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Once were Gondwanan

Minca, in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia

COLOMBIA | Monday, 13 February 2012 | Views [8179]

If you want to hear about high excitement and action, read no further. This is a story of a relaxing holiday in Minca, a small village in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia. Only 14 kilometres away from Santa Marta, it is a tranquil, beautiful area. I enjoyed Taganga, the fishing village near Santa Marta, but this is even more peaceful. While Taganga was relaxed, it was busy with tourists. Here In Minca, there are tourists, but not many. I am staying at Hostel Sans Souci, about ten minutes’ walk up the hill from town. As I sit here between the pool and hammocks, overlooking the valley, the only sounds I hear are birds, the wind, the River Minca and a radio playing unobtrusively in the background. Traffic from the road below, mainly motorbikes, can be heard but is not too annoying. From here I can see the surrounding mountains and looking south I have glimpses of the Caribbean and the town of Santa Marta. At night the lights look quite pretty, and the sunsets are beautiful.

I came to Minca via a taxi bus, which left from the market area of Santa Marta once it was full. When I got to the place where the taxi was leaving from, (thanks to the directions offered by people on the street) there were already two people there. The driver wanted four, to fill the car. I made three, so we were waiting for one more. While we were waiting, a man came along selling iguana eggs. They are quite small and a kind of double shape, as if two are joined together. I didn’t try one then, because after some discussion the other tourist bought some and I didn’t want to look like I was jumping on the bandwagon, but I decided that I would like to try them some time, preferably without an audience. Eventually two people showed up together for the taxi. This posed another dilemma – there wasn’t enough room for everyone. So we waited until another single person came along, and off we went, having waited nearly an hour. The trip was uneventful other than that the fourth person, an older man, sat in the front hawking and spitting out the window. As I was sitting behind him, and the windows were down, I was worried that some of what he was spitting out may come back in the window onto me and I spent a few minutes picturing myself travelling the rest of the way covered in it. Of course I could have wound the window up, but then it would have been hot & I would have to explain why I had put the window up.

We were dropped off in the public transport area at Minca, which is a corner on the main street. I knew which hostel I wanted, but didn’t know where it was. Of course, I didn’t need to ask anyone – as I started to move off to check a sign, some young guys in front of a shop called out and asked me where I was going. When I told them, they said “that’s 15 minutes up the hill, and it’s hot today.” Since my backpack was full, and I couldn’t deny that the walk sounded unappealing, I took the offer of a ride on a motorbike and $1 later I was at the hostel.

After my woeful performance in the Lost City, I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to the mountains, but this is much less challenging. The sights, such as waterfalls and coffee farms are reached by road, rather than steep difficult tracks. Having said that, Minca is indeed in the mountains. Minca itself is about 700 metres above sea level, but one of the coffee farms, an hour’s walk away, for example, is about 1100 metres above sea level.

The Marinca Waterfall is about 40 minutes from town, a pleasant walk through the forest. The road is crossed in several places by small streams; most are passable without getting your shoes wet. Huge stands of bamboo grow along the roadside, and there are plenty of birds to be seen and heard. On the way to the waterfall I passed walkers, a lot of motorbikes, one tractor and a few horses pulling carts. At the waterfall, I was the only visitor there, as it was later in the day. Entry was $1.50 for foreigners. I wanted to buy water but they didn’t have any, so I settled for a light beer. The waterfall is quite nice but no Iguazu Falls. It is a pleasant relaxing place though, and the swimming area is formed like an infinity edge swimming pool. There are thatched huts to sit under, although the plastic table and chairs don’t really do much for the feel of the place.

Although Minca has about 15 places for visitors to stay, it really is not a touristy place. There are no shops purposely targeting tourists, although I think some hotels may sell touristy things. It is quite nice to be somewhere like this, although when I was looking for somewhere to eat and there were no restaurants open, I did think that I might be going hungry that night. I found somewhere with takeaway so I had a piece of chicken (in batter) and a potato ball stuffed with tuna (quite nice). I sat in the park at the small church and ate my dinner. It is a lovely little church; it is a shame that it has rubbish lying around everywhere. Minca does have a garbage pick-up service, I saw the truck collecting rubbish, but maybe no one is employed to actually put the rubbish in the bins in the first place.

On my second day I had planned to walk around a loop track that takes six or seven hours, but when I got up it was so peaceful and the hammocks were so inviting that I decided to have a day of doing nothing. I spent the morning doing some hammock duty and reading a Colombian magazine about people that I didn’t know, although it was as entertaining as it would have been if I did know them(read it and immediately forget what you have read because it is of no real importance).

At lunch time I walked down to town to get something to eat. On the way I passed three school children. The boy said something to me that sounded like gibberish. I asked him what he said and he said something equally nonsensical. One of the girls with him said to me “they’re not real words” and the other girl said “he’s crazy”. I don’t know whether he actually had some kind of problem or if he was just being a smartarse but the girls seemed quite apologetic, as if explaining about him was nothing new.

On the third day I had another sleep-in and a very nice breakfast, which doubled for lunch. In the afternoon I walked up the mountain to the Finca La Victoria, which is a coffee plantation. I had been told that it was 40 to 50 minutes’ walk, but in fact it was over an hour. It was a pleasant walk along the road, a bit warm but not too bad. I was offered one ride along the way, but since I thought I was nearly there I declined.

When I arrived it wasn’t clear that I was in the right place. It looked like a small village and I wondered if the sign I had turned off at that said “La Victoria” referred to a village rather than the Finca. I asked at a house and was told that I was in the right place. I asked further directions inside the workshed and found myself waiting inside for the current tour to finish. The girl leading the tour said something about waiting and a door, but I wasn’t sure if she said “through the door” or “near the door”. I half-heartedly tried the door I thought that she meant, but it was a construction within the shed and seemed insulated or lined, I didn’t want to open it in case it was private, or had sensitive works going on inside. So I stood beside the door in an area where there was no seating or no sign that it was a reception area. After a while, the tour guide led her group through the door. I didn’t know if they had looked at something there and passed further on, or if they were still in there, or if it was the reception area. I eventually took the chance and opened the door to what was in fact the reception area. A sign on the door to that effect would have saved me a lot of wondering.

Finally the tour started, I was the only visitor for the first five minutes but then a group from Romania/US/Bogotá arrived so we started again. It was quite interesting to learn about the process. The machines used are generated by the river, and the coffee, grown on the plantation, is separated by using water (the better quality beans sink.) The best quality beans are reserved for export and the other beans, inferior but still good, are for Colombian use. Coffee for export is not processed there at the Finca, it is exported after it is washed and sorted, still with the shell on. Coffee for use in Colombia is dried for three days, roasted and shelled. It is graded and then sold on. From memory the guide said that coffee is exported to 67 different countries. I didn’t ask her if Australia was one of those countries, I didn’t want to put her on the spot – who could remember a list that long?

The same person who told me it was a 40-50 minute walk also told me that there were good views of Santa Marta and its neighbouring beach El Rodadero, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the shady balcony I had envisioned, with great panoramic views and coffee and cool drinks, did not exist. Instead, we returned to the internal reception room where we had started from, which was quite pleasant but a missed opportunity considering the lovely setting outside. We had a coffee (quite nice and smooth) and talked to the guide. She looked to be only in her teens but had done a good job. She told me she was learning English by distance studies on the internet, and although the tour was in Spanish, she had added English words when she knew them or sometimes referred to a piece of paper.

I would have bought a bag of the coffee but I was mindful of my suitcase and the mysterious way it seems to be gaining weight. After we paid our $2.50 per person for the tour (and taught the guide how to say that in English) we headed off. The other people in the tour took motorbikes back to town, but since it was only 4.20 I had plenty of time so I walked. The walk was even nicer on the way back because it was cooler, and downhill, although not so steep as to be painful.

I stopped for dinner at the Hotel Colonial, 10 minutes before my hostel. It was a nice building with wide covered verandas. I sat outside near the infinity edge pool, at the only table, and had a hamburger and two beers. The hamburger was very expensive by local standards and wasn’t even particularly nice. But there were lots of pretty birds nearby, including hummingbirds. One of the guys who worked there told me they also have macaws, but I didn’t see them, I think they come mainly in the morning for the food that is put out for them.

Trying to drum up business (they had no visitors that night but were expecting some over the weekend) they offered me a room – 15,000 pesos ($7.50) including breakfast, and access to the river. It was nice, but it was a dormitory and had no private bathroom. I preferred to stay where I am - $25,000 pesos ($12.50) w/o breakfast but with private bathroom, especially since I had changed that day to a better room. My first room was a dormitory but I paid to have it to myself. I was mainly the only one using the bathroom, which was adjacent to but not inside the room. That was ok, but I liked the room that I had now, it even had a working TV and a private bathroom with a toilet seat!

I walked back to Sans Souci just on dark. I bought a few beers from reception and after the sunset went to my room for the evening. As much as I like Minca, there is not much to do at night. But now I had a TV for the first time in almost a week, so I looked at that as a bit of excitement.

By the next day I had come to accept that I actually didn’t walk to do the loop walk. I was planning to go to Tayrona National Park when I got back to Santa Marta and I wanted to have my knees in peak condition. To the best of my knowledge, the loop walk in Minca is nice but not particularly stunning; I thought it best to save myself for the National Park which involves two days of walking. Having let go of the guilt I feel if I choose to not to do something, I was free to relax and do nothing. I went into town for lunch, saw a squirrel (my third since I have been in South America) and came back to the hostel. I returned to town a few hours later, hoping to visit a restaurant that had access to a swimming hole in the river, for dinner and a mojito, but it was shut, so I had takeaway empanadas and returned to the hostel.

Minca has been a lovely break from the noise and pollution of the city, but I will return to Santa Marta tomorrow, en route to Tayrona National Park.

Tags: colombia, minca, sierra nevada, south america, travel


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