One of the greatest aspects of living in Colombia (Medellin, Colombia in particular) is the breathtaking countryside and traditional pueblos that lay just beyond the city’s reach. On any given day, you can jump on a bus and trade the hustle and bustle of downtown Medellin for the tranquility of rural landscapes and traditional villages, tucked away within the incredible lush green mountains that confine the city.
Last Saturday night I was at the Nacional vs Cali football match in central Medellin and struck up a conversation with a Colombian girl named Jennifer, who was back visiting her hometown from Toronto, Canada. She told me that she was heading to Cisneros in Northeastern Antioquia (province) on Monday to visit family and asked if I wanted to join her. Based on my infatuation with Colombian pueblos and inability to say “no”, I quickly accepted her offer before she could think twice.
It takes about 2 hours by bus to get to Cisneros, so we met up early Monday morning at the northern bus station in Medellin to get a jump-start on the day. At the terminal, we were joined by one of Jennifer’s childhood friends who is actually a police officer in the city. I seized the opportunity to ask an ‘inside source’ all the questions I had about Medellin’s notorious “influences”. The stories she has are incredible and with all the yapping, I never noticed the nauseating bumps and turns like usual. Before I knew it, we were coming up over the mountains that looked down into Cisneros.
Cisneros is nestled along the valley floor, surrounded by vast mountain walls that break open for cascading waterfalls that highlight the breathtaking landscape. As you come into town the first thing you notice is the giant train exhibit that sites smack dab in the middle. The train acts as a reminder of the town’s commercial importance as Monday morning business proceeds all around it. Everybody seems to be working, but nobody is in a rush.
We stopped into the local pharmacy to say hello to some family friends and then to the family-owned hardware store where her uncle was chatting it up with customers. From there we hiked up to the outskirts of town to escape from the bright mid-day sun. One of the most popular attractions of Cisneros is los Charcos. Charcos are fresh water pools that have been created from the rivers that flow down from the waterfalls above. We trekked up the river, passed scattered sunbathers and group lunch breaks, to a big natural pool where some local kids were splashing around.
I quickly changed into my bathing suit and joined the locals diving off the rocks. With some advice on the best places to jump, I leaped off the launch rock, down into the cold, fresh water. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
We lost track of time swimming, and had to make a mad dash back into town to catch the last (and only) ride up into the mountains to Jennifer’s grandparent’s house.
For the record, we fit 14 adults, 6 children, 8 chickens and dozens of large bags of supplies in the back of 1 old, Ford pick-up truck. The driver makes deliveries up to the farms, shops and school 4 days a week and we were lucky he was running that day.
The steep, crowded ride took us an hour and a half and then another intense 20-minute walk to come into view of the family finca (farm).
It was absolutely stunning. I can’t find the words to describe the feeling I had when we arrived. It was incredibly peaceful, warm and 100% Colombian. Rolling green mountains stretched out as far as the eye could see. Sugar cane, coffee plants and banana trees painted the hillside. Cows and horses grazed along steep, narrow paths they’d paved into the land.
The house was bordered with beautiful flowers and wild fruit trees. There was a coffee bean processor that ran along the side of the house to a giant wooden dryer (Secadero – for beans, fruits, etc). The kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms were all separated with open-air walkways and the horse/cow stable was just footsteps from the back porch. Jennifer’s aunt and uncle’s house was just up the hill about 50 yards from door to door. It was awesome.
As the sun set, we sat in the main living room listening to the rain on the tin roof as grandma and aunt prepared a hearty supper. We chatted in Spanish over the traditional Colombian fair of soup, meat, rice, beans and plantains. We called it a night at about 8pm as the TV reception came and went. I was happy to see that country living is the same every where in the world… It’s early to bed and early to rise.
I bunked up on a single bed across from Jennifer’s 15 year-old cousin, Alejandro (below with grandma). Like many kids his age, Alejo had a fascination with video games, hip-hop music and naked women. Luckily for me, he had all 3 stored up on his cell phone. We leaned in towards the nightstand that separated the two beds and spent the next hour running over people in Grand Theft Auto, translating 50 Cent songs (not easy) and admiring scantily clad cell phone wallpaper vixens. We talked and laughed until grandma shut us up from the neighboring room.
The next morning I was woken up by the crowing rooster… true story. I laid in bed laughing to myself, just enjoying the moment as Alejandro made his way out the door not as impressed. The only thing his cell phone didn’t have was a snooze button. He put on his work clothes like a man and headed off to work in the fields. I tried to follow him but Grandma noticed my ankle and had other plans for me. She decided that I’d be better suited pealing beans from pods for lunch with Vanessa, Jennifer’s little cousin (below). I was just happy to help in whatever way possible.
After an amazing lunch of lentils, meat, rice, plantains and salad, Jennifer, Vanessa and I headed out to walk around the property. We first headed over to the sugar cane field to bring juice to grandpa and another worker who were planting corn. From there we walked over where Alejandro and Jessie (another cousin) were cutting the coffee field by hand with a giant spade and machete.
I felt bad not getting involved, but we continued the walk behind the aunt and uncle’s house where we picked a prepared a variety of wild fruits, including mora (like raspberries) and lulu (my favorite Colombian juice).
As late afternoon hit, and grandpa got back from training a young horse, we decided to make the hour trek over the hillside and down the mountain to catch a bus back to Medellin. Alejandro escorted us (to get out of afternoon chores) and brought his boom box with us to pump us up along the way. Every step was more breathtaking than the last.
I couldn’t begin to thank the family enough for giving me a glimpse into their everyday lives. I told her grandpa next time I come back I want him to really put me to work. He smiled, agreed and told me he’d have a new horse for me to ‘break in’ when I return.
If you plan on jumping over the pond anytime soon, visit some other amazing countryside via Cumbrian Cottages in the British Lake District. Checkout Keswick Cottages, Ambleside Cottages and Accommodation in Windermere. There are a ton of cool lodges and cabins right along the lake that make for a perfect getaway from the London fog. I wish I knew about these when I studied in London. Renting a cottage would have made for one epic party!