As many of you know, I was at one point engaged in developing a travel business that combined my love for writing, researching, and helping people explore the world. While I’ve been fortunate that my primary business, Thorpe Tennis, has been successful and very demanding of my productive time, I’ve still always felt that Thorpe Travel was more on hiatus than in retirement.
In the years since I stopped blogging and writing for other travel websites, I’ve helped plan a number of honeymoons and vacations for friends and friends-of-friends, as well as hand out at least half-a-dozen Alaska Air Companion Passes, amongst other travel-hacking tips and tricks.
Most of all, I’ve continued to aggressively travel and explore the world, and particularly to learn about a few places in much more depth. In 2020, I am considering doing some travel writing for other websites again, but I’ve decided to first-off share some of my gems with my favorite community of people.
Throughout this post, you’ll get a look into my 2019 travels across seven countries, from a cyclist’s paradise in Spain to the famous beaches of Rio and many places in-between.
Beginning in late 2018 and continuing throughout 2019, I turned my focus on one of my absolute favorite countries in the world: Colombia. I’ve made it my mission, just as I did with Mexico before, to go beyond the largest and most touristy cities in search of a complete picture of Colombia and its potential as the second most bio-diverse country in the world.
While I visited many cities and regions throughout Colombia this year, I’ll keep my description here to the places I went in Colombia that most foreigners that go there never encounter.
Santander Region, Colombia
The Chicamocha Canyon is perhaps the natural highlight of the Santander Region of Colombia. When we in the US think of canyons, the Grand Canyon always comes to mind as the biggest and, well, “grandest.” Chicamocha is actually 10% deeper than the Grand Canyon, so that should give some perspective (and the photos will remove any doubt).
Santander is also known for Barichara, the quaint little town that is consistently voted most beautiful in Colombia. I spent two days hiking from Refugio La Roca in Los Santos (at the rim of the canyon), following what’s known as the “Camino Real.” In total, 18 miles of mixed terrain were covered in what were very warm and dry conditions.
I would be remiss not to mention the many Venezuelan families I saw walking along the roadside as I made my way back to the Bucaramanga Airport after my hike. Santander runs along the Colombia-Venezuela border in the middle part of the country and with conditions grim in Venezuela, many are forced to pack what will fit on their backs and walk to more opportunities in Colombia. My heart aches for the people of Venezuela, some of whom have become good friends throughout my travels in Latin America.
Sierra Nevado de Tolima
My final adventure of the year went even further afield, into the high Andes Mountains to visit a glaciated volcano. Sierra Nevado de Tolima is accessed through the “Eje Cafetero,” the eye of the Colombian coffee region.
From the Pueblo Patrimonio town of Salento, one can hire an old US Military jeep called a “Willy” to take you to the Cocora Valley, home to the national tree of Colombia. The Wax Palm, growing to a height of more than 100 feet, is the tallest palm tree in the world, and they are quickly disappearing from existence.
From Valle Cocora, I ventured through 36 miles of jungle, muddy marsh-like plateaus, the rare “paramo del Quindío,” and up to over 14,000 feet of elevation to reach the base of Volcano Tolima, one of three volcanoes in the region. All three were once heavily glaciated, but now one no longer sports its icy top-hat and even Tolima, which reaches up over 17,000 feet into the sky is predicted to be in its last decade or two of glacier lifespan.
The going was hard, with elevation, steep trails, and mud strong enough to pull my shoe off on one occasion, but all was worthwhile. The few other hikers we encountered all had many stories to tell and the family that gave us three square meals and a bunk each night (for $10 US!) was warm and hospitable.
Other Places I Visited in 2019
In addition to spending 43 days exploring Colombia, I also visited six other countries in 2019:
General Reflection about Travel and Work
The sum of these adventures is so much more than what they look like in photos. These are beautiful places, yes, but they are also filled with friendly people and opportunities for growth.
As the Thorpe Tennis year-in-review post will attest, I was very hard at work in Santa Barbara this year. Travel has a restorative effect on me, keeping me more than excited to be on the courts almost literally every day I’m in Santa Barbara. It may look like a life of extremes, but really, it’s a life of balance. I love my work and I love to explore, so I organize my life in a way that allows me to put 100% into each of those things in their own time.