Travelling is great. Exploring is as intrinsically human as walking upright and not being able to get out of bed in the morning. But humans are creatures of habit, we know what we like and we like what we know. Perhaps it’s these two counteracting forces that lead to the phenomenon of the ‘tourist trail’ – that well trodden path that crosses the globe from one ‘must see’ destination to the next.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see the sights. Things are normally popular for a reason, but the endless lists of ‘10 Things to See Before You Die’ and ‘Top 5 Tips for Eating Out in Huaraz’ (woops, I may have written that one) can dampen the adventurous spirit.
The ‘Off The Beaten Track’ blog is the opposite of these lists. It is a celebration of the accidental and the unexpected; the ‘I lost my passport, so was stuck there for three days’, and the ‘Dan forgot the map, so we ended up in the wrong town’. It is a celebration of the random, memorable moments that make travelling exciting.
I’m not talking about trekking into the heart of the Atacama Desert or kayaking the length of the Amazon, although they both sound fun. Adventure can be found anywhere. It often only takes the smallest step sideways to find yourself away from the teeming hoards and trailing touts, street hawkers and hassle.
So, read our first instalment of the blog and remember… step sideways!
Part 1 – Horse riding in Salento, Colombia
Salento is placed almost equidistant between Bogotá, Cali and Medellín, the three largest cities in Colombia. It is most certainly on the tourist trial, but its laid back charm and quiet pace make it the perfect place for some respite from these frantic cities. It’s also popular with Colombians seeking a quiet getaway, so if you want a little more tranquillity then visit midweek (and visa versa).
The town is small, very small. It’s set out in a traditional grid system and has a number of hostels to choose from. I was lucky enough to be pointed in the direction of the ‘Tralala’ hostel – as relaxed as the chap who came up with that name.
The main attraction is the Valle de Cocura in the Los Nevados National Park, which starts a short Jeep ride from Salento. However, if you fancy something a little more special I can only recommend one thing – horse riding.
Animal welfare should be a concern for everyone and it’s something we take very seriously at Project Cordillera. It’s important to find the happiest looking horses you can, to promote good welfare. Look no further than Don Alvero. He can be contacted through Hostel Tralala. My horse, Malunga, was a beaute. Think Black Beauty but white.
It’s important to point out that I had never ridden a horse before. I was a little bit concerned about this and asked our Colombian friend Laura if there would be lessons and helmets. She smiled and said something noncommittal. I should have known.
Before I knew it I was galloping, or trotting or cantering (I have no idea) out of town and down steep muddy paths, through forests, across rivers and along an abandoned railway track (queue stunning crumbling railway tunnel and a nod to colonial misadventures). It all blurred into one, but I distinctly remember dodging left and right to avoid branches while flying through a cloud of butterflies. I remember it. It happened. It was real.
Laura smiled some more and galloped (I’m sure of this) off into the distance. Of course Malunga followed like a horse out of hell. We all finished up with a dip beneath a waterfall before heading back, because… how else.
Having survived this fantastic ordeal, I have a few tips for you.
1. Don’t wear shorts, wear jeans like a real cowboy
2. Don’t be afraid of riding a horse (Para! Para!)
3. Don’t trust Laura
Off The Beaten Track Rating: 1/5
Map – By Uwe Dedering (Own work – modified) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons. Images are Project Cordillera’s and Niel Shah’s (with thanks!).