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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
1,321 days a wanderin'

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Getting Our Fix, Zona Cafetera

Jan 5, 2018
by John

Coffee, one of the five major food groups. A keystone of civilization, once a causation of war. A great cup can change a life, as can a crappy one. So much has happened over a cup of Joe. Morning, afternoon, or night...there is no end to its delight. If you are a drinker, you'd take any type. Through bitching and moaning you'd still drain it from sight. Bad is better than none-at-all. Good is sufficient, great is what answers the lustful call. It is an addiction, an acidic affliction, without such the inevitable slip to dereliction. Our one saving grace, besides its legal standing of place, is that Colombians have also succumbed to its taste.

Words cannot describe the joy it brings, to be traveling through a country that appreciates a great cup of coffee as much as we do. If heaven existed and was a place on earth, it would definitely be somewhere in Colombia.

What We Did

Guatape, Antioquia

On our way to Medellin we thought we should checkout the infamous Piedra del Penol just outside Guatape. Due to a later than usual start, we ended up having breakfast with our already drunk host after spending the night in a grassy hotel lot, we rolled in and parked. All in, the excursion to Piedra del Penol set us back 41,000 ($13.67) and took less than an hour to explore. The photos we've seen make the attraction much prettier than in person so we huffed up all 700+ steps to the tippy top then immediately jelly legged back down through the hordes of people. Having plenty of time, we drove to Guatape and parked in a lot that allows overnight parking for 6,000 ($2). We spent the rest of the day wandering the cute town, having a decent dinner while escaping the rain, and people watching until we returned to the van for the night.

Piedra del Penol, Antioquia, Colombia

That's one way to skin a cat

Piedra del Penol, Antioquia, Colombia

The imagination of serenity

Piedra del Penol, Antioquia, Colombia

What it really looks like

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia

That Po Po has got style

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia

No, they didn't paint it like that for Christmas

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia

They really did miss a spot

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia

Duck, duck, strudel

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia

Are they moving or did they just rob that house?

Guatape, Antioquia, Colombia

It's got everything immaginable

Medellin, Antioquia

We are not big city people, our only intention for Medellin was to find a mechanic to complete a couple outstanding things on the van. We had heard a lot of great things about Overlanders Finca, 35,000 ($11.67) per vehicle per night for 2 people, choosing them as our first stop since they are located just outside the city. It rained most of the day so we didn't take any photos and the owners weren't available so we got the tour from the cleaning lady before she left for a 6 hour break, leaving us on our own. The owner called us that evening to apologize and after hearing we needed a mechanic he located one that could do most of the things we needed, Expollantas.

The following morning we drove to the shop, explained our issues in English, had a local roving master mechanic called in, and were soon helping the guys drop our 46 gallon diesel tank. Over the two days our van was in the shop we pulled the sending unit from our diesel tank and cleaned its plastic filters, received another suspension inspection and tightening, had the seam of our muffler welded to stop a leak, and had our emergency brake repaired. Our emergency brake has been a problem ever since we bought the van, meaning every single shop the van has visited has failed to repair it telling us the e-brakes on the Ford vans are just plain shit. The mechanics at Expollantas actually disassembled our rear brakes to discover we didn't have any emergency brake pads and our emergency brake cable was badly frayed. Magically, after getting the emergency brakes resurfaced and a new cable installed, our emergency brake actually works... go figure! The total bill for parts and labor was right under $200. We also decided to get a full service including tire balance and rotation, another $180, the bulk was for 15 quarts of high grade oil. The van also got its undercarriage rinsed, shedding several pounds of dirt, clay, and small rocks. The only thing they could not fix was our sway bar links, we'll just have to order a new set.

As for the city? All we did was work on the van, having lunch at the mechanics since there is a great onsite local restaurant, and stayed in fancy hotels for the two nights we were there. We didn't even venture out for dinner, choosing hotels with free breakfast and decent onsite restaurants. For many this might seem a shame, for us, it was the best way to visit a city we would have otherwise skipped.

Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia

Why we don't have Jerry cans

Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia

That should keep it from being stolen

Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia

Hasn't been taken apart in years

Medellin, Antioquia, Colombia

Van enima

Jardin, Antioquia

Busting out of the city, we decided to check out the town of Jardin. On our way, while filling up with diesel, two brothers approached us asking questions about our trip. Turns out they just got back from a 6 week tour of the U.S., driving and living in a rented Ford F150, and are planning a much bigger drive in the future. Before heading back to work they treated us to pasteles de pollo, fried chicken pies much like empanadas but somehow much tastier. The people of Colombia are wonderful. Fat and happy, we finished the drive to Jardin and parked in front of the owners' house at a trout farm, Truchera Montemar. At 15,000 ($5) per person per night it was sufficient for our two night stay, it took a day longer to explore the town due to rain.

Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia

Why is the fanciest building always a church?

Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia

Praise something, that floor is damn beautiful

Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia

That ceiling might mesmerize us into believing

Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia

It could use some green

Salento, Quindio

We always expected to spend a decent amount of time in Salento. Everyone gave it high praises and it is located in the heart of the coffee region. While we did find the town charming, it ended up being more of a backpacker paradise than our own. That still didn't dissuade us from spending over two weeks in the area, almost entirely at La Serrana for 15,000 ($5) per person per night including free breakfast. It rained every day so we didn't do much, mostly supply runs and having lunch at the Brunch Diner...our favorite restaurant in town. We did hang with other overlanders and the occasional backpacker that was staying at the onsite hostel. It also happened to be the last place we spent with Matty & Ingrid, our paths won't cross again for probably 9-10 months. If it wasn't for having to wait for our vehicle extension, we would have left sooner but when the sky did clear...the beauty was surely beheld.

