Colombia is incredible, landscapes, people, customs and culture. It is a country of opposites, rich and poor, mountains and beaches, hot and cold, city and country all rolled into one. It is the second oldest democracy in the world. It is not what we in the north think it is. It is a very cosmopolitan, up and coming country with a large [for it's continent] middle class, and lots of trade, industrial to the service industry. Peolple who have money live very well there. The standard of life for many there is quite good. Of course as in every country there are the poor. In Colombia this is made worse by the fact that many country people without skills get drawn to the big cities to live the good life, but upon arriving find that life there is alien to them and they have very few recourses to survive. One can find the poor very easily in Colombia. I can attest though that the plight of the poor has been improving over the last 35 years that I have been traveling to Colombia. Many cities now have help for orphans so there are not so many lost children on the streets which was a real problem in the 60's and 70's.

Another issue in Colombia is the drug problem which is not the use of, but the manufacturing of to export. Most of the drugs in the country are exported. People hear of the drug probblem and the strife that accompanies it but it little affects the average Colombian as the coca farms plants and transport areas are far from populated areas. This makes it easier for the drug lords [who now are the revolutionary guerillas instead of the high flying mafia types of the past] to subjugate an area to produce, refine and ship the product. To understand this one must look at a map of Colombia and notice that there are three mountain ranges that traverse the country from north to south and then there are the large flat areas to the east and west. Almost 90% of the population of Colombia is within these three mountain ranges which comprise maybe a fourth of the countries area. The other 3/4's of the country is virtually unoccupied, to the east the llanos, large unroaded plains best suited for cattle and airplanes, to the southeast the Amazon jungle basin, and to the west, the coastal rainforest. The nine eastern lowlands departments, constituting about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 3% of the population and a density of less than one person per square kilometer (two persons per sq. mi.).

The total population (2005 projected)of Colombia is 46 million, the country has 1.14 million sq. km. (440,000 sq. mi.); about three times the size of Montana; and is the fourth-largest country in South America.

Colombia has every know Biosphere on earth other than antartic and artic. There are mountains [this one on the western Cordillera at sunrise], reefs, deserts, tropical rainforest, alpine forests, badlands, waterfalls, saltpans, giant rivers [The Magdalena], High Andes Passes [Pass over El Nevado de Ruiz] etc. You can go swiming in a lake below and going sking on a 24,000 ft volcano in the same day. Since most of the population lives on three separate mountain ranges getting around between them means traveling by car on countless switchbacks and hairpin turns to get down and the up again and then down again etc. A 100 mile drive in Colombiam can take 2 to 8 hours depending on the condition of the road, if it is paved or not and local traffic . I have been hesitant to write a Colombian trip log as I have so much and I do not want to bore you all.

In light of running too long I will describe a few orchid trips that we have taken. The first is to visit a Masdevallia coccinea reserve run by my friend Luis Eduardo [Those are his babies all around him Masdevallia coccinea], Arturo and Padre Pedro Ortiz. It is located near Guasca, a town in eastern Cundinamarca about 1 1/2 hours from Bogata'. He has many acres of high elevation cloud forest and luckily today the clouds were over our heads so we could see. Normally the woods here appear like this when the clouds are low. Luis Eduardo asked us to walk a path from his cottage to see his naturalized plants. Masdevallia coccinea is a small to medium sized terrestrial plant with a giant red to yellow flower that is held 12 to 16" above the plant. A grouping of a few is impressive. Imagine looking in all directions and seeing 1000's, that is Luis Eduardo's creation, every diection you can look, in and among the trees, up and down the slopes are flowers, red, yellow, orange and the rarest, white. All the Masdevallia coccinea that he has on his property have been planted by him or his helper . He bought a large collection several years ago with the thought of selling them but within a month of buying them they all bloomed en masse and he thought he should plant them instead of keeping them in pots and start an orchid preserve {Left to right, Luis Eduardo, Myself and Father Pedro Ortiz}.

