The cemetery in Mompos

Who goes to a cemetery on their summer vacation? Jack asks me this, clearly peeved. I don't even have an answer because I don't know who else does this on their summer vacation. But it is a pretty macabre adventure. Mompos is well known for their cemetery.

I thought is was really interesting, all these tombs and crypts and graves and such. The kids could have cared less, luis was just following along. The only thing that made it bearable for maya was the troop of resident cats.

Anytime there are animals involved she is really happy.

And this giant iguana too! What a fun day at the cemetery in mompos.

Mompos, Colombia

This is a well preserved colonial town that is really laid back and not yet engulfed by backpacker tourism. It's just too isolated and off the typical gringo trail to get spoiled I think, because no matter which direction you come here from it takes aaaaaalllllll day!

We are staying at the highly recommended La Casa Amarilla.

We have the least expensive room, these are considered dorm beds and they go for 9 usd a night, so we are paying 36 a night to stay here. There are much nicer rooms to be had, but I asked for the cheapest which does not bode well with the kids. All they really want to do is stay in an all inclusive somewhere. They are having moments of fun, but mostly they are pretty unhappy. I hate to say that but it's true. They are very homesick and it's hard to make them happy.

So whenever they can they steal my iPad and watch netflix.

There are beautiful views from the terrace and a lovely courtyard.

We cook our own breakfast in the communal kitchen and hang out in the hammock.

The water from the tap isn't drinkable, so you buy it is 5 liter bags.

The town is really quaint and the people really are friendly and gentle. The food is also pretty good.

There are fruit juice vendors everywhere, and a favorite is lulo juice. A whole fruit, ice, water, and sugar is whipped up in a blender and served up for a little over one dollar.

Around Plaza Santo Domingo is a nightly food court where street food vendors set up their mobile kitchens and a few tables. A favorite is pollo as ado which is a pounded and seasoned chicken breast, grilled and served with fries and a salad for about 4 dollars.

Well maybe it's the heat, but this is a hard trip. We are considering heading south into the mountains for a cooler climate, near Medellin. But that would mean that I have to sell an over night bus trip to the kids, which may not be possible!

The journey from Minca to Mompos

A rough one! It almost did me in. I thought I was tough, a seasoned traveler. Then I traveled from Minca to mompos with my two kids. On this blog I usually swoon about being on a road to nowhere, and how satisfying it is to be propelled through a foreign land in a bus or car. Not this time.

The day started out nicely enough. The ride in a jeep down the mountain to Santa Marta was on time, the right price, and he took us right to the bus station. We bought our bus ticket easily for the next ride out to Bosconia, which would leave in 45 minutes giving us just the right amount of time to grab some bus station breakfast. The bus was nice too, great air con and the latest Mission Impossible, in Spanish of course, played for most of the way. but when we got to Bosconia, that's when things began to dissolve. There is no bus station, just an insanely chaotic crossroads. Imagine donkey carts and gigantic Mac trucks and all manner of vehicle in between going every which way. The sidewalks on both sides in all directions lined with food stalls and shops.

We had information from the hotel in mompos that we would get another bus to Santa Ana from Bosconia. But if there was a bus there was no telling how we would find that. So we asked some people around how to get to Santa Ana, and they pointed us to go around the corner. Our mistake was in not asking for a BUS to Santa Ana. So we go around the corner, pay a guy who is selling tickets, or something, and he tells us to wait. We really thought we were paying for a bus ticket, but we should have knows by the outrageous price, that we were paying for a car. Lots of people were paying him to arrange rides in cars, so it's not like he was just anyone. So we waited for two hours in the god awful place that is Bosconia for a ride. We didn't eat because we didn't have any earthly idea when the damn car would be there so we just waited and waited.

We didn't even know if this whole thing was going to work out. We have never traveled this far off the grid before. Sure we do some crazy stuff, but we have the info in a lonley planet book to guide us. Here, not so much.

The car comes, and it's a piece of crap like the one that brought us up to Minca, which for that journey it was entertaining. Not this time.

So this ride to Santa Ana. This very expensive ride to Santa Ana was nearly 3 hours long. It's now 2 pm, we haven't eaten and it's hotter than an oven. We don't want to stop because we are in the middle of nowhere and we know we need to get to mompos before dark. Oh, did I mention that mompos is bordered by 2 unabridged rivers? There were a lot of unknowns ant this journey so we had to just keep going.

The first hour of the trip to Santa Ana is on a paved road and is pretty straight forward. But when we turn off on the road to Santa Ana we realize we are in for it. For the next 2 hours we bump along on an unpaved dusty hot road. There's no air con in this car, so we have the windows open. It's so dusty and hot that there the dust is billowing through the vents and into our faces. We can barely breathe. We have run out of water and our mouths feel like paste. The driver keeps looking out his window at the tires which makes my mind run wild. I feel pretty sure we are going to be stuck here begging for shelter from people who live in shacks. I know we are all secretly wondering why we are calling this a vacation.

We drive through herds of grazing cows and pass a moto or two. One time we even pass a bus, but thankfully the kids say they are glad to be in a car and not the bus that is pitching forward, back, and side to side.

Another feature of the rust bucket we are in is that every time we hit a pot hole, which is every 2 minutes, the car bottoms out and the back seat thinks on the ground,more at least it feels like the seats are hitting the ground. It's so uncomfortable I can't believe it. Jack said he is imagining a cartoon like demise for our little car, where the wheels fall off, the doors break open, and the roof peels back like a can of sardines.

We arrive is Santa Ana, hot, dry, and starved. Our driver has no idea where to take us to find a boat to mompos. And neither do we. So he let's us out in the center of the town, near the police station. I am just about to go over there and try to get so information from the police when a moto taxi driver appears who will take us to the boat for mompos. How long will it take? An hour he says. WTF? For whatever reason we thought that we'd get a boat from Santa Ana and it would be a nice little boat ride over to mompos.

There's no map of the area, not even a google map,that could get an image of this area, it's so small. We are now all day without food, it's getting dark, and we have no idea where in the hell we really are or how long it will actually take to get to freakin mompos so we are, as usual,at the mercy of this moto taxi driver. I detest being at the mercy of taxi drivers, and have been ripped off by taxi drivers all over the world. However, they are the only means of getting to where we need to go and we have to take his price because he can sense that we a in no place to bargain. At this pint in my day I have lost all sensibility and ability to make decisions and I don't really give a crap as long me and my children are in a safe place to sleep by the time the sun sets. The longer we try to bargain with the guy the farther away I am from achieving this goal.

I haven't mentioned the kids because at this point they are mute and following along because I think they realize the gravity of the situation. They are too exhausted to complain or be worried.

The moto taxi is a motorcycle with a covered seating area attached. It uncomfortably fits the four of us. We drive down to the river to wait for the barge thingy that will cross the group of motos, people, and bikes that are already waiting. This barge thing looks like planks of wood strapped to three canoes, with a little lawn mower sized engine powering it across the river. It's so ridiculous that we all crack a smile and take the first pictures of this trip. I assure you we were not having fun. Well that's not entirely true. The kids were delighted to be riding in this thing and thought it was pretty awesome. I would have felt better about everything if I knew for sure where we were going, but I didn't and that scared me. The situation felt so out of my control that I couldn't even go there. Panic was overshadowed by hunger and thirst so that's probably a good thing.

So we take the 2 minute river crossing, and the moto taxi proceeds to drive us the hour to mompos. Again, on an unpaved, pot holed road. At this point
luis is so agitated that he isn't speaking, he only let's out a growl now and then.

The ride to mompos is blessedly uneventful, and we do finally arrive at La Casa Amarilla 11 hours after we started, completely bonkers with hunger and thirst, and having spent significantly more money than we should have getting here. We check in, shower the dirt off, and wander around the quiet colonial town looking for something to eat. We spend the entire next day recovering from the trip hoping that food, candy, netflix, and rest will give us a new outlook so we can start to enjoy the trip again.


las Piedras y las Cascadas in Minca, Colombia

Another little excursion in Minca, this one free and easily reached by foot in 15 minutes, is a swim at Las Piedras which means the rocks in English. Naturally it involves crossing a bamboo foot bridge.

It's a place where two rivers meet with huge boulders.

Family floating time.

Jumping off boulders into the deep is a great experience in bravery! Local kids look on as jack does a chicken jump.

las Cascadas is reached by a sweaty uphill climb through some beautiful jungle. It took us some 90 minutes of complaining to trek up here. We thought that it was a 20 minute walk which got our hopes up for immediate gratification. Every local we passes on the way arrived up the waterfall was only around the next bend.

