Hats in a Hurry – Aguadas, Colombia

The town of Aguadas is an official Pueblo Patrimonio for all of the usual reasons: historic importance, living culture, and surviving architecture and ambiance. But Aguadas is also famous as the source of some of the best hand-woven hats in Colombia and that’s why we traveled there on our way from Salamina to Medellin.

Traditional hat weaver in Aguadas, Colombia

A traditional hat weaver at work in Aguadas, Colombia.

Finding the hat makers of Aguadas

We’d been assured that practically every household in Aguadas had at least one hat-maker in the family. We imagined blocks full of houses fronted by talented hat makers working their craft in comfy chairs on stoops. So we were surprised when a first pass through town turned up precious little evidence of any hat making.

We asked around and the town’s tourist info office directed us to the home/workshop of Don Jorge Villanova but he only sells hats so there was no hat making to be seen. Then we were directed across town to Doña Rosa’s house, but she was busy dying fairly garish hats out of reeds that had been dyed hot pink, green or yellow as if the Easter bunny had possessed her. Though Doña Rosa can barely walk, we’re here to tell you her hands still move like lightning.

Weaving Sombrero Aguadeño in Aguadas, Colombia

Almost everyone in Aguadas makes hats. We found this woman working on a beauty in her tienda.

We left Doña Rosa’s unsatisfied, still in search of more traditional, less day-glo artistry. That’s when we noticed a woman working on a hat as she tended her tienda. Check out her amazing handiwork (see what we did there?) in our Aguadas hat making video, below.

 

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The Town that Coffee Built – Salamina, Colombia

Harder to reach and less well-known than other coffee region destinations, Salamina, which is part of Colombia’s elite group of Pueblos Patrimonio, offers travelers an unexpected stand of wax palms, the weirdest breakfast in Colombia, some quirky architectural touches, and a rich coffee growing heritage.

Salamina Colombia

Central Salamina, Colombia.

Inside Salamina

Salamina, reached via a mostly-paved and always scenic secondary road from Manizales in the Caldas province of Colombia, was founded in the early 1800s by a group which included women as well as men. The town is now home to roughly 20,000 people and is known for its coffee production (the crop flourished here even before other coffee regions took off).

Plaza Salamina, Colombia

Salamina’s main plaza. The fountain came from France and was dragged over the mountains and into Salamina by mule.

Many of those pioneering coffee growers got rich enough to build city homes and many were influenced by a woodcarver named Eliceo Tangarife who developed an elaborate form of woodworking that can still be seen in distinct balconies, doorways and window frames in Salamina.

Architecture Salamina, Colombia

Wood carvers in Salamina, many inspired by carver Eliceo Tangarife, are famous for their elaborate balconies, doorways, and window frames.

We were invited into one of those traditional homes by its current owner, Fernando, who showed us his open central courtyard full of plants and wire orbs adorned with shards of glass which Fernando makes. They’re sort of DIY disco balls and Fernando says that when the moon is full he uses them to “make stars.” Fernando called Eric “maestro” and we’re pretty sure that many other elaborately carved doorways in Salamina lead into a world full of the same sorts of charm and charmers.

Devil Doorway Salamina, Colombia

Some houses in Salamaina have a devil like this carved into the frames around their front doors. If you know why, don’t keep it to yourself.

The Masons played a role in Salamina’s formation as well and we were told that masonic symbols, including the iconic Masonic triangle with an eye inside of it, can be seen in the Basilica de la Immaculada Concepcion church on the main plaza. We looked and looked but never found the symbols.

Donkey Transport Salamina, Colombia

Salamina is still the kind of town where a girl can ride her mule around on a nice afternoon.

Colombia’s weirdest breakfast

Years ago the owner of El Polo Bakery in Salamina devised a way to add eggs to his menu without buying expensive new kitchen appliances. Instead of cooking eggs in a pan on a range top (which he didn’t have), he used the milk steamer arm on his coffee machine to steam eggs in a coffee cup along with chopped hot dog and butter. The results, called huevos al vapor (steamed eggs), are still offered today (2,500 COP or about US$1.20). They’re hot, fluffy, rich and, yes, a bit weird. You can also order a side of macana which is a cup of steamed milk with butter, crumbled saltines and cinnamon.

El Polo Bakery in Salamina, Colombia

Huevos al vapor taste better than they look, though don’t expect service with a smile.

Unexpected wax palms

Everyone talks about visiting Salento to see stands of rare wax palms, the tallest palm in the world and the national tree of Colombia. You certainly can see beautiful wax palms in the Salento area (though the best wax palms in Salento aren’t where you think they are). We were surprised to learn that Salamina has some grand stands of wax palms as well.

Wax Palms Salamina Colombia

The town of Salento is famous for its stands of wax palms, the tallest in the world and Colombia’s national tree. But Salamina has impressive stands of palms nearby as well.

Seeing the wax palms near Salamina requires a two hour drive from the town up to around 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) where, suddenly, the remarkably tall palms begin to appear–a few at first, then the cattle fields are peppered with them. There are no organized trails or circuits. Just park and wander through a pasture to admire the palms.

Wax Palms Salamina Colombia

Towering wax palms near Salamina.

As we were doing just that, a local farmer pulled up on his motorcycle and invited us to his small nearby farm where he has 20 cows, some sheep, potato fields and a trout pond. When we arrive at his farm his wife greets us with hot cups of sweet Nescafe, a welcome bit of warmth in the foggy cold. We sip and talk in her stove-warmed kitchen with views of the mountains and fields. It’s the kind of kitchen that makes you want to cook and do the dishes.

Their son is urging them to open a small homestay and we hope they do it. Their farm is tranquil and atmospheric and they are the kind of generous farmers who built Salamina. We didn’t want to leave.

La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel - Salamina, Colombia

La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel in Salamina, Colombia.

Where to sleep in Salamina

In Salamina we stayed at La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel which is run by Mauricio Cardona Garcia who is the great grandson of one of the town’s Masonic founders. Mauricio opened the stylish and central hotel after renovating his aunt Lola’s two-storey house. There’s an open air courtyard, an open kitchen and a back garden with a Jacuzzi (180,000 COP or about US$59 double occupancy including breakfast and use of all facilities). It’s the most stylish hotel in Salamina and Mauricio is a wealth of information.

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Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

We’ve come to love and rely on a lot of tried and tested travel gear over the years–from Karen’s Kaikuna hoodie to Eric’s prescription Costa del Mar sunglasses to this nifty thing that lets us take booze in a backpack. Now we present our short but sweet list of top travel gear of the year 2016 including a game-changing lens, a really cool cool bag and hiking boots that were perfect straight out of the box.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

Canon-100-400mm-zoom-animals

There’s no question that the most valued new piece of travel gear in 2016 was Eric’s Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. He got a tease with this lens in the Galapagos when another passenger on our M/V Origin cruise let him use his lens. The difference in the quality of the wildlife shots was stunning, so we scraped together our pennies (more than 200,000 of them) and got one. This lens has helped Eric get great shots all year-long (a few of his favorites are above) and though it’s big and heavy and pricey it’s already proven its value time and again.  

Buy on B&H Photo  |  Buy on Amazon

 

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

It’s hard to find a good travel tripod which combines durability and versatility in a compact and lightweight package. After years of looking, we found one. Don’t let the goofy name of 3 Legged Thing tripods fool you. They really do rock (in more ways than one). See why in our full review of our 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3  Brian tripod.

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colombia-thermal-tote

Sometimes we need to keep snacks and leftovers cold, for example, when we have a long day on the road with no chance of a lunch stop. Enter our Columbia insulated cold bag. It stays cold, doesn’t leak or sweat, holds more than you’d think, is easy to clean, dries out fast after use, and folds up small and compact when not in use. The only bummer is that the Velcro, which holds the bag snugly folded up when it’s empty, is located on the bottom, so if you fill the tote and then put it down on the ground the Velcro picks up grit. It looks like the specific model we have has been discontinued and only the bigger and beefier Columbia PFG Perfect Cast 45L Thermal Tote is available now.

