The towns in Colombia are well worth visiting as they offer a different perspective of life in Colombia. Normally they have a main square - in Spanish “El Parque”, though they don’t usually much resemble a park - with a church on one side, and shops, bars, restaurants, cafés and offices dotted around the other three. This is the centre of the town, and the general meeting place for the locals. It’s where all the action is.
It’s here you will see the older generation whiling away the hours, drinking cups of black coffee, known colloquially here in Antioquia as “tinto,” or, depending on the time of day, maybe sloshing down glasses of “Aguardiente,” the local aniseed flavoured firewater. They sit and chat, probably reminiscing about how things were much better in the past, people they knew, and jobs they had, playing cards or just watching the world go by.
The young teenage girls walk around in two’s or three’s, looking as fashionable as their pocket allows, hoping to attract the attention of the local boys, while some, having already attracted the attention of the local boys, wander around with babes in arms!
Families can be seen strolling around, some in their Sunday best, children in tow, looking for a bite to eat, waiting for the next mass to start, shopping in the local shops or just catching up with friends and the latest gossip.
And then you have those who are occupying space in the various bars, passing through the various stages of drunkenness, from being happy and slightly vociferous, to being crouched over the table, surrounded by empty beer bottles, in a state of semi-consciousness, oblivious to the world around them, and how utterly bad they are going to feel the following day.
Dotted around these towns, in the countryside, are plenty of small houses and farms, and Sunday is the day when many of the inhabitants from these outlying areas make the journey into town. Those living not too far out make the journey by foot, others by motorcycle or on horseback.
For some a “Chiva”, an old fashioned, decoratively painted bus, is an option, if a route passes near their house, or if not, which is often the case, by “Chivero”, which is basically a jeep, land rover or van, which makes the journey around the unpaved roads and tracks leading to the more outlying areas, picking up people, and charging them a small fee for the journey into town. It’s common to see passengers hanging off the back of the chivas and chiveros as they bounce their way along the country lanes.
In this South West region there are four towns that I really like, Jericó, Ciudad Bolivar, Hispania and Jardín.
Jericó was founded in 1851 by Santiago Santamaría Bermúdez de Castro. The town is just under 2,000 metres above sea level, 122 kilometres from Medellin by road, and has a population of approximately 14,500. It is sometimes referred to as the Athens of the South West due to its progress and culture.
Jericó is immensely beautiful, and also well organised, with colourful colonial style buildings. Many of the buildings have brightly painted wooden balconies, doors and traditional window shutters which add to its charm. There is a museum, and a small botanical garden where you can go for a walk, or just find some shade and relax. There is also a statue on a hill that you can visit, and a cable car which takes you across the valley to a park called, “El Parque de los Nubes,” The Park of the Clouds, however, it wasn’t operational the last few times I visited.
Jericó recently hit the headlines when, Jericó born Mother Laura, became the first Colombian to be named a saint. As someone who leans very strongly towards Atheism, it is not something which affects me in any way, however, for the Colombians, the majority of whom are Catholic, staunch or not, it was a moment to treasure, and received hours of primetime news coverage here. I believe that it also leads to the possibility of Jericó becoming a future destination for Catholic pilgrims.
Ciudad Bolivar also known just as Bolivar, is another well organised town, with a very pretty main square with many tall, leafy trees providing shade and freshness. It is not as high as Jericó, being 1,400 metres above sea level, and is slightly closer to Medellín, about 109 kilometres.
Another small town I like, though there is not much to see there, is Hispania, which is not far from Ciudad Bolivar on the way to Jardín. I once trekked from Hispania to another town called Pueblo Rico, and I thought the atmosphere in Hispania was very pleasant. It’s one of the few towns I know where the main square is covered with grass rather than concrete with a few flower beds. I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to visit Hispania, but if you are in the area it is worth stopping by for a brief visit. It’s a quiet, peaceful town.
Jardín is 134 kilometres from Medellin, and 1750 metres above sea level. This is another coffee growing region along with plantain, sugar cane and red kidney beans - the kidney bean being one of the principal dishes of Antioquia. Jardin has a wonderful atmosphere, relaxed and friendly. Nearby there is a trout farm that you can visit, and if you feel more energetic you can do the 10km round trip walk to the cave known as, La Cueva del Esplendor. The walk takes you through beautiful woods and countryside and is well worth the effort.
Not far from Jardín there are also various streams with pools where you can go bathing to refresh yourself and have some fun splashing about. Jardin is a favourite town to visit on long weekends among people from Medellin, so if you are planning to visit, it may be worth booking a hotel in advance. If you don’t have much time I would recommend Jerico and Jardin as the two towns worth visiting, but if time is not a problem then it is worth seeing them all.
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