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My name is Jonathan, I am a 21 year old student at Warwick, I went to Colombia in the summer of 2006, and wanted to share a little bit of it...
First of all, it was of little surprise to me that Colombia has had just five reviews on the country in general. This can probably be accounted by the fact that when you take one look at the foreign office website, all but a handful of Colombian provinces are blacked out as "no go zones." Whether feeling adventurous or just plain stupid as some would claim, I chose to kindly ignore this advice, and venture out to what has now become one of my favourite countries in the world, and despite my age, I have been to over 30 countries across all the continents.
My journey in Colombia began on the caribbean coast and ended on the border to Ecuador, where my travels continued down the West coast to Santiago de Chile. I appreciate that I am just one traveller amongst many, but having travelled from one end of the country to the other entirely by public transport with out any problems whatsoever, I feel compelled to let others know that Colombia should not be ignored out of blind fear of the unknown.
I should add here that coming back to the UK was a massive culture shock. The week I returned I paid twice as much for a train between London and Winchester than I did for a bus a third of the way across Colombia. Considering Colombia is six times the size of England, the magnitude of this can be appreciated a little better!
Colombia is a stunning country, extremely diverse and full of a wonderful population that seems to struggle tirelessly to dispell the drug fuelled reputation it has gained thanks to the minority in the Amazon basin region of the country. It baffles me that so many people I talk to can be so ignorant about something they know so very little about. So here is my small attempt to change the mind of some.
I have one particular gem that I want to share, but am half reluctant to do at the same time in fear of it being over run by tourists! A little way south of Bogota there is a city called Pereira, just outside this city lies a tiny village called La Bodega. Off the road, up a very long dusty track lies Finca Villa Maria - a hidden paradise that seriously takes some beating. This is coming from somebody who has seen the pyramids, dived the great barrier reef, watched caribbean sun rises and lounged on a then unspoilt dubai beach.
Finca Villa Maria is a working coffee farm smack bang in the middle of a huge valley. Coffee and plantain grow as far as the eye can see. The farm itself is made up of the house and the processing plant itself. The family run business hosts guests at the house for a mere £15 a night. This includes 3 home cooked meals a day, a swimming pool, as much fresh coffee from the surrounding hills as you can drink, use of horses, a fishing lake - the works. The views are quite literally inexplicable. Hammocks rock effortlessly in the corner of the plush villa decking. Mangos hang from the trees, parrots and humming birds fly wild, resting on the trees an arm reach away. A wonderfully humble man named Hector who runs the farm is all too happy to show guests around the coffee processing plant and give lifts to the nearest populated town. The last point being particulary wonderful. The deserted location equals the most tranquil atmosphere I have ever experienced. By day, the only sounds are of the donkeys coming down the valley side carrying produce. By night, the wildlife comes alive, and depending on the time of year - thunderstorms roll in and give the most spectacular light show of bright purple lightning and thunder rolling around the valley in surround sound that Bose would be jealous of.
For the walkers out there, a climb to the top of the valley will make your ears pop. I managed it twice, with the second time capping off a wonderful stay as golden eagles flew meters above our heads. The farm below was a mere spec on the landscape, and the only accommodation in site. So, for those who wish to escape, in every single sense of the word - Villa Maria is quite simply unbeatable.
This is just one gem of many in Colombia. I could write pages on the country and not get bored. I sincerly hope that this review has got through to some who have read it. If as a result just one person can talk about Colombia without bringing up drug barrons or kidnap, I will be happy. I graduate next year I cant wait to return to this beautiful country afterwards. Many some of those reading may be tempted to do the same.