With the picturesque town of Jardin, Colombia has won us over. This place is great.
Jardin is tucked into the mountains, about 3 hours south of Medellin. It’s name (“Garden”) fits it well, as the town is full of beautiful roses, orchids, and it seems that everything grows in its perfect climate. The surrounding mountains are lush with jungle, coffee, banana palms, and green, green pastures. The average high temperature is about 70F and the average low is about 60F – every month of the year! Can you say “perfect”?!
Jardin hasn’t really been discovered yet. It’s not in most guide books and there are very few foreign tourists. We arrived on Tuesday having read a few blog posts praising it, but not really knowing what to expect. Our original plan was to spend three nights here, but given the town’s charms, we ended up staying a week.
We left Medellin last Tuesday afternoon by bus. Actually it was in a van that seats ten. The van left from the southern bus station in Medellin, which was surprisingly clean, modern and efficient. Tickets were 20,000 Pesos each. The drive was a fast and winding one, through beautiful mountain scenery. Our driver was a bit heavy on the accelerator and late on the brakes.
The drive went by quickly and before we knew it we were stepping out into the picturesque town square of Jardin.
We weren’t sure where our hotel was and Google Maps wasn’t working on my phone, so we walked over to the middle of the square and took a few minutes to get our bearings. While we were sitting on a bench, a bunch of kids playing a game of “color tag” started using us as “base”! It was really sweet. Jardin is the kind of town where even the littlest kids run around and play on their own.
We got directions to the hotel, which was on the south edge of town, about a 5 minute walk from the square.
The hotel is very simple, but nice and very clean. We met the super friendly couple that owns the hotel and it turns out that Juan Felipe, the husband, is a TV producer and director who just did a show on adventure travel, culture, and nature in Colombia called Expedicion Condor de los Andes.
They had a national contest to select the cast members from all walks of life and from all parts of the country. The assembled team gets to go an adventure all across Colombia (something that probably wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago) white water rafting, spelunking, skydiving, bungee jumping, exploring ancient ruins, meeting local artists, etc. Colombia is a diverse, beautiful country and with the violence of the past decades, Colombians themselves missed out on the opportunity to explore their own country! The show is on one of the national channels Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30, so we all sat around last night and watched it together. It was great.
OK, so back to Jardin. We spent our first couple of days here just wandering around town and working intently on math. Jette has adjusted her study schedule and has decided to spend 4 hours per day on math until she has finished all of the remaining 5th level math workbooks. When we left Medellin, she had 3 workbooks remaining, and today only one and half. I expect she’ll have them all complete today or tomorrow. So, mornings we spent on math and afternoons exploring town.
If you look at the map, you’ll see that Jardin is a tiny little town, so it is quite easy to walk all over town in a very short time.
The town square is lined with cafes, restaurants, bars, and of course the church. It’s really the center of life, and in the evening it is packed with people.
One thing that was huge contrast to the bigger cities of Bogota and Medellin is the almost total lack of police, military, and creepy dudes. We haven’t seen any of the latter, and only a couple policemen in the week we’ve been here. This place feels really safe, and all the little kids playing in the streets and in the square is sure a nice thing to see. This is a town of hard working people who live in a real community. They clearly take pride in themselves and their town, and it shows. Everything is well maintained. From the simplest shops and homes to the grand church and beautiful gardens, there are clearly strong values of pride and responsibility in ownership.
Most restaurants serve the Colombian versions of meat and potatoes.
Colombian food is not highly seasoned, often fried, and heavy on meat. It is not light. After a couple weeks in Colombia I can almost guarantee that you will be craving a salad! That said, there are some delicious dishes and we certainly haven’t gone hungry. If anything, we’ve struggled with the quantity.
On Thursday we hopped into a Jeep and headed for the mountains outside of town.
We drove for about 20 minutes up into the lower mountains where we were to trade the Jeep for horses. We saddled up and rode up higher, all the way into the clouds.
We rode for about an hour and a half. The views were absolutely spectacular, with winding, narrow trails through jungle and high mountain edge vistas. We stopped for lunch at a little ranch tucked into a valley and had a delicious banana leaf meal.
After lunch we hiked up into the jungle. It was about half an hour of climbing along steep, narrow, and often slippery trails to La Cueva del Esplendor, a small cave with a beautiful waterfall cascading down from the ceiling of the outer chamber. It was really pretty.
After some time at the cave, we hiked back to the horses and rode back down the mountain. On the trip down, Jette was up front with the fast group, her horse sometimes trotting and even galloping. She had never been on a galloping horse before, much less a galloping horse on a beautiful mountain in Colombia! We all had a blast.
On the way back to town in the Jeep, we stopped at a cute little house. There were beautiful flowers, and behind the house, a simple shed with smoke coming from a chimney in the middle of the roof.
In the shed there we piles of sugar cane, a sugar cane press, and a series of big wood-fired pots for boiling sugarcane juice to make panela. We got to see the whole process and taste the finished product. It was actually really interesting to see the process from start to finish. It is amazingly simple. They sell a ton of panela in the local markets, but we still haven’t figured out the various ways they use it here in cooking.
If you can’t tell, we had a great time in Jardin. Colombia is such a beautiful country, and the people are among the friendliest of any place we’ve visited. I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up here with one more video. Jette and I made a wild zip line crossing of one of the canyons on the edge of town. We put on our harnesses, helmets and leather gloves. The right glove had extra layers of leather stitched onto the palm, as they only way to “brake” was to reach up, grab the overhead cable, and squeeze! As it turned out, it was quite a steep and fast ride and Jette’s arms weren’t long enough or grip strong enough to grab the wire with any force. Once she gained speed, her hand simply bounced off the whizzing cable. Yikes! This lead to a dramatic ending.
If you are wondering, yes, she would do it again, but I’m not sure we would want her to! That was a little bit too exciting.