Tuesday 7 January 2020

Christmas and New Year in Colombia

Being a predominantly Christian country Colombians love Christmas. The streets and houses are brightly decorated with a big hint of competitiveness.

We had arranged many months before entering the country that we were spending Christmas at a well know travellers hostel called Steel Horse, in the picturesque town of Filandia . 

Because we didn't want to leave Ecuador,  we left it to the last minute to enter the country so found ourselves racing north to make Filandia in time.  

Its hard to estimate travelling time accurately. Sometimes you plot a route of lets say 150 km, thinking it will take 3 to 4 hours and it  turns out to be a long day due to the terrain, road works  and negotiating large towns and cities. 

We stopped on the way at a camp site called           "La Bonanza Chez Kika" near the town of Silvia.

This amazing place has been developed over the last couple of years by a wonderful Moroccan family who stumbled into this beautiful area whilst travelling and then made it their home .

Many Colombian families observe the custom of Novena. This practise requires families, friends and the community in general to gather on each of the 9 days prior to Christmas and conduct ceremonies, prayers and singing.

Whilst at Bonanza were were  invited into the home of the neighbours to take part in this event.  Although not religious ourselves it was an absolute honour to be included.

Several families were all crammed into a relatively small room and each member including all the children played their part. 

It was a fantastic evening that finished with a hot, but very sweet drinking chocholate with cheese in it.

It seemed only fair that having been invited into their home that I reciprocate and invite them to our home the next morning with the promise that all the children would get a present.

Believing that only a few would turn up we were quite taken aback when bang on 9 o'clock everyone turned up .

Luckily Pat's endless supply of London Pencils, Key Rings and Hair clips held out.

These events have become highlights for us and its very humbling to be included in such occasions . 

Having said our endless goodbyes and withe the promise of our return, we set of heading north. 

We had only been on the road for half an hour when we were stopped by the local Police who wanted to do a routine search of our vehicle for illicit drugs.

The rather fat drugs dog was deployed. 

Our truck has 6 steps into the cabin area. Sadly the fat drugs dog couldn't manage them so its handler told everyone to stand back whilst he threw it through the door. We all waited outside with eager anticipation. We waited and waited. Nothing happened, the dog was missing in action. 

After 5 minutes the handler decided that we should now enter the cabin to see what he had found. 
The fat drugs dog was curled up fast asleep on our mat. The slightly embarrassed handler gave the dog a firm nudge with his boot. The dog sprang into action, looked around and found a shoe, which it proudly presented to the handler.

The search was duly abandoned and we all opted for a series of selfies instead. 

But only after they had all run back to their vehicle to get their amazing hats on 

Filandia is a very pretty town deep in the heart of the Colombian coffee region.

The Hostel "Steel Horse" is owned and run by a couple of Brits called Yvette and Paul who like the Moroccan family earlier, had fallen in love with the region, whilst travelling on motorcycles.

The Christmas event had been promoted well in advance by Overland Sphere  and about 25 Overlanders, in vehicles and motorcycles, were in attendance. 

A couple of nights before Christmas we all decided to hit the town , get a meal and see the sights.

After dinner we all found ourselves in the basement area of a seedy bar. It looked like it would be an ideal location for cock fighting or cage fighting.

The place was full of drunken locals and the smoke hanging the air was chocking.

It turns out that this is the local arena for the game of " Tejo".  It involves throwing heavy metal weights at explosive charges that are mounted on a wet clay backdrop. The aim is obviously to hit the charges causing a deafening explosion . The owner very patiently explained the 300 rules of the game , which we promptly ignored and just took it turns to try and blow ourselves up.   Alcohol helps with this game.

It was clearly invented by a bunch of drunken cowboys who thought it would be a good idea to throw rocks at shotgun cartridges.

Described as game of skill, the locals were taking it very seriously. We weren't allowed to play on the big courts and were confined to the children's area. Kids throwing rocks at explosives has always sounded good to me .

The triangular bits are the explosives.

A great night was had and we all survived intact.

Christmas day was great. Pat decorated the room and  Paul and Yvette slaved tirelessly in the kitchen  and an amazing meal was produced. 

Overland Sphere kindly donated the wine and the beer..... Thank you

After dinner the silly games started. 

Great Evening, Great company, Great fun.

The next few days were spent relaxing and enjoying the town.

During one of the afternoons , we were sat out chatting when the ground started shaking . For the first time in our lives we were experiencing an earthquake. The truck was swinging side to side and we all looked at each other in astonishment. It was all over in about 20 seconds.

Half an hour later, whilst Pat was sat on the toilet in the truck, the second one arrived. Never seen her move so quick. She was out of the door in 5 seconds. 

The end came all too soon and the good byes were tough

The nearby town of Salento and the Cocora Valley filled the gap between Christmas and New Year.

Salento is a relatively small town that is very popular with both Tourists and Locals .

Just outside the town we visited Finca Momota

This relatively small , but totally organic , coffee plantation is owned and managed by Uri and Carla.
Their dream is to create a very bio diverse Coffee Finca that uses  old traditional values and cultivation methods.

For us it was a bit of an eye opener as I wouldn't have recognised a coffee tree if it fell on me. 
The processes they use are very labour intensive as nearly all tasks from raising seedlings to roasting the beans are done by hand.

Who would have thought that coffee beans are red.

The Cocora Valley is home to a large collection of the very tall Wax Palms . They can grow to between 40 and 50m and can reach well over 100 years in age.


The recently opened camp ground and hostel called "Donkey Sunrise" in La Union in the Valle de Cauca was our New Year destination.

Upon arrival we discovered that quite a number        ( mostly younger )  from the Christmas gathering had the same great idea.

Like Christmas, New Year is a big occasion  in Colombia. Don't expect to get any sleep. 

There are many traditions that take place on the night. These include eating 12 grapes to the chimes of midnight, wearing yellow underwear, filling your pockets with Lentils, running around the block with a suitcase.   However, the more bizarre and slightly sinister  act of blowing up the old year doll is the most popular.

This practise involves making a full size human effigy known as "Ano Nuevo" . You then fill it with explosives and on the first stroke of midnight you blow it to pieces. This symbolises burning away the Old Year and thus making way for the New Year.

In the lead up to the event all the roads are lined with these dolls waiting to be selected for their calling.

The neighbouring bar invited us to witness their sacrifice .  Glad we didn't stand too close .


After all that excitement there was only one thing left to do 

Salsa lessons

Happy New year and

Hasta Luego