Jardin and Jerico

Having only planned to stay for two nights in Jardin, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to leave yet. For one thing, we still needed to return to the bird garden with a proper camera. We packed up the tripod, the camera and headed off. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the garden down a steep hill, we arrived at the bottom, paid the lady and entered. We hadn’t been there for long when it dawned on us that we had left the camper keys in the door. As we were just parked outside on the street, this wasn’t a good thing at all. Lee left me in charge of photography and went to secure the van. I spent a while doing it properly this time.

Our fellow campers had also reached the garden; having been at the cave earlier that day. They told us that another camper was also arriving tonight. We have still been seeing the slow return of overlanders since the pandemic and it seemed like now was truly the end, there were campers everywhere and things were truly and permanently open.

After taking some pretty good photos, if I saw so myself, I headed back to the van, where I was relieved to hear that no one else had realised our stupid mistake. The way we were parked the keys wouldn’t have been easily visible from the street, and Ruby was fine. We had indeed been joined by another van too, making three of us camping in the street. It wouldn’t be for long though, as always were the slow one and when they others left the following day we still had plans in Jardin.

There are several nice hikes to be done in the area, the first of which is a small loop from the town into the hills behind. It was recommended to complete the loop in reverse, getting a rather interesting looking cable car across the valley to start with, before hiking back down.

We walked the short distance down into town to pick up the cable car, this to me seemed a rather generous term for it. It was indeed pulled by cables, but it was more of a cable crate. I watched it rather suspiciously as it bounced away from us up towards the other hillside. The lady informed us that it wouldn’t return for 20 minutes.

Sure enough, 20 minutes later, a loud whirring noise announced that it was on the move again. The metal crate juddered over the valley, suspended by four plastic wheels that ran on two cables. A third cable attached to it was responsible for lowering it down and then winching it up again. It look like one enthusiastic pull on the cable would make it bounce right off its little plastic wheels, but I tried not to think about that too much as I got in. The lady kindly righting the fallen over bench so we could sit down.

The door was shut and we were off. It had looked relatively smooth watching it travel down to us, and maybe it was when it wasn’t fighting gravity. The reality of it was however that the car slowed to a near stop as the winch above slowly wound in and then as the cable was tensioned sufficiently it dragged us up a few metres, before bouncing to a near halt while the cable re-tensioned. It was a little off-putting and astonishingly loud, but the views were rather good.

Once safely at the top, we walked out onto the road to continue our loop. It was an easy walk down the dirt road with views down to the village nestled below. We passed a nice waterfall and crossed the river as it began to drizzle.

Fortunately, it’s a short loop and before we got too wet, we were back in town again. This little walk was good preparation for the bigger hike we planned tomorrow.

Jardin’s church

To round off our time in Jardin, we decided to combine two other hillside hikes. La Caminata de la Cruces as well as quick visit to Christo. It seems popular here for these mountain towns to have a large statue of Christ mounted on the hillside above the village. I supposed he looks out of the town to protect it, and consequently there’s normally a great view.

We set off the following morning in the sunshine and hiked the opposite way this time. We would walk up through the hills, completing the most challenging part of the hike first. As we headed out of the village and started getting some lovely views back down the valley, we couldn’t help put mentally put Jardin on our ‘possible places to live’ list.

The walk continued on upwards and soon we reached the official start point of The Trail of the Crosses. Naturally marked by a large metal cross, this route continued up to the main cross. Visible from the town at night, this huge lit up cross stood on the very top of the hill, we imagined it must have a spectacular view and we started the steep part of the climb towards it.

The trail continue to climb steadily upwards, every now and again marked by another cross to let us know we were on track, not that there was much choice. Mostly, we walked in the trees, crossing over the occasional stream on the path as we climbed higher and higher.

The only option to deviate from the path is near the end. Just before, you break through the trees to enjoy some lovely views of the valley you have just climbed up.

The trail then comes out into an open field and becomes rather ambiguous. We relied on our GPS to roughly stick to the left hand path, the right hand one (if you followed it for long enough) would actually lead you to La Cuerva del Esplendor. As we continued up the final section, we picked our way through a marshy field and once again found some more crosses that confirmed we were on track.

Soon, we reached a little outcrop of trees that crowned the very top of the hill and headed inside. Once here, it’s just a few steps until the cross came into view. We negotiated huge spider webs that spanned several metres between the trees, until we stood at its base. The cross loomed above us, in a small clearing in the woods. All around, trees blocked any kind of view that we could have had of the surrounding country side. It seemed like a lot of effort, for not a lot and we consoled ourselves with lunch.

What was annoying, was that the other marked route we wanted to take was not far away, but wasn’t joined on the map. We wondered if we could walk a little way down the valley and pick up the other path. Typically for us, we went a bit off piste. At first, we didn’t want to cut through the wood because of the spiders but then as we started to walk around the perimeter, the geography of the field forced us to contend with a cliff edge, a lake or the forest. We walked through the trees, waving a stick in front to swat away any spiders before we got a face full of them. Before long it hard started to rain and we emerged on the other side. The land fell sharply away with that view I’d been waiting for.

From here, it was just a case of cutting down the hillside. We started across, taking shelter in the trees as the rain intensified. Soon, we were in a full blown thunderstorm. The rain had soaked through the sad little thicket we hid in and drenched us. Bolts of lightning flashed so close to us that we heard the buzz of the electricity as it cut through the air. We weren’t sure if we were better staying near the trees or not. Either way, if it hadn’t been dry under foot before it was certainly getting worse. We left the trees and picked our way across the waterlogged field, jumping from tussock to tussock in a vain attempt to keep our feet dry. In the midst of this, we also negotiated some electric fences, which Lee helpfully confirmed, were indeed on.

What had started out as a simple hike was getting rather complicated. As we reached the first bit of shelter we had seen, the rain eased. We started to pick our way down the hillside. I began to wonder if this was a bad idea. The land fell away so sharply it was hard to see what was coming next. It was also incredibly wet. You might think that hillside so steep wouldn’t be covered in standing water, but that was not the case here and it was easy to put your foot wrong and slip in the mud.

We reached the last field in the valley and began edging down it until we reached the tree line. We could even see where the path was going to be but between us an it was a short swathe of trees and no path.
The trees grew in place on a near vertical rock cliff. We climbed down a few metres on the slippery mulch, clinging onto whatever was nearby until we reached another gully. We were a matter of metres away but there was no way we could make it across without putting ourselves at serious risk. There was nothing solid to hold on to, rotten tree branches snapped and plants that looked like a firm foothold slipped off the rocks as we stood on them. As much as neither of us liked admitting defeat, or wanted to climb all the way back up again, we knew that this was just stupid. On wrong foot and we’d fall a long way and have a very sticky end. We resigned ourselves to the climbing all the way back up.

Eventually we emerged once again into a familiar field. A check of google satellite made it seem like maybe there was a different route to take here, but after negotiating more mud, more electrics fences and more spiders we finally admitted defeat. Soon we would run out of daylight and the reality was that looking at a picture from a satellite did not give a very clear idea of the gradients or terrain. One look at Google and we would simply amble across this field, whereas in reality we slogged up a bank so steep that at points we were on our hands and knees.

Despite admitting defeat, I was happy when we finally picked up the known path we had come up on. We now had a choice of whether to simply retrace our steps or head over to the path we had been trying to join on to. Lee would probably have rathered the more direct route, partly because in the final moments of the muddy field he’d sunk over his shoes in the bog, but we had spent so long messing around I was determined to finish our walk. It was less than an additional kilometre and so we headed for Christo.

By the time we arrived at the statue, it was all shut up for the night. That didn’t stop me walking into the nearby coffee planation to see the view and get a photo though. We had got there just in time for sunset.

By now we were both tired and it was a shame that the cable car that runs from this side of the valley across to the town had stopped. That meant we had to walk all the way down to the river and back up again. We continued plodding down to the river, before completing our final ascent in the dark. We arrived back at Ruby soggy and tired before grabbing a pizza from the local takeaway, we felt we had earned it.

