Immediately after leaving Buenaventura we were back up in the winding roads of the Andes on a long drive towards Quindio, the district in which the Hacienda Combia (our touristy coffee finca) was located. There, we would find actual beds, actual showers and most importantly an actual toilet, not to mention some exceptional coffee.
We drove through tropical jungle, complete with dense foliage, broad-leaved palms and vines. After an hour of winding higher we’d gotten up into a new ecosystem, grasslands. The trees were gone, replaced by low-growing shrubs, sparse vegetation, red clay, jutting rocks, dust and desert flowers, with actual cowboys and wild horses. 30 minutes of climbing later and we were up in the clouds, the air heavy and wet, able to support a much denser fauna, the ground at its limit for trees, flowers, moss, shrubs and an abundance of large, droopy, sexy flowers.
The houses we passed were no longer solitary, ramshackle and weather beaten, like those we’d been passing everywhere else. Instead, they had neat gardens, colourful window frames, white walls, altars to Mary and Jesus and fertile, well-tended gardens.
At the apex of our climb we stopped for food in the oddly named village of Kilometro Diez y Ocho (Kilometre 18), full of ‘paradors’, small cafes and restaurants by the side of the road. I was still worried about the amount of food in me, so avoided the chorizos and meats hanging from hooks on the grills outside, opting instead for just a zumo de uva (grape juice), feeling pretty sorry. The motorbikes this morning, the abusive boat ride and these winding mountainous roads (plus the remnants of our hangovers) were taking their toll.
From the village we took the 50 minute continual descent towards Cali. Our driver, refreshed from our break in the restaurant, bombed down the mountain, overtaking everything from mopeds to Maersk Trucks, whipping the van around so much that the Jesus hanging off the rearview mirror was swaying at 45º half the time. I drifted in and out of sleep.
We passed through Cali again. I woke to a landscape entirely different to the one we’d enjoyed in La Barra: high rises, 4 lane tunnels, office blocks, graffiti, giant windows, hot concrete and branding on signage everywhere. As we drove out of the city towards Armenia, we passed the Geisha Motel, a giant Poker distillery (it’s Colombia’s most terrible and universal beer), factories, a sewage plant, a cattle ranch and out into the open savannah, which looked bizarrely like the African savannah; long grasses, and those trees that look like giant bonsais.
Eventually – eventually – out the window all we could see were horses, cowboy hats, small tractors, dogs and healthy, happy cows. Those and mountainsides absolutely covered with coffee plants and bamboo forests. We were in the tiny district of Quindio, famous for high-quality coffee and coffee tours.
Notes from out the window as we passed through Quindio: sculptures, outdoor swimming pools, neat, pretty hotels, indoor plants, children’s play equipment, colourful houses and decorative roundabouts. In the human touches here you can feel the invisible hand of the American tourist’s love of everything twee.
We got our phones out and checked the Hacienda Combia’s reviews on Trip Advisor – it’s not as advertised, you need car, and the food is overpriced. I didn’t care, I just wanted a proper bathroom. With the smell of damp coffee on the air, we finally pulled up to the bottom of their driveway. A guy in a Hooters T-shirt opened the gate for us. Behind him, gardeners used machetes to chop back tall, neat hedges.
Before the motorbikes to Ladrilleros, before the thump boat to Buenaventura, before the endless drive over the Andes, we’d woken up hungover and covered with sand. It had been a long day.