Coffee, Cali and Christ & the Beginning of Chapter 2

Tues 22nd April 2014
Living to Be Happy 

I took the bus from Medellin to 'el Eje Cafetero' – the coffee region of Colombia – on Friday 11th April, and arrived in Armenia just in time to catch the last bus to Salento.

Salento, a small village encircled by luscious green mountainous scenery, proved to be the perfect restful place to finish my time in Colombia after 3 busy months of intense Self discovery.

I woke up on Saturday, my first Salento morning, to the fresh country air and the feel of cool breeze on my skin. It brought back a wonderful cozy memory of time spent at my grandparents’ cottage in the Welsh countryside, and I lay in bed indulging in the sensation for a good half hour longer. I had just spent the vast majority of the last 3 months wrapped up warm by a blanket of Caribbean or Pacific sun 24/7, and as I now climbed out from under my bed covers, I felt that sudden sharp frosty shock of cold from the actual temperature without any blanket for protection.

But green rolling hills are the countryside that I call home - they sure make up for the cool weather required to produce them – and the green rolling hills in Colombia’s coffee region are also truly breath-taking to boot.

Some travellers complain about Salento being too touristy. Well, I happened to arrive in this deeply Catholic village at the most touristy time of the entire year - Semana Santa.

Semana Santa is Holy week - representing the death and resurrection of Christ, finishing with Easter Sunday, but starting the Sunday before. In other words, I had one full day in Salento before a week of Semana Santa craziness began.

I am not talking about ‘craziness’ like the Ku Klux Klan lookalikes that march in all directions with candles and a giant float of Jesus or Mary, bringing towns and cities all over Spain to a standstill for a week (here). The processions and celebrations in Salento were modest and pleasant to be near, especially when the children in the choir sang songs into the night sky that sounded like the Halo soundtrack, but crazy because the place was totally rammed to the max with people!

Never have I seen so many people queuing for hours in sun, wind, rain and thunder for buses (people visiting from near and far all trying to leave the village in the evenings). Everyone was heading there for Easter! – including Isabella (aka Julia) and her really nice Colombian fella Michell who just happened to spot me walking around.

I stayed away from the whole thing. For 5 nights I just relaxed. I went for strolls in the countryside, I ate good well-priced food, I hung out with Mariano (a really cool guy from Argentina who was working at my quiet Hostel Colibries as a volunteer) – and I wrote two articles that were published online!

For Elephant Journal, my first ever published article (here), and a second article for Collective Evolution (here) that they thought good enough to offer me a role as contributor for their website. I am well chuffed with both results, and I am certain that this is just the beginning of something greater - so stay tuned! ;-)

By Wednesday 16th April, after 5 days of serious battery recharging and personal TLC time, I jumped on a Colombian-produced Willys Jeep and headed to the National Park in Cocura Valley to finally spend a night camping in the wild, or ‘wild’ camping as I prefer to call it because so many people seem to think camping away from an actual campsite with toilet, shower and kitchen facilities is in some way ‘crazy’.

But connecting to nature in this way – finding the most comfortable place ‘out there’ to sleep, building and cooking on an outdoor fire, relying on a torch as the only source of light – these things are a very exciting, rewarding (and humbling) experience. Humbling because we are reminded first hand just how much more powerful nature is than we will ever be. Without bringing a tent, sleeping bag, water and food, a cooking pan, a lighter or some other fire starter, an artificial light and some toilet paper, just one night camping ‘out there’ starts to become very hard indeed.

And boy was it cold, especially in the morning as I once again climbed out of my protective (tent/sleeping bag) blanket! The hike back to Willy the following morning soon warmed me up though, and the landscape on the way back with spectacular wax palm trees unique to that region was, well, spellbinding!

The following day, on Friday 18th April, Mariano and I headed off with Mariano's friend, Yanina, to a local finca to take a coffee tour and find out how coffee is made. I have always been a big fan of coffee, and I even have a barista certification from a coffee college in London, but I never knew that, although it is of course very hard work to work on a coffee farm, the process itself is really so easy!

You pick the beans, peel them, leave them to dry, roast them, and then grind them. Of course to understand the soil and weather conditions for the creation of good quality organic coffee requires more skill, but the basic process still really does remain that easy.

It also means that coffee production is actually extremely natural, which surprised me a little as my investigation into intoxication assumed that (just as ingredients must be mixed together to create beer, wine, smoking tobacco, cocaine and other drugs) there must be more mixing of various ingredients going on to create the coffee that we buy to drink, but in actual fact ground roasted coffee really is just that - ground roasted coffee!

We call Starbucks ‘the McDonalds of coffee’ because of all the artificially flavoured coffees they sell, the business practices of huge corporations at the expense of local businesses and local communities in general, and because coffee grown on a mass scale for big corporations can never be as good for us or the environment as coffee grown in a place like finca de Don Elias in Salento where naturally occurring suitable weather conditions and soil allow for completely pesticide free coffee first and foremost for consumption locally, but the aforementioned basic process of creating ground roasted coffee nevertheless still remains the same for any coffee farm big or small.

The next day, on Saturday 19th April, I left the coffee region and headed for Cali to go stay with my close friend Paola and her husband Mauricio for a while. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that my visa was so soon to run out, so my plan to stay a little while in Cali instead became just one full day.

On the evening that I arrived, we went as a group to eat really yummy arepa at a great health food restaurant. Yes, I also found it hard to believe that one of these cardboard corn pasties could actually taste good, but these were stuffed with exciting mixes of vegetables. I opted for the sweet option; mine was coated in nutella, strawberries and peanuts, and it was extremely yummy!

Then we went to two salsa parties, but I was both tired and also not yet ready to face my most unusual fear – salsa. Yes, for those that don’t know, I have a very real irrational fear of salsa, or to be more precise, any organised dance requiring two people to dance together, but salsa for me is the embodiment of this fear. I would seriously consider jumping into an ocean full of sharks over dancing salsa. So, as you can imagine, my enthusiasm to party that night was thwarted by a much stronger desire to climb into bed and dream sweetly, or just run for my life!

Sunday, Easter Sunday, and Paola, her husband Mauricio, her best mates Jenniffer, Dyron and his friends, her cousin Lina with her fella Daniel, and in fact a large proportion of Paola and Mauricio's entire family, thought it would be a great idea to go to see Cristo Rey, the giant Rio-de-Janeiro-style Jesus that spreads its arms out above Cali – and it was! (a great idea).

I have always loved the idea of creating a giant statue of anything, and I would love to travel around the States visiting the world’s largest doughnut and wheelbarrow and haystack and all the other things you can find on the country bumpkin trail across the USA (or so I believe, according to some TV that I’ve seen).

I found the poster at Cristo Rey stating that you should open your arms like Jesus “to new opportunities” to be a rather humorous example of positive poetic licence though. Weren’t Jesus’ arms spread out because he was being crucified and tortured for our sins?

In his book ‘Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers', Thich Nhat Hanh states that he has always had a problem with the symbol of Jesus being one of suffering rather than happiness and joy. I think Thich Nhat Hanh would join me in welcoming the idea of Jesus’ arms stretched out as being the symbol for striving to embrace opportunity, or simply giving thy neighbour a big loving hug :-)

That same evening, we went to watch Divergent at the cinema. It was great to be in the cinema again (the last time was once while in Mexico) but the film itself was a load of drivel. We all thought that the film would show in English with Spanish subtitles, but instead it was dubbed in Spanish, That was the best thing about the film! At least for that reason I had to use my brain and concentrate somewhat, meaning the experience was in some way intellectual. I certainly wasn’t being intellectually challenge by the film itself.

Although I was only able to spend one full day in Cali, it was enough time for me to get an impression of life there. The big cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali are all very different. Paola once described Cali to me as ‘the ugly girlfriend’. She is nothing special to look at on the outside, but inside she is wonderful and loving and amazing. I like the analogy.

Cali does have wonderful countryside, but I found the built up areas of the historical centre of Bogota and along the mountain metro cable of Medellin more beautiful than the city of Cali itself. Salsa is a very sociable and intimate dance between people, and Cali is the capital of Colombian salsa. Maybe the dance reflects the people - Cali’s magic comes from the sociable and intimate connection that exists there between the groups of people. It is the perfect place for me to spend some time after I have finished concentrating on Self discovery. So my plan is to return to this sociable city when I’m ready to face salsa.

