After the intense searing heat of Cali it was lovely to roll into Armenia. There were more mountains but there was a subtle difference. The air smelt like an early summer’s morning in England when the promise of a beautiful day steals in with the dawn. Cut grass, pollen and rich earth smells attacked our sense of smell and although it was still hot the heat was not as spiteful as in Cali. The people, as everywhere in Colombia are just as quick to laugh and to chat and if you ever ask for directions, people always drop what they are doing and actually take you to the correct bus stop or to the supermarket entrance.
We arrived at our hostel, the Casa Quimbaya which is situated in a residential area at the top end of Armenia and then ensued half an hour of crazy Polish babble as M discovered that Cecilia who works on reception was also originally from Poland. As is often the way in Latin America my email requesting a reservation had not reached its intended audience but luckily there were some beds free in a dorm and we checked in.
Cecilia gave us a guided tour and our dorm was situated down some steps behind the kitchen and the laundry. It resembled a cave with just two sets of bunk beds, a wall of large storage lockers and an en suite bathroom, beings small and narrow, but it was painted a bright white and was very clean.
We threw our bags inside and headed straight for the cafe downstairs and some lunch. We settled on a sandwich each and a coffee. My sandwich contained chunks of hot chicken and vegetables which had been stir-fried in a light sauce, stuffed inside a large roll and with oodles of cheese on top and served with banana chips.
After lunch at the Casa Quimbaya hostel me and M decided to check out the Museo Del Oro. We even got ourselves an unexpectedly heavily armed escort for part of the way from one of the soldiers who had been standing guard outside the barracks that we passed. He had doubted our ability to find the museum but he actually managed to get us even more lost than we had been before by taking us down the wrong street.
When we finally got to it, the museum was quite a nice surprise. It was a large brick building surrounded by lush gardens but best of all it was free to enter. We wove our way around the long corridors learning about the history of the region and its indigenous people, and we marvelled at the gold ornaments and jewellery. Luckily for us, the Quimbaya people buried treasure with their deceased which prevented those dastardly Spaniards from getting their greedy little hands on them and melting the necklaces down into gold bars.
We had arranged to go out salsa dancing that evening and we waited for our friends in the coffee shop while we listened to a great duo who played and sang while we drank a glass or two of red wine. The hostel has some really cool live music here four times a week and with candles flickering on the tables and many locals joining guests it is a cool place to hang out. There is great wifi here, a computer for guests to use, stacks of cupboard space in the dorms and spacey lockers for valuables, some of which also contain charging points. There is a large kitchen and laundry area and the reception is manned twenty four hours a day.
The Casa Quimbaya is currently the only hostel in the true sense of the word in Armenia and it is situated on a corner plot just one street back from the main road. From the front it looks like any other suburban house but if you go around the side you will find the entrance to the open air cafe and coffee shop. This large space is where you can buy breakfast (I recommend the Ranchero eggs), hot sandwiches, snacks, drinks and of course coffee. So many places in Colombia serve disappointing coffee – they export the best beans – but here at the Casa Quimbaya they sell decent stuff and they have daily recommendations written up on the blackboard.
Anyway, I digress. Our friends Mateo and Brian caught up with us and we set off to the local club, Sky Blue where me and M were treated like celebrities by a group of very sweet eighteen year olds who were desperate to practice their English and wanted to show off their salsa, reggaeton, merengue and bachata moves. If you don’t know bachata check it out – it is hard to keep a straight face dancing bachata whilst being grilled about European culture by an eighteen year old. And it was all washed down with a box of aguardiente which we shared. Aguardiente is an anise flavoured drink derived from sugar cane and on the scale of alcoholic drinks hovers somewhere between tequila and rum but is nowhere near as dangerous as raki (I only need to say ‘wheelchair’ to some people at this point!). Bizarrely it is sold in boxes like wine which I reckon is so that it doesn’t smash and spill when you fall over. Thanks to my super talented salsa teacher in Cali I was now capable of holding my own on the dance floor so I didn’t disgrace myself too much despite dancing until three in the morning.
The Casa Quimbaya hostel has staff that really care. One of the owners, Diana has travelled extensively herself and this comes across in the ambiance that she creates. Diana told me that she believes that people have an energy and they leave some of it behind in the spaces that they inhabit. You can’t buy this energy but her hostel and her farm contain plenty of it. Previous travellers have put their stamp on the interior with some cool artwork including a massive mural of two Quimbaya people painted on the back wall of the coffee shop.
The following day we joined our friends and Mateo’s mum and went for a long walk around the Parque de la Vida. This huge public park has walkways and a river with terrapins and fish in it, cascadas and flowers, a forest, bird and plants. We wandered around at dusk with what seemed like half the town and half of the world population of mosquitoes.
In my next post I will tell you all about our stay at Diana’s new venture Casa Quimbaya Outdoors, our horse ride and our trek in Salento
Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Casa Quimbaya this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay