Colombian Coffee and the Holy Ale Oasis

After several hours of beautiful, winding roads we were hopping out of the little shuttle bus in Pereira. We were bound for Salento. Marilyn had picked the spot, it was said to be a little mountain village known best for it's coffee farms.

We'd first considered hitchhiking all the way from Medellin, where we'd been the past few days, our first days in the country and continent altogether. After weighing our options in the city we realized that the price of the shuttle bus was so small that it made it more sense than paying the cost of public transit to south of the city, walking to an actual good place to hitchhike, and then getting the one, two, three or twenty rides to get the same four hours down the road the shuttle would do.

The idea was to hitchhike the last chunk, but similar logic and the ease of being at the terminal had us hopping on another shuttle. Unfortunately, though, things took a turn once we got rolling.

As we got on the bus I noticed that the ticket didn't say "Salento" on it, instead "Armenia", the bigger town further south. The woman who'd sold us the ticket seemed pretty clear where we were aiming for, so with that I assumed the all would be good, the bus would hit the junction and make a stop in Salento.

Nope, we rolled right past the junction. By the time it became clear that Salento wouldn't be a stop it was too late to hop out we were getting into the urban sprawl of Armenia where hitchhiking wouldn't be easy, we'd have to wait it out and get to the terminal.

Marilyn was furious, hammering a message into her translation app to confront the driver. Some of her frustration was leaking towards me, "Why aren't you more upset? I thought you of all people would be mad about this!"

That made me pause for a second. I didn't understand her thought completely, why she'd think me "of all people" would be mad at this. I was frustrated at the inconvenience, and I sensed her perception that we'd been deliberelty deceived by the ticket lady, but my mind was just on the next move. I wondered if I'd seemed mad in a similar situation in the past around her, but I couldn't conjure up the memory.

We got off the bus as she recited her translated message to the driver, then made our way inside the terminal where Marilyn then gave another upset reciting to a ticket person there. It became clear that this particular company didn't go to Salento at all, but no amount of disjointed case-pleading was going to get us our few bucks back or a ticket to somewhere they didn't go.

Another booth, another company, within minutes we'd paid another few bucks and were in a little shuttle clearly marked and most certainly going to Salento. We leaned back and rolled towards the village, both feeling a bit strained. I had the sense that a small part of Marilyn's frustration was on me for not outwardly being as upset about the ordeal. Besides not being upset I'd turned a bit cold, I don't react well to the sort of chastising she was putting towards the driver and the ticket booth. For one they had nothing to do with any of it, and second it wasn't like there was much of a chance of getting refunded or otherwise benefiting from laying it on them.

The coldness and frustration subsided as we rolled into the darkening hills, the beauty took over, the next scene was fading in.

The hostel Marilyn chose was just a short walk away along hilly cobblestone streets. A stray dog sniffed us out and attached himself to us, bouncing along nearby as we navigated our way over a bridge and to the classic little hostel.

After getting checked in we strolled back to town, our little street dog had been waiting and made the walk in with us. We took a little loop around the square and found a market for some wine and food to cook back at the hostel. We relaxed a bit there, mingling intermittently with the predictable crowd of backpackers. Every hostel in the world has the same smattering of uniform diversity; without all the scattered tour brochures to give it away we might as well have been in Australia, Thailand or anywhere.

In the morning we headed over to a coffee plantation, one of several of the main draws to this area. Along with a small group we hiked along the hillside as an Australian grower pointed and gave his familiar speeches and quips about how the coffee grew and so forth. The culmination was the shucking, roasting, grinding and filtering that resulted in the freshest cups of coffee either of us would ever have, sipped on while gazing out into the deep, rolling hills surrounding us.

We spent the rest of the day between the hostel and the little village of well kept street dogs. We took short walks to vast views, Marilyn poked purses at the market and we nibbled on trout and whatever else looked delicious.

The little bus took us out to the main road and down the short way to Armenia the next day. We began walking from the bus station to the edge of town where our thumbs extended into the Colmbian air for the first time, all at once triggering a downpour at the same time. Timing was on our side, as we scrambled for our rain gear a car pulled over to pick us up, sparing us the unneeded soak.

