United Nations, group rides, 200 foot tall palm trees

Dear friends and family,

I am now in the coffee country of Colombia, presently in Filandia, a cute tourist town or almost all Colombian weekend tourists. Today is Monday and half the business are closed after a festival this weekend.

I flew from Bogota to Armenia, an easy hour flight, and my bike in bag was on the carousel when I deplaned. I am really glad I brought my own bike bag with me. Packing the bike inside it makes it possible to fit in a regular taxi, in the baggage compartment of a bus, and on the carousel with luggage when flying. 

I got the bike assembled, did my workout in my room, and stood in the shower to clean off the grit and sweat. I turned the knob all the way on and nothing happened. Nothing. I stepped out and found the same with the sink. Damn, I was so ready. I dressed and checked with the manager in the lobby and he shrugged and said he hoped it would come back on soon. Soon turned out to be after dinner, so I got to stay dirty all day and out to dinner. I am so spoiled it seems, turning the knob and expecting water to show up!

I had a short fifteen mile ride from Armenia to Salento, so didn’t get the earliest start as I didn’t want to show up too early at my hostel. As I neared the edge of town I came across a group of about 20 cyclists assembling where the paved road ended. I asked if they were going to Salento and they said they were. It was a Wednesday, so I was curious as to why not working and was told they were all self employed and could make their own hours. They preferred to ride their longer rides during the week to save on traffic and tourists. 

They swept my up with them and we rode a bumpy, but shaded dirt road together. I was talking away with them, some Spanish and some English, as one of the riders used to live in Miami. The first several miles were mostly flat and we rode together. I looked at my watch and noticed that I was riding with them for just short of two hours at a significantly higher rate than my usual. Once we got to the hill climb, they left me behind as I alternated between riding and pushing. I noticed that faster pace took a lot out of me.

I still arrived too early at my hostel to check in. The manager told me it could be 4-5 hours before the others checked out and the rooms were cleaned. A group of young (almost all the other travelers are young comparatively) backpackers were eating breakfast together and invited me to join them, which I did. 

It was the United Nations, with people from Sweden, Australia, Germany, Holland, and France. They were curious about my biking, as several of them had done bikepacking tours, but on flatter land. Sometimes it seems that a group just gels and this was certainly one.  After a couple of hours of chatting, we all hiked to town together to search out a lunch place. Price was top priority for them, so we turned down a couple of places as the price was a couple of dollars too high. Days later, when we all left for different directions, we lamented the breaking of a really interesting and fun group, open to discussing politics, religion, social systems, spirituality and health regimens. I felt the same age as they. Maybe some of that youth rubbed off.

The highlight of a visit to Salento, aside from strolling the town and eating, is the hike to the Cocora palm trees. These palms are the national tree of Colombia  and grow to up to 200 feet high. 

To get there you buy a ticket at the square and wait in line to be packed into a Jeep. Eleven is the normal load, including three standing on the back. It’s only a twenty minute ride to the trailhead. The hike is from 4-6 hours, depending on how many pictures you stop for or waterfalls to visit. It goes from about 6000 feet elevation to about 8000 (roughly), so the altitude can be felt. 

Once again I got swept up in a group of young people, this time seven from the Netherlands. I was enjoying the discussions and realized (again-slow learner) that I was going a lot faster than I otherwise would. Okay, here comes the steep climb and I found myself laboring mightily. I got about three quarters of the way to the top, ran out of energy, and stopped to nourish myself and catch my breath. Turns out I misunderstood a spanish speaker and thought this steep part was just a view and the trail continued from below. I waited about twenty minutes for the Dutch group to return and then I went all the way down. Once I was down, I talked to other people and realized that the hike went over the top to the finish, so I got to climb the steep part again, much to my chagrin and maybe a little anger that powered me up. It didn’t even seem hard the second time.

On the other side were the palms, reached easily from the other side by the less athletic hikers. This is where the hand of God stood over the valley. Of course I had to have my picture taken here. 

I am left wondering why I get so swept up in the hiking and biking groups and end up pushing myself a little above my limits. I don’t think I am trying to prove anything to the others, I think I enjoy the socialness of the conversations and company. Turns out I did the same thing again with the Sunday morning bikers once I left Salento for Filandia. So far no harm done, but it does cut into my recovery. The massage with coffee oil sure helped my recovery, but I think I got a caffeine hit from the oil. Good thing it was in the morning.

Seeing all the Jeeps in use reminded me of my own Jeep adventure: Way back in 1980, on my way to work at the hardware store I ended up behind a car carrier loaded with CJ-5 Jeeps. As I followed it for a few miles, the thought that I could actually afford to just buy one crossed my mind. This was the first time I had enough money in the bank after working for a few years and it seems the cash was burning a hole in my pocket. When the Jeep carrier turned off away from my work direction, I followed it. Followed it right to the dealership where I went in and signed a purchase agreement for the grey Jeep on the aft end of the truck. 

I got a ride from a friend after work back to the dealership and after learning how to lock in the hubs for four wheel drive, headed out to the country to test it out. 

“One day or two?” The tow truck driver asked 

“One, how did you know?” I answered curiously. 

“ I usually get the call on the first or second day from someone your age with these”. “You kids think these things can do things they aren’t designed for so I get the call”. “They should add the towing fee to the payment when you buy it so you are prepared”. 

He succeeded to expertly de-stick me from the mud I had buried my new Jeep in. Same type of Jeep I rode in yesterday. Ah, memories!

Sending love,


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6 thoughts on “United Nations, group rides, 200 foot tall palm trees”

  1. I’m reading your posts right along with Heather Cox Richardson and Robert Hubbel – with coffee, of course. A wonderful and educational travalog that provides a timely and welcome reminder of how good people are, all over the world.

  2. Trying to keep up with younger bodies reminds me of my spin classes! Did you get to visit any coffee plantations? Loved the jeep story and the great pics

  3. I guess you feel your age from time to time. Nice to socialize with all these different nationals. Being a tourist in more remote untypical USA tourist areas must be interesting. What was the massage? Never heard of coffee oil and how did you find it?

    1. Lynna,
      The hostel I stayed at offered massage on site. Once she covered my back in oil, she let me know it was coffee oil. I couldn’t find any in stores there. I’m still in the coffee area, so will keep looking. It sure seemed to work: I wasn’t even sore after the big hike.

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