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Brinno TLC200 Pro drivelapse timelapse camera

Time-lapse video is great, unless you’re the one who has to shoot and edit it. For years Eric spent hours every month piecing together then speeding up images taken by a GoPro mounted to the dash of our truck so that we could show readers a month’s worth of driving in just a few minutes. It was such a time-consuming pain the neck that we stopped making the videos altogether and then stopped publishing our end-of-the-month driving posts. Then we heard about Brinno cameras which automatically take time-lapse footage. It was a bit tricky mounting the camera on our dashboard (you can see our workaround, above), but ever since Eric figured that out this camera has made making time-lapse video so easy that we started publishing our end of the month Where We’ve Been driving posts again, complete with Brinno footage.

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merrill

There’s a cardinal rule about hiking boots. It goes like this: ALWAYS break them in on the trail before you really, really need them. Karen ignored that rule. She had a new pair of boots from a maker she’d worn before. They seemed like good boots. They felt fine on her feet when she tried them on. She settled. Then she wore them on one simple short hike and her feet were in agony. Luckily, there are some fairly well-stocked outdoor gear stores in Cusco, Peru so we were able to find a pair of Merrell Capra Mid Sport Gore-Tex hiking boots at the same price we would have paid in the US. Karen loved them straight out of the box and they proved comfortable and rugged during the multi-day Andean treks we did in 2016.

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Curaprox 5460 Ultrasoft toothbrush

Even the lightest packers need to bring a toothbrush. In 2016 a dentist in Sao Paulo recommended that we try toothbrushes made by a Swiss company called Curaprox. She raved about how gentle yet efficient they were, so we splurged, paying about US$7 per toothbrush in Brazil. We were immediately hooked. So soft! So easy to use! So effective! So many great colors! We’ve now stocked up just in case we don’t find Curaprox in other countries. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get good medical care when traveling. These toothbrushes have been around for years but this Brazilian dentist was the first to tell us about them.

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Rubber boots El Altar Ecuador

Sometimes the most humble piece of equipment ends up being key. This was the case with our ordinary rubber boots which got us through the muddy, muddy trail to El Altar volcano in Ecuador which would have made short work of regular hiking boots.

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Where We’ve Been: January 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Argentina

We spent much of January 2017 house-sitting in Salta, Argentina, however, we still managed to get in some miles. About 320 of them, to be precise, and they were all epic. If you like stunning landscapes you won’t want to miss our South American road trip driving route for January 2017, including drive-lapse video at the end of the post which lets you see what we saw through the windshield of our truck as we traveled.

Quebrada de las Conchas - Salta, Argentina

Where we’ve been in January 2017 in Argentina

We left Salta and did a little loop through the Andes to the wine region of Cafayate, up Argentina’s famous Route 40 (one of the longest national highways on earth) and back to Salta. See our complete short but sweet road trip driving route on the map below.

From Salta we drove to the wine region of Cafayate through the red rock landscapes of the Quebrada de las Conchas. After consuming a fair amount of delicious wine and visiting the wineries of El Esteco Winery and Vineyards and Piattelli Vineyards we continued north on Argentina’s famous RN-40 through the Calchaquí Valley.

A few hours north of Cafayate we were sidelined for three hours while we waited for a dangerously swollen river to subside enough to cross. We then drove through the spectacular Quebrada de Las Flechas to the town of Molinos. From there we got even more remote to reach the Bodega Colomé Winery

Next, we continued to the town of Cachi (where we finally saw pavement again) and crossed Cardones National Park nd its forests of cactus, eventually dropping down to Salta and the Valle de Lerma via the Cuesta del Obispo.

Quebrada de las Flechas - Salta, Argentina

See what we saw out there on the road in our drive-lapse video, below, which was shot by our Brinno camera attached to our dashboard.

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