Solento certainly gave us a taste of Colombian countryside, but my thirst for fresh air and hills was not yet quenched. We met a Mexican-based Colombian tourist in Solento and he highly recommended a place called Marsella for an authentic experience. He likened Solento to Disneyworld, which is hilarious. There are tourists in Solento, but tourism in Colombia remains in its infancy and certainly cannot be compared to the western world. In Bogotá there were no tourists, so for us it was actually good to meet an occasional tourist. Still, we were lured towards the less travelled trail and so decided to venture towards Marsella instead of the traditional tourist route to Medellín. The bus to Pereira and then northwest onto Marsella took about 2½ hours altogether. It was an enjoyable journey as the views were amazing.On arrival to Marsella it was obvious that the locals aren’t used to tourists. The looks we received could be likened to type you get walking into a small old Irish bar at two in the afternoon. We wandered around the pleasant town square and sampled the cuisine. Our waiter was very helpful in terms of tourist information. Bizarrely she kept trying to sell other parts of Colombia – obviously she wasn’t aware of the gem she called home. Far away hills ... There weren’t many accommodation options in the town. There is one place known by the locals but not marked or advertised in any way. There is also an ‘Eco Hotel’ on the outskirts of town. Our waitress called the hotel on our behalf – 90,000 COP for a room (about €36) – expensive for the area, but we decided to ‘treat’ ourselves after hostelling it for the last few days. After our pretty good burger we wandered across the other side of the central square in search of a local taxi. We were greeted by an English speaking local who started telling us his story. There’s always an agenda and it took a while to understand his. The Colombians are extremely friendly and in our experience are always there to help, so we took the time to listen. Turns out he’s a Colombian native who spends most of his time in New York. He was trying to promote his ‘new project’ just 10 minutes drive from the town. He was a genuine guy and obviously well known by the locals so we humoured him by joining him in his Landover to see his ‘nice’ place. He describes everything Colombian as ‘nice’. This was obviously a little risky – he could have turned a gun on us at any stage and taken all our belongings. But our gut feeling suggested otherwise and sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see where it takes you ...
|Jorge's Marsella Paradise|
There was really no need to leave Jorge’s paradise, but we decided to venture into Marsella to see the sights. There was absolutely no problem taking his 4x4 into the village – there was mutual trust between host and guest at this stage. I even helped out with the corn for a while (don’t tell my dad, as he always had difficulty getting me to work on our own farm). Marsella is a cute little town, but it’s not the reason to visit the area. The amazing countryside is the attraction and we were so lucky to be based in its midst. We visited the unusual cemetery and wandered around the quite streets. If we had more time we could have driven further afield, but we weren’t compelled to leave. There are thermal waters beside a waterfall nearby in Santa Rosa which may have been worth a visit if we had more time.
After three days at Jorge’s place we decided it was time to go to Medellín. I got up with the pigs at 6:30 to fit my run in as it was going to be a day of travelling. Jorge dropped us into the bus station and thanked us for having faith in him. Our trust was certainly rewarded. The stay cost us €110, which could be considered expensive by Colombian standards, but given the full catering and quality of the place and service it was an absolute bargain – a once in a lifetime experience. The bus to Medellín was an arduous seven hour journey. The bus was comfortable, with the Hangover movie to keep us amused, but the continuously meandering roads take their toll. On arrival we got a taxi to the Pit Stop hostel (www.pitstophostel.com). The Pit Stop hostel doesn’t have any Irish connections, but uses the imagery of the drunken Irish to convey its party atmosphere. The Colombian’s seem to associate with the Irish with drinking and the IRA – that’s about it – what an absolutely shame. The Pit Stop hostel certainly delivers on its party image. It’s paradise to those seeking an active nightlife. We weren’t typical guests, but we decided to put up with the noise levels as the room and facilities were good. An Irish backpacker actually died the morning after the night before by the poolside in the Pit Stop hostel last year. In the main it is just harmless fun, but sometimes it just goes too far.