We had thoroughly enjoyed Jardin but as ever it was time to move on. Before we started to head further south, we decided to break up what would potentially be quite a long drive, by heading to the town of Jericho. As per usual, the days driving consisted of descending from our current elevation to near sea level, before once again climbing all the way back up again. Ruby took it all in her stride, even negotiating the rather hilly town of Jerico without a problem. After our a quick visit to the shop, we headed back to the car park at the viewpoint to spend the night and chat to the ever curious families who were visiting.

We weren’t alone, another Colombian camper joined us and happily they were the ones to scare off the one lone car that decided to show up blaring its music at 3am, it was the weekend after all. We decided to spend one more day here, walking down through the botanical gardens, the colourful streets and to the very pink church at the other end of town.

It was at this point, as we sat overlooking the view of the town that I noticed our tyre was rather wet looking. Further examination revealed a large puddle of brake fluid and it looked like one of the seals in our brake calliper had failed. In this little mountain village, there wasn’t much we could do about it though, so we topped our brake fluid and hoped the brakes would hold out on the steep drive and winding mountainous drive out to the main road. In the meantime, may as well enjoy the view.

The next day we programmed the sat nav for a brake and clutch specialist and heading cautiously out of the parking spot. Luckily, despite the fact that there was brake fluid everywhere, our brakes were still holding enough pressure to work. We made it into La Pintada, heading for a garage. It turned out that the garage did not exist (surprise, surprise) and it was also a Sunday so there wasn’t much hope of finding something else. Still, she wasn’t driving too badly and we had little choice but to head further on. At least now we had come out of the mountains, the road was pretty straightforward, winding alongside the river as we continued to head south. It seemed our luck continued as we only got delayed for an hour in the roadworks on this stretch of highway, after hearing reports of our fellow overlanders getting held up for up to ten hours.

We had planned to visit the hot springs in Santa Rosa, but due to the brake issue and time of day, we opted to park in a service station for the night. It was very convenient, right next to the main road and not too noisy, once the bar shut. The best thing was our morning coffee with a view, as we looked down onto the town of Pereira before setting off to a garage that we hoped actually existed this time.

Down in Periera, we pulled into the brake shop. One of the things I continue to love about Latin America is the complete lack of appointments. We rolled into the shop and within a matter of minutes the wheel was off.

Everything was covered in brake fluid, we had used a litre to drive here after all and that was now all over the wheel. Soon the diagnosis was confirmed; a seal had gone in the calliper. It also turned out that our brake pads were completely knackered, we had known we’d needed new ones soon but now we were metal on metal and probably should get them sorted too.

I had suspected the seal would be the problem, who knew if they’d have the right one for our vehicle? But in actual fact that was sourced pretty quickly. The problem seemed to be the brake pads. While it’s hard to buy new ones here, it’s common to get pads resurfaced in these countries. So while we waited for them to sort out the pads, we went shoe shopping.

We caught an Uber to a Decathlon that wasn’t yet built and then headed to a hyper market in search of some new walking boots for Lee. The problem being that its hard to buy shoes over a size 9 in these countries, people in general are smaller. After the lady in Brahma desperately tried to convince us that it was no problem to have shoes a size too small, we returned to the garage empty handed but expecting things to be ready. Naturally, things were not ready. We had told the new pads would be done by 3pm, but we were rather shortly informed by the boss that they were still working on it.

Then one of the mechanics left the door open and Lizzie made a short lived bid for freedom. Fortunately, she was soon cut off, with a little help from the guy next door. Dusk came and with it the arrival of our brake pads. It turns out that they had made us some new custom ones, rather than resurfacing our old pads, which was good news, if a little on the expensive side for brakes. Finally, as night fell, we were ready to leave.

It was only just over an hour to the campsite in Salento, but I’m not keen on night driving. Lee took the steering wheel, determined we could still make it that same night. So we set off to what looked like the only decent looking campsite in town and it also had did horseback riding, something if had been waiting for a long time. From here it was also a short drive down to Cocora Valley with its famous wax palms, we had a good week ahead of us, once we had got there.

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