How Meeting a Stranger Can Be More Than ‘Just’ a Meeting

Meeting a Strangers (©photocoen)Even after more than ten years on the road I can still be surprised how one meeting can lead to all sorts of events, adventures and other meetings. Maybe because I never take them for granted. It is not something you can plan, or find in a guidebook. You can plan a meeting, but you can’t plan all results of such a meeting. And that’s where the charm lies: the unexpected.

It Starts with Meeting a Stranger

When that happens, the world can feel like an intricate web with everything and everybody being connected (which, some will argue, is not a feeling but a fact, and I tend to agree with that statement). In Colombia we have experienced so many of such moments that it is impossible to share all those experiences with you, so let me pick one out.

Pijao, Colombia (©photocoen)

Kids in Pijao daily gathered to play chess at one of the outdoor cafés.

When we were in Pijao, Latin America’s first Cittaslow (Slow City), Coen went to see if the tourist information had anything of interest to share with us. Giovanni, one of the employees, had time on his hands as the town’s power had just been cut and no computer or WiFi was working. They got talking.

Another visitor arrived, who happened to be Dutch and this is how Coen met Peter. Peter has lived in Colombia for some thirty years and is the owner of a commercial mushroom farm near Pereira. He invited us to stop by at his place after our visit to Pijao, which is what we did.

A Commercial Mushroom Farm in Pereira

We had seen our share of manioc, sugarcane, coffee, banana and plