The next day was a long drive to the small colonial town of Popoyan (235 km). In the past this would normally an easy and short drive but with all the mountain climbing in second gear it takes a long time. There, we found a camping area in the yard of a young couple who had recently decided to open up their courtyard for overlanders. In the first few months they already had quite a few visitors thanks to the good iOverlander reviews. We met Pepito and Alegria from Spain who are also travelling in a T4. We exchanged “war“ stories about the problems with the camper. We walked through the historical town and of course dropped in to some churches and the central plaza. We experienced our first tropical rain of this trip but managed to find shelter in a shopping mall.
Driving further up North we entered the large valley around Cali. It lies at 1000 m and is full of sugarcane. We made a lunch stop in Cali but decided to drive on to find a more quiet place for a 2 day rest. This we found at Laguna Calima nestled in the coastal mountains at some 1400 m. The lake is well know by kite surfers because of the constant strong wind in the afternoon. There are several kite surf schools and several lodges along the shore. We found a nice camping on the lake and stayed there for 2 days.
After much deliberation we decided not to visit the larger cities of Medellin or Bogota but spend more time driving through the country side. Therefore we took a steep rocky road up the mountain to Salento. Before town, we stopped at the small organic coffee plantation of Don Elias for a tour. They produce some 4 tons of organic coffee a year on 4 hectare of mountain slope. They have 2 harvest per year. Ground moist management is important for the quality of the coffee bean. Therefore the bushes are not planted too close to the river and banana and avocado trees are planted in-between the bean bushes to suck up some of the moisture and provide shade. All organic waste is also used for fertilisation. After the tour we had a lovely cup of coffee and bought a package of beans too.
We bypassed the mountaintop town of Salento and drove some 10 km towards the Valle de Cocora. Up the slopes at the end of this valley grows the Wax Palm. This is the tallest palm in the world and can grow up to 60 m high and live upto 200 years old. We camped at a restaurant-campsite at the start of the walk up the mountain.
The next morning around 8.30, we were already on the road. The trail started easy over a rough gravel road which ran through the grass fields with the wax palms. Higher up the rainforest started. At the top of the mountain after 4.5 km of climbing 400 m up, there is a lovely hut surrounded by an abundance of flowers. Some of them we have never seen. They sold hot chocolate milk which warmed us up (2800m). From the hut it went steep down over a slippery and rocky path down to river and then up again to another hut where you could see from the balcony different types of hummingbirds feeding from flowers and bird feeders. It is only 3km from the first hut but because it is steep downhill/climbing, it seems longer. It started to rain heavily. At a dry spell we started our long descent over a path (slippery at some area) which because of the rain, looked more like a river. The tropical rain had started again. The stream we crossed some 8 times over hanging bridges became more swollen at each crossing. Finally after 7 1/2 hrs we came back to our campsite and treated ourselves to a lovely lunch/diner. It was the first beef Rudy had in months and Jamaliah had a lovely vegetarian dish of fried plantain with cheese and mushrooms. Some of which is left for tonight.