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30 jul201830

San Carlos - hidden gem in the heart of Antioquia

San Carlos, ColombiaSan Carlos, Colombia
When one makes plans to go to Colombia it is very possible that their very first stop will be Antioquia and to be exact Medellïn. After all it is The City of the Eternal Spring, Escobar tours, and much more entertainment. I will make an assumption here but I think most people do like such busy cities. Tourists, expats, and locals alike have to get away from that busyness every now and then and especialy during long weekends. The most common/possible destinations for such weekends definitely include Guatapé, Rionegro, San Rafael, or Santa Fe but Alexandra and I found, amongts those touristy, well-developed towns, a gem that made my stay in Colombia a thousand times more memorable. 

San Carlos is called the hydro-electrical capital of Colombia due to many dams in the region that produce vast amount of energy. Apart from that its known by many waterfalls and exquisite landscape, of which proof you can see in the slideshow and in the pictures throughout this post.
 
Getting to San Carlos
I'll be blunt. It wasn't easy. Because I had a car for the week we decided to drive to San Carlos, which is only 10km in straight line fro Guatapé but as we all know nobody builds roads in straight line, especially in Colombia and in such part where peaks and hills are plentiful. It took us three hours :) Only because we actually drove from the airport and wanted to avoid the road through Granada so we opted in for the longer road but the "yellow-type road" on Google Maps, which would suggest it's paved as I believe it means it's one of the main roads. 

The drive to San Luis, our first stop, was normal, but when we left San Luis things started to get interesting. The last 30km was probably the most difficult terrain I have ever driven on. We're not just talking about it being uneven. Huge rocks lying around, holes, unexpected turns, ups and downs, everything made it quite a drive. Good thing the card I had was a high-suspension one, otherwise we would have to turn back.

During my travels there aren't many constants. Everything is changing - I do, people I see on a daily basis, the quality of air, the food, but there is something that I can, unfortunately, always count on: something that will skew, bend, or try to break my plans. This time it turned out that the bridge we needed to cross to get to the town was being rebuilt for a while and will still be out of service for 2 more months.  The only way to get to town was little wooden bridge but not for cars - only humans and moto-taxis. In this case we had to leave the car near the bridge and go to the hotel in a moto-taxi.
 
Hotel Campestre La Cascada
I have only been once in a really fancy hotel - it was when Avianca cancelled my flight in Lima, on my way to Colombia, and were obligated to provide me with an accommodation for the night. Novotel was way too fancy for a simple traveller with a backpack but I enjoyed it anyway. If I can I always choose something simple, I learnt how to not need luxuries and enjoy the simplicity of things.

Alexandra found this place through Airbnb and we booked it with little hesitation. The name doesn't say much but I trusted my travel companion to select something nice. The price wasn't exccessive either. It's simply 75 000 COP or $25 per night per person. Yes it's not as cheap as 18 000 COP per night hostel in Medellín but in the end it is a hotel.
The view your eyes are subject to when arriving to the hotel

The moment we reached the borders of the property we knew it would be an amazing place. Lots of flowers, trees, bushes, flying bees making their not-for-humans honey, and geese! We walk into the main building and it's one big WOW. My eyes are instantly locked on two american pool tables and I was happy as a clam knowing I will not leave the country without some good pool action. Later I realised that those tables are of an excellent quality including the cues and balls.

The place is a family business. We met Gabriela and her husband "El Patron" who own the place, having built it 30 years ago and making sure their guests have the best time has always been their priority. Doris/Lydia rocked the kitchen and her two kids Wendy (9) and Alejandro (16) have made our stay feel like we were kids on a camp trip.

At the face of it there are two small hiccups. First is the lack of hot water. They don't have got electric showers, which means you have to be prepared for cold showers - been there done that, in the end it didn't bother me too much. Lately I think hot water as it is luxury :D Second was the lack of internet. At first I was concerned but later I realised that it was actally good to be disonnected from matrix for a whole weekend.. My first three days in my life without ANY connection to the world - pure bliss.

I spent huge amount of my time in a green hammock, which I wasn't too fond of at the beginning but it was because I'm one of those people (my attempt to hide my pecularities behind assumption of belonging to a larger group with such pecularity) who just can't be comfortable in a hammock but I worked through it and my time travel pod was often occupied by my persona.
After arrival we went to explore the nearby waterfall and later we started playing basketball with Wendy. You have no idea how much I miss sports! Living in Guatapé provided no shortage of physical exercise but it's not the same as actually playing a sport. I think eventually team Wendy+Alexandra won by few shots but despite driving for many hours beforehand I was still practicing with Wendy until it got dark.
 
Cascadas & Chicharras
Saturday started from a delicious breakfast, after which Alejandro and his sister took us on a little trek outside of the town to a place called:

While walking I kept focusing on a sound that was similar to human-sized crickets (if they existed) but those sounds turned out to be made by chicharras or cicadas in English. We saw a lot of their skins on the trees when going back to the hotel. The sound is very impressive, almost like a hundred of crickets at once. They also shed their skin leaving the cascaras on the tree.. 
That is what you can find on the trees after chicharra sheds its skin
San Carlos is also rich in waterfalls. Our hotel's name La Cascada is Spanish for waterfall because one of them is very close to it. Once we reached our destination we were in awe. This is the place where we would spend next few hours throwing rocks, swimming, or, if you are me, trying to float but enjoying it nonetheless.
The hike took about 1.5h one way if I remember correctly but I'll be blunt I didn't pay too much attention to the time. It was flowing as it wanted and I did not need to rush or check time/phone for anything. It wasn't too difficult but at the same time you get a good sweat going up, then down, and up again, and down.. you get the jist :)

Ever since I started living off-gride I pay more attention now to the life that surrounds us. I got excited like a little kid when Alejandro and I saw a green snake but very quickly he blended with its habitat and that was it. Big colonies of ants carrying little pieces of leaves, walking sticks, little fish, chicharras of course, and many more. However repetetive it sounds times like these make me even more happy that I am a vegan, treat all live beings equally as it allowed me to appreciate all living things the same way. They all have a purpose, they want to live regardless of how meaningless their lives might seem to us humans.
Hard at work, not wasting any moment. Role models!
After our hike we came back to the hotel and I spent another two hours playing basketball with our great guides. It's amazing how I was doing so much physical activities and at the same time I was incredibly relaxed. Probabbly because I was doing happy things with happy people.
 
Plan is good, flexible plan is better
If you know me well you also know that I like having a plan. Not necessarily chiselled-in-stone kind of a plan but at least some kind of an outline. Alexandra is the same, hence we drafter our roadtrip, where, when, and how we would get around.

We fell in love with the place instantly. Initially we were supposed to come to San Carlos on Friday and leave for San Rafael on Saturday only to go back to Medellín and Guatapé on Sunday afternoon. We didn't. By unanimous decision we stayed in San Carlos for the other night and gave up the idea of another few hours of driing (remember the bridge? It would make us go around the whole area just to cross it) and instead fully relax.

In the evening all four of us played pool. Ahh how great was it to play again especially since Alejandro is quite a good player. With two great tables like these he practices often, mostly with foreigners who are guests in the hotel
With Alejandro before our departure
It was the best decision ever! On Sunday we spent even more time playing pool, chilling out outside, and simply admiring what a beautiful place this family has built over the years. Even now I still can't wrap my head around one thing - how did they get such good pool tables? Yes, it is a mystery that will never be solved. 

I can't wait to go back there if I ever get a chance to come back to Colombia. This place is neither fancy nor disappointing almost like you can't really have an opinion that usually applies to hotels. It is out of the scale and on a totally different spectrum. Turns out they have capacity of 35 people, which means you can bring a hell of a party there to spend time with. In November they have 12 Germans flying to Colombia, only to spend few days in San Carlos. The staff speak a bit of English, which shows you that they really try. They want to be able to host anybody even if they don't know Spanish. It's something easy to forget but every time Gabriela would interject some English sentences you get the feel that they try too. Despite us being in Spanish-speaking country and me speaking a bit and Alexandra speaking awesomely, she still tried and that gives you a sense of the principles they follow when running their successful business.

This was not just a simple in-out holiday. It turned into much more very quickly. We got to know the people who greeted us, cooked for us, and made us feel special. We befriended the younglings by playing sports, hiking together, talking about cicadas, the effect of clay on your skin, and their future, watching Flinstones together, and much more. At the same time Alexandra and I still had moments to enjoy watching some classics from my old movie collection, as well as to find some time on our own to think, write, relax, and reflect. 

If you ever happen to be in Medellín and wondering where to go for a weekend, or a whole week, to really relax, reconnect with nature and yourself - you now know where to go. We didn't even go to the actual town because there was no reason. We had everything we needed right there - happiness, amazing people, organic vegan food, and plenty of places to visit.

I left Colombia on a high, for sure, and I have San Carlos to thank for that. Can't wait to return in the future to the place that will forever remain special to my heart..
 
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