Salento, Quindio, Colombia

Maybe we'll finally dry out a little

Salento, Quindio, Colombia

Is this how water decaffeination is supposed to work?

Salento, Quindio, Colombia

Even the dogs are closed in the morning

Wax Palm Hike, Cocora Valley, Quindio

One of the big draws to Salento are the wax palms. We did manage a hike but didn't get as lucky with the rain as we had hoped, it was still worth it. Instead of driving the van, we caught a Jeep from the town square for 3,800 ($1.30) per person per way. Our plan wasn't exactly thought out so we ended up hiking the long way up through the park before finding the famous field of palms on the way down, reaching a pay station about 1km in that was charging 2,000 ($.67) per person. Our only gripe is the horses use the same trail so the beginning of the hike was in a trough of a slippery concoction of mud and horse shit. The backdrop was stunning and when we reached the park the landscape changed almost entirely and had us using suspension bridges to cross a small river 7 times, once was on a set of slippery logs strapped together. The sky was gray, it rained, we were filthy, and it was a great time...maybe not the return ride to town while standing on the back of the Jeep and being pelted by large raindrops.

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

We wouldn't drink it

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

Well, isn't that just shitty

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

Thank you berry much

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

Don't mind the gaps

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

It can't be, it's not three apples high

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

What could possibly go wrong?

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

Flowin' like Eminem on exlax

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

Stick to your own kind

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

I didn't say veal, did you say veal?

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

I thought we were at Cocora

Cocora Valley, Quindio, Colombia

They are much taller in person

Filandia, Quindio

In between our stints at La Serrana we took a detour to Steel Horse Filandia for a night, 30,000 ($15) per vehicle per night for 2 people. It's a nice place that is being set up by former overlanders. We sorted some things in the van then joined everyone for the home cooked dinner, 12,000 ($4) per person, swapping stories from the road. We were the only travelers not on motorcycles so it was interesting to get a glimpse of a different style of overlanding. We won't be giving up the van anytime soon, we're way to wimpy for bikes. We'll keep following Charlie and Mac as they lay down the miles and hopefully not their BMWs.

Steel Horse Filandia, Quindio, Colombia

Definitely makes us the posh ones

Steel Horse Filandia, Quindio, Colombia

So is it finca or filandia?

Steel Horse Filandia, Quindio, Colombia

Yup, we all are in the same clothes as the night before

Tourist Permit and Vehicle Extensions

Since we were dodging the big cities, we picked Armenia as the town where we'd complete our extensions, it was very close to Salento. We used a detailed blog post from other travelers and started the online tourist permit extension process, receiving several email notifications shortly after submission. In our haste, mine mostly, we didn't notice that at the bottom of our pre-approval emails there was a link to pay online. We instead drove to the office in Armenia the following day to complete our payment of $61.26 ($30.63 each) and received our extension documents in under an hour. Our passports were not stamped or altered in any way, the extension is a separate document which we were also emailed. It appears we could have completed the entire tourist permit extension online, never needing to drive into Armenia.

We had to visit the DIAN office in person so the trip wasn't for naught and we drove straight there after receiving our personal extensions. Our van's TIP was two weeks from expiring so the office refused to issue an extension at that time and told us to return no earlier than 3 days before its expiration. We begged a little, tried the "we're going to be really remote" line like others had success with, and they relented to 8 days before expiration due to the upcoming holidays. They also insisted we needed rubbings of the VIN and showed us a book that had motorcycles in it with VIN rubbings. Having a week to spare, the reason we stayed in the region as long as we did, we ventured to Steel Horse Filandia before returning to La Serrana with plans to get the van extended 8 days before the TIP expired.

During our week long wait, we purchased carbon paper and scotch tape to make a couple VIN rubbings. We had never heard of it being needed, they also never asked for it, but we didn't want to get turned away again. Arriving back at the DIAN office mid morning on day 8, we expected the process to be fairly quick, we got seated and spent the next 2.5 hours staring at the nice slow lady whom we were assigned. The 15 minutes of work equates to us filling out a form; providing my passport, tourist permit extension, title, and registration; the agent making copies and entering information in a computer; another agent checking the van's VIN and taking some photos; our information being updated in the automated system; and our agent adding one line into a physical ledger; after which we were issued a new TIP that was set to expire the same day we would. No excuse needed, the following day we started the 2 day drive back to Villa de Leyva with plans to bed down there for the holidays...thank you Colombia!


Say what? (5)
Jan 5, 2018 at 02:47 PM
Lovely photos. What colorful towns. Too bad the weather didn't always cooperate but then... :) Enjoy friends and Happy New year.
george Penick
Jan 5, 2018 at 03:04 PM
Maybe the van repair pics were just for me- yes, I'm everything automotive! Too bad the fuel tank filters cant be serviced from the van floor..................cheers!
Jan 7, 2018 at 12:59 PM
Thanks Rhonda and Happy New Year! Weather is weather, we knew our chances were low but we had to be somewhere ; )

George, it’s a stupid design and one of the first things to check on a 7.3. Our fuel filters are rather easy but those two little plastic ones inside the sending unit are a big pain. We shouldn’t have to touch them again for 100k miles.
Jan 7, 2018 at 02:59 PM
Happy New Year John and Mandy! Every updated is a leasure to read, I'm definitely not tired of it!
Keep enjoying your travel in 2018.
Safe travel. Cheers
Claude-Alain
Feb 4, 2018 at 11:15 AM
Thanks Claude-Alain and Happy New Year! Please be sure to share any trips you take in VivaLaVida.
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