Luis has 10,000 or so Masdevallia coccinea in his preserve and that is 10,000 more than exist in the wild elsewhere, that was a major factor in his decision to plant his orchids back in the wild. As we walked about we were entertained in another Colombian way, Coffee, with a shot of rum to keep the chill away. As you can see by the previous picture being in the clouds means wet and cold, one minute it can be a sunny day and the next a cloud rolls in and you are in a wet, cool mist. Makes for lots of mud and slippery conditions..

Luis has many other species of orchids on his property as any orchid preserve should so here are a few. Masdevallia ignea, Barbosella cucullata, Epidendrum longiflorum, Fernandezia sp, Gomphichis cundinamarcae, Odontoglossum gloriosum

Luis also grows trout and these are the pools that he raises them in. These are the heads of the trout that we ate after we spent some time in the late afternoon mists. The meal consisted of trout, patacones [flattened fried green plaintains], yuca frita [ fried cassava root], and a salad with raisins. Who said Colombia was hot. Warming up the Colombian way, an apertif. Loading up to get away to Bogata'. On our way back through the back road traffic we saw the military patroling the highway and streets. This is a good thing, now that they are more visible there is very little guerilla activity in the populated mountain areas.

Our next quick trip will be to my friend Ramon's country finca outside of Bogota'. We were with Myself, Arturo, Padre Ortiz, and Ramon. He also has a high elevation cloud forest property. We arrives with a dense mist. It did not get any better all day. We saw cordate Pleurothallis, elliptic Pleurothallis, Masdevallia cuadata, Cyrtochilum, Odontoglossum gloriosum, Lycaste and a Stelis. We spent a few hours walking in the woods and then had a great lunch at his country retreat.

I spend a lot of time in Bogata and I am not a city boy so everychance I get I go to my orchid heaven just a few miles from my house there in the outskirts of the city. There is a lot of climbing through brush we encounter a Lepanthes forest. There are 3 different Lepanthes species here and they are as of yet unidentified by me or my friends there. One is similar to Lepanthes escoberiana but much smaller and has a spider-like lip and petals. It grows on thin moss covered branches. The second species is smaller and is harder to spot. It has a small elliptic leaf and the flower is brown, yellow and red. The last is much smaller and harder to focus on, it is yellow with red. This forest which is a protected stream-bed perpendicular to the hills at the edge of the bogata' savannah, gets little wind, lots of mist from low clouds and is fairly dark. One plant that is always in flower when I go there is Telipogon latifolius. If it is blooming you will find that it is in a bright spot in the forest where sunbeams will play upon it directly when it is out. There are also much larger plants. This terrestrial Epidendrum species is 6 to 8' tall and has a huge white panicle of fragrant flowers. ANother Epidendrum, although much smaller is the pendant growing epiphyte Epidendrum megalospathum which has very pretty flowers. Passing through the gloom we come upon a group of terrestrial orchids one of which is Pleurothallis phalangifera a beautiful yet hard to see in nature. In the same group was this cute terrestrial Pleurothallis macrocardia and right next to it was this charming large sized terrestrial Pleurothallis species. Leaving the area we came across a group of Stenorrhynchos speciosa with their flowers help well above the plant. Just a few steps away was this Spiranthes-like Terrestrial Orchid, it stands about 8" tall and had no visible leaves and underground tuber-like roots.. Quite a cutie.

Nearby there was a large rock outcropping with many wrinkles and creases and it was a home to several lihtophytic Pleurothallids, a Pleurothallis sp, a Lepanthes orion, a Stelis in Flower, and another Pleurothallis sp in bud.

Arturo, My friend Don, Arturo, Juan Pablo and myself decided to take a trip to Manizales and Perreira, two cities on the western cordillera. Bogata is on the eastern crdillera so to get there [a distance of about 100 miles ] takes about 4 hours by car. We left early and stopped at Arturo's family's getaway house near Villeta and he showed us thisamazing terrestrial, Galeandra beyrichii which stands abount 4' tall and has many 2 1/2" flowers and in difference to other Galeandra does not have visible pseudobulbs. Arturo Keeps his hot to warm growing orchids here He is an avid grower with close to 5000 plants in two different locations, here were it is hot and outside Bogata' to the north in a location that is cool to cold. This way hew can grow most any orchid that he can find. Off we go on our trip and we find many raodside Sobralia. Here is a closeup of the flower. We go through many small towns and pass by many mountains which are always cloud covered. The road is very twisty and turny, we will get to this town in 15 minutes. As we get to the higher elevations we spot many alpine plants this one is at about 3400 meters. I also found an Epipdendrum sp. here. There was also this large plant in flower. Whenever one crosses the highest elevation in a pass, on one side or the other, there is a shrine where truckers and others leave headlights, in the hope that God will light the way. At the top of the pass the three of us take off up the muntain to see what high elevation orchids there may be. We came upon a beautiful old tree with a few Odontoglossum on it and they were in spike . We were a week or so too early to see these flowers. There was also a very nice non-blooming Dichaea. Another moss covered old tree has a blooming Oncidium and many different Epidendrum species

After crossing the mountain and hitting rain and heavy cloud cover on the twisty, windy, up and down with traffic road we came into Manizales. We were all fairly hungry so we stopped to eat and watched these truckers come in with these new trucks, that still needed to have their cabs built. They were being delivered from Brazil by boat to the the port on the Rio Magdalena and then driven over the mountain to Manizales and then Perreira, a City an hour ahead that was ordering them for a bus system. It must have been cold driving them through the pass with the rain and mist. We passed this Cloud swept structure on the road. After our delicious meal we continued to the Manizales Botanical Garden were we saw the largest bamboo structure in the world. They hold orchid shows here and have had 400+ people up in the second floor. The garden also has a few animals. We took a walk around their new orchid jungle that they are making and we saw Lycaste, Pleurothallis, another differnt Pleurothallis, Stelis, Another different Stelis, Zootrophion, Platystele umbellata, Trichosalpinx, a different Trichosalpinx all on a trail through the woods. I am sorry about the quality of the photos but it was late in the afternoon and it was raining. After we met the Manizales Orchid Society and had a late snack we drove on to the house of Don Chorizo and his wife Maritza who are standing with Arturo and Juan Pablo in front of a coffee plantation. Don and myself pose for a photo Chorizo runs this plantation which consists of hundreds of acres of primo Colobian coffee and lives in this colonial house which is at least 100 years old. Here is Chorizo's greenhouse, I guess he took the name literally and came up with a green house! Chorizo grows orchids, thousands of them and I spent 2 days just photographing flowers. They are a part of the encyclopedia so I will not bore you with them here but get on with the travels. Bamboo is a very important commodity in this part of Colombia, and they use it to construct almost every kind of structure. The quality of Bamboo is so good that china imports it instead of using their own.

We settled in at Chorizo and Maritza's house to rest up for the next day which brought more photo taking, Chorizo has a big collection of Sigmatostalix and I took most of them as they are always in flower. They are the neatest things but are small and have a lot of angle so closeups get difficult. I am happy with a few of these photos. S abortiva, S adamsii, S aristilifera S. auriculata S. caquetana S cresentilabia S cuculigera S eliae S guatemalensis S huebernii< S ibis, S minax, S miranda, S morganii, S pandurata, S papilio, S picta, S picturissima, S poikilostalix, S putomayensis, S reversa, S tenuirostris,

That was just one genus of his collection. I got a lot of orchid photos. Anyway later that day we left for Perriera, passing through the rolling coffee plantations, Banana plantations and small roadside villages. Colombia is always great for offbeat roadside situations, colonial haciendas and beautiful pastoral raodside scenes. After an hour or so we arrived at Tomas Toulemonde's house. The house is on the edge of a deep river bank and it is visited by hundreds of hummingbirds which feed on a sugar water liquid that they provide for them. Tomas grows Cattleya [Arturo to the left and Tomas on the right], he has hundreds of them, this one C aurea. Tomas has written two books, one on Gongora and the other on The Colombian Cattleya. We were wined and dined and also made an appearance at Eva's Orchids run by a Japanese family Tsubota.

In Colombia one is always reminded of the past, as many things that seem so unusual for us in the US, are still part of the everyday here. The simplest things can seem so foreign and things that are not foreign still, are oddly different, you never know what might be around the corner. As all things go we got back on the road to return to Bogata', we climbed back to the top of the pass the Paramo de Letras, got into some more local traffic, passed a butcher, stopped to see a different roadside Sobralia and unexpectedly found a stand of Eurysytles a rare small epiphyte with a corymb like flower. We approached the Magdalena river's bridge and off to the side see an abandoned railroad bridge. Honda, a very hot colonial city is the city in the bottom of Colombia is on both sides of the Magdalena river, the town's name means deep because it is at 170 [550'] meters which is 2530 [8000'] meters below Bogata' and Manizales and in a straight line less than 70 miles in either direction, yet 3 hours away because of the winding, twisting, steep, hairpin turning road. These maps show the road by elevation to Honda and Honda to Manizales and Perreira. On the way we stopped in Villetta, and took a walk in the main plaza and had lunch ion this restaraunt. Here is a typical hotel on the central plaza of Villetta. A typical street scene and village traffic can be heavy. Entering Bogata' we encounter another Beautiful sunset.

Don and I decided to go to the country for lunch the next day and came across this wonderful old mansion built in the early 1800's that is still in use and they have a small restaurant which served, steak, chicken, a platino maduro [fried ripe plaintain] and french fries. Food is very good in Colombia and it is all fresh and tasty!! We were the only customers that day so we were very well taken care of and got a tour of the inside by Miss Lolita the owner. Here is the fireplace and the painting above, which is of a peeping tom?

Our next journey was to Villa de Leiva a small colonial [Means when the Spanish were here 1475-1803] town north of Bogata in Boyaca state. It is well known for it's cobblestone streets and 300 year old houses with spanish tile roofs. We went to visit a friend of my wife and mine that we hd not seen in almost 30 years. We had all lived in Peru together in the mid seventies. This is a photo of Clara our friend, Carmenza my wife and Clara's mother. Villa de Leiva also has lots of fossils, and this is the largest one they have ever found, a crocodile like, sea creature. Villa de leiva has a bit of nightlife as well. The next day we are off to Rakira' a small craft town that specializes in pottery and more pottery. The town is also very nicely painted, each building in different colors. Even the hotel and lobby is painted [that's my son Andres], sometimes comically and potentially confusing. The town square is nice and open and has these major ceramic sculptures, of country life and the heart of the country, the women. The town has lots of neat buildings, even ones that are not in use anymore. How would you like to paint this window. There is a footbridge that leads to a small village on the other side of the creek just off the plaza. Here is the police stationand a more modern building that still fits in. On one side of the plaza the catholic church looms over all. Colombia is mostly Catholic more than 85% but evangelism has been making inroads over the last few years. This is a friends back yard in Rakira'. What a GREAT tourist trap!

As I said I pass a lot of time in Bogata' and my family there is wonderful. I have the best time with them. My inlaws very small house has a solarium with a waterfall wall with ferns, bromiliads and orchids, it comforts my father in law as he grew up in the country. This is what he faces just outside. This is a friend's house that he keeps to visit his orchids. He keeps all his orchid awards here. This is the front entrance. Here is a shot of the capilla that he built outside from inside his house. That is one of my favorite photos I have ever taken. All of the furniture and filials here are handcarved to my friends specifications in Ecuador. My friend states that, "There are no bedrooms in this house, we must always leave before bedtime, that way I never have to clean any sheets here". The house is about 45 minutes from his house in Bogata' and is only used so he can keep his cool to cold growing orchids there.