I could also work in the public university there for a few months before heading back to Mexico, and then back to Europe. I left my foldable bike at Paola’s as a guarantee of my return.

Monday 21st April (yesterday) was my last day, and so we went to the rural river area of Cali called Pance. Both Cristo Rey (the big giant Jesus) and the river are located in countryside areas of the city. I tried to explain that this does not make sense. You cannot have a countryside area of a city because then it is countryside and not city, but Paola explained that it would be abnormal for a city in Colombia to not have countryside areas, so I guess there is a discussion in ‘not categorising things’ to be had there, but that topic belongs in another post.

This post should end now with a quick mention of my bus journey last night from Cali to the Colombian border town called Ipiales, at which I arrived this morning. From the bus station it was a short ride to the church called ‘El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de las Lajas’ (the sanctuary of our lady of las lajas). Dramatically situated on a magnificent bridge in the middle of an impressive gorge, the church has an arresting position, and I found the whole experience to be rather magical. The amount of love and care that has previously been put into creating and now into maintaining that whole area of pilgrimage is truly inspiring.

After visiting the church I then made my way across the border into Ecuador, entering at a town called Tulcán. My original plan today was to jump straight on a bus to Ibarra but, instead, I spent a ‘grave day’ frustratingly trying to find a single cash machine in Tulcán that actually accepts a foreign bank card! - and in the end literally checking out some graves!

Tomorrow I am heading to Ibarra. My proposito (purpose) is to face my fear of heights!

I have already faced my fear of sharks and deep water by learning to scuba dive (here and here), my fear of being alone in darkness by camping (here), my fear of sacrificing Self discovery by sharing my journey with another romantically (here), and finally my fear of being alone by starting this journey of Self-discovery in the first place!

As my previous posts have explained, spirituality teaches that personal growth takes place when we are doing something new, more personal growth takes place when we go out of our comfort zones, and the most personal growth takes place when we face our fears. Now it is time to face my fear of heights by taking a paragliding course!

This course is about 11 days in length, and yes I’m nervous, but I’m sure it is going to be exciting too! Check out this amazing video!

So I will update you all on how I get on with my paragliding course! But in the meantime, there is still time to leave a comment for my upcoming post! The question I have been pondering for some time now still remains:

Can intoxication be a compassionate action?

This is an ethical, moral, environmental, philosophical, psychological, spiritual and scientific question – for which I have not yet come to my own conclusion and I do not propose an answer.

On 30th April, I will take everything that I have learnt and write a full report with quotations from you and various sources and then I will come to my own conclusion based on what everyone has said and what I have experienced so far - this upcoming post is going to be profound!

I have carried out my interviews and gained lots of opinions and insights for my final conclusion on the subject already - the only person’s comment that is missing and desperately desired is yours!

There is still time! Click here to go to my last post and leave your comment now!

It seems that I have just entered Ecuador at the perfect moment – the next chapter! How to Be a Buddha is now gaining momentum, starting to spread and include others, and I can feel that much greater revelations are on the way as I continue on this road to be an enlightened 'awakened' buddha!

Be inspired ♥


  1. I love this post and comments, miss you, even when you stay for a really short period of time! You left us your energy and we really want to share with you more! We talked about that yesterday evening. And we, sociable?? Never, haha that's why I have to say "we" instead of "I", just one question: where are the videos about Cali? You definitely have to come back and make one!

    1. Hello! After I do the meditation, I am thinking about spending a week in Cali and learning Salsa. That would be my last 'fear' :-)

      And I am thinking about taking my bike with me after all. But these are just plans and my plans change :-D

      I will definitely see you again soon though! HUGS xxx

  2. Eyy Robert! excelente post, espero q la estes pasando genial y encuentres todas las respuestas a tu busqueda! Aca en el hostel te extrañamos jaja (por fin tenemos un plan) jaja seguimos en contacto y un abrazo grande, mucha suerte!...
    P.D.: que alto q es el chico del video en las finas de cafe jaja un abrazo!

    1. Hey! Gracias por tu comment :-) I'll keep up-to-date on your journey to Switzerland, Italy and Europe in general, and if you are there when I get back, we can meet up! Now that is a plan! ;-)