergies, so we cancel and lie in instead. I read while Simon sleeps.
1PM - Simon makes it up so we have a sandwich and walk into the village to buy more bread.
3PM - The WiFi isn’t working but we manage to use the 3G on our Kindle to check emails. We have an offer on our house in the UK, so the 3G is definitely coming in useful. Simon helps the hostel manager to set up the new router – his technical skills come in useful everywhere we go.
6PM - Make vegetable soup. I hate using hostel kitchens as they are too crowded and you never have everything you need, but vegetarian options are so limited in Colombia that cooking is a better option.
8PM - Watch a movie, read then sleep.
Day 6: Wednesday
8:30AM - We supplement the bread breakfast with roast potatoes and juice at an extra charge.
9:30AM - We catch the shared jeep to Cocora for our hike through the giant wax palms. Clouds cover everything.
10AM - The walk starts easily enough, though we have to avoid the huge muddy puddles. Things get trickier when we enter the cloud forest – the path gets steeper and we have to cross rivers on thin rickety log bridges that test our balance.
11.45AM - Heavy rain.
12PM - We make it to Acaime where we have a drink, eat our packed lunch and watch the hummingbirds. We quickly get cold.
12:30PM - We continue and it gets steep again as we climb higher up the hill in the rain. We have no view at the top – just cloud soup. Thankfully, the rest of the way is downhill and the rain stops. The final stretch is the best as we get up close to the massive palm trees.
3PM - We make it back to Cocora and take the jeep back to Salento.
4PM - The wifi is working so we respond to emails, comments, facebook messages, and tweets. Simon replies to three client enquiries for new work that have come in since we left. We check the bus times for Bogotá.
6PM - Leftover soup and toasted sandwiches for dinner.
Day 7: Thursday
4:30AM - Simon’s allergies have been keeping him awake so he gives up on sleep and reads in the lounge.
7AM - I get up and respond to emails regarding our house sale, before getting breakfast and packing.
8:45AM - We get a taxi into the village and catch a bus to Armenia.
10:30AM - In Armenia we take a bus to Bogota. Our junk heap looks even worse compared to the shiny coach parked next to it. For the next 7.5 hours we suffer more windy roads and try to keep ourselves entertained by reading (Simon), watching a Spanish film on the iPod Touch (Erin) and listening to music.
6PM - We arrive exhausted at Bogota’s bus terminal where we have to wait in a long taxi queue. Our turn finally comes and the driver refuses to take us to the centre due to the traffic. It’s a worrying five minutes as Colombians give us complicated directions on alternative routes by bus, but luckily the next driver agrees to take us. It’s a slow journey and chatting with the driver in Spanish is difficult with our level of fatigue.
We make it to La Candelaria, but the hostel is fully booked. The taxi driver kindly takes us to some alternatives but everywhere is full or really expensive.
7:30PM - Finally we find a hotel that’s only double our budget and we take it without even looking at the rooms. The room is small and bland, but there’s wifi and a hot shower and we’re too tired to care. We head straight out to dinner and find a decent Mexican. Bogota is cold, so we plot a flight to the coast to get to the sun as soon as possible.
9PM - The bed is rock hard.
As you can see, full-time travel isn’t always peaches & cream; it can be tiring and frustrating, especially when you’re on the move, feeling tired, can’t find any “comfort food”, are subjected to bad weather, and just want a quiet full night of sleep. I can relate!
But I think that both Erin and Simon would also agree that it’s not always bad….as with life, we all have our ups and downs…
For the last year Erin and Simon have been in South America and they have just moved on to Panama to explore Central America. They write about their travels and life as digital nomads on Never Ending Voyage and run the location independent web design and development business Line In Web Design.