The driver had his two kids in the backseat where Marilyn sat, I sat up front conversating in stifled yet somehow effective Spanish. The guy got us to a village just 20 kilometers shy of our next goal, the small city of Buga.

As we walked a parked truck driver motioned to us, he told me he was heading through Buga in just a bit, so we hopped up into the cab and waited a while, soon enough we were rolling and in short time we were popping out on the highway edging Buga.

We chose Buga not for the Basilica famous for drawing millions a year coming in pilgrimage to homage, and not for any other historical significance. No, we came for a brewery started by a German guy that additionally became a hostel as an afterthought.

We headed straight for it, passing the massively beautiful, pink tinted Basilica on the way. The idea was to grab a beer there and make our next decision based on how it tasted. Stay for another beer, stay for a night, hike back to the road and keep hitching south - options to be discussed after several sips of the mysterious brew around the corner.

A friendly girl behind the bar greeted us and poured us a couple pints. After some talking with her she began making a phone call, not because my linguistic skills were total dribble, but because I was starting to ask questions only a brewer could answer.

A friendly German accent cut through the telephone as she handed it to me, minutes later I'd been given directions to the place a few blocks away where Stefan, the brewer, lived and actually brewed all the beer.

Without anymore hesitation we paid our equivalent of five bucks each for beds for the night in the hostel, finished our beers, stashed our packs in the dorm adjacent to the bar and hit the street to go meet Stefan.

He greeted us at the door of the brewery which was also his home, along with him was a girl, a brewing student who'd just come to interview him. He showed us the modest yet still impressive brew system he'd gotten from Peru, telling us stories about home brewing back in Germany and how the beer scene was very slowly surfacing in South America on a whole. The fact that there was a Colombian brewing student in our midst was more proof of that, but he was still importing hops from the US in creative ways, among other hurdles.

After the "tour" that became mostly beer geek talk we headed back to hostel for some more beers and pizza. Perhaps in an attempt to balance, Marilyn began flipping through options for local tours, something to embrace the fact that we were in the heart of Colombia rather than Another Brewery, Earth.

After she pondered that we took a walk out around the cobbled streets, indeed popping inside the Basilica and taking in the feel of the city in a general wander around.

And then back to our taproom of a hostel for a night for the night. Many inexpensive beers went down, Stefan dropped in at one point, we chatted the night away until finally taking the dozen footsteps from bar stools to bunks.

Pipo came in the morning, a local guy about our age who lead all the tours Marilyn had been pondering. The weather was said to be no good to do anything on this particular day, but we arranged to link up the next day and do something fun. For five bucks a night and beers much less than that nearly at our bedside we had no reason to hurry out of Buga.

We did a lot more wandering around for the day, had a big filling lunch at a quiet spot. Eventually we hiked up to a spot that overlooked the whole city before sunset.

The next day we rolled with Pipo and another couple to a spot just out of town to a house that was 180 years old where an older couple lived. They let us hike from there past sugar cane and whatnot to some waterfalls. The lot of us swam and leaped around, I even got Marilyn to hold my hand and make a bit of a "cliff jump", something she was generally terrified of and trying to come around on.

Back at the house there they cooked us a great big delicious meal before we rolled back to the hostel for one last night in Buga. We had a beer with Pipo before he took off, then continued to keep the pints rolling. As much as Colombia and the rest of the continent was "coming around" to the beer revolotion, I wasn't holding my breath, this seemed like the last night in an oasis for us to get our fix.

Somewhere in the mix Gareth popped on up the steps with his massive backpack, an Australian we'd met at the hostel in Salento. Beer in Australia is even more expensive than the US, so if we thought these Colombian pints were cheap they were simply pennies for him in comparison. It took him about 30 seconds to pay for a bunk and the first of many, many beers for the night.

All and all it was a good last night in town, Stefan even stopped back in and capped our experience in the aptly named oasis of the Holy Water Ale Brewery.

Marilyn and I would finally get on the southbound road the next day, ready for the next Colombian adventure and the border to Ecuador. Adventure indeed, but things were about to get shaken up. Roads wind, fork and split, it's all part of the ride.

February 5, 2015 to February 10, 2015