It's operated by a family that has built a low cement wall at the bottom of the waterfall to create charges admission, around 6 usd for all of us to get in.

Like I said the walk was beautiful, but the level of moaning and groaning by the kids tells me that they want nothing to do with a visit to the Appalachian trail where we would camp and hike for days. In fact when I asked them if they would be interested in doing something like that the resounding no was pretty clear.

All in all, it's worth a visit to Minca for the beautiful natural attractions. But whatever you do avoid the place on the weekend where it is literally packed to the gills with Colombians on a family weekend getaway. Also bring plenty of money as there is no ATM in Minca, the nearest one is 30 minutes away in Santa Marta. Accommodation is easy to find just by showing up and walking around. The best thing is to stay at a place with a kitchen so you can save a little money by cooking in, as most of the restaurants are overpriced. You can walk to all of the sights we went to, but by foot it would take 2 hours each way. It's easy, but not cheap, to get a moto or a taxi.

We have been in Minca for four days, and plan to leave tomorrow for the crazy journey to Mompos.

The rivers in Minca

When you are in a river town, bridges are a common feature. This is the main bridge into town.

This one is crosses the place in the river where our hotel is.

And this bridge leads to the coolest thing we have done here so far, the bridge to Pozo Azul.

Yeah, we crossed that. I let my children cross it too. What kind of mother am I?

It's a long way down to the boulder strewn crashing river. And it is much more rickety than it looks. And scarier too.

You can see that I look nothing short of petrified.

A little more hiking along the rivers edge led us to a beautiful swimming spot.

Jumping off rocks into frigid mountain river water. Big fun!!!!! I don't have a picture to prove it but I braved the jump too. It's scarier than it looks especially when you are a big chicken like me.

The other best part of the trip was the moto ride we took to get there from these guys.

It's amazing how they navigate the steep, rocky, muddy roads in these things. I suppose they have been doing it all their lives which is why they are so good at it. When you get on one you basically trust them with your life. Especially unnerving is when your little daughter is on her own, riding without a care in the world, having the time of her life soaking up the thrill of a motorcycle ride though the jungle while her mother follows on a bike behind her trying to enjoy the scenery while being keenly aware of all the dangerous possibilities.

La Victoria Coffee Factory

Colombia is famous for coffee, and Minca hosts several coffee farms. One of them, la Victoria, uses equipment that is 120 years old. It's a real old fashioned family operation. They have about 300 planted acres in the hills above Santa Marta in the Sierra Nevada. We took a car up in to the jungle to get a tour. It costs around 3 usd to get the tour.

A little bridge leads to the place.

We learned about the long and complicated process of coffee production from this guide. Lucky for us, there was a Colombian American in the group who translated for us.

The place was pretty quiet because coffee picking season is from November to February. Coffee pickers barely get 2 bucks for filling up a box the size of a carry on suitcase. Amazing especially when you consider that we pay 2 bucks for a cup of coffee at home. There is something to be said for the fair trade ideology!

The factory was made of old worn wood and chunky machinery. It reminded us of the movie Hugo.

It's an organic coffee farm so the husks all go into a worm compost bin. This bin was crawling with red worms making compost.

There was a cool 100 year old working phone that the factory still uses.

This part sorts the beans by size into three grades. The biggest and best beans are sold exclusively for export. I am not sure what grades are sold in town but naturally we bought some to bring home. It's likely the worst grade, and I could probably buy better coffee at Costco.

The finished product comes out the chute and into the bag. The finale was eclipsed by meeting yet another dog.

No coffee factory tour would be complete without an enticing free sample at the end. I am pretty sure this cup is sugar with a bit of coffee!

We had fun on the trip back into town taking pictures. The driver didn't seem to care he many times we asked him stop.

You can't really tell from this photo, but from this vantage point y can see all the way down to Santa Marta with the Caribbean ocean in the background. Right next to this photo stop is shack of a place that is hosted by an amicable old guy whose real name isn't known by anyone, he just goes by Cararita.

Luis isn't one to pass up a good sausage, especially a chorizo. He made us a quick plate of simple food.

A few tostones, potatoes, and chorizo that Luis said was the best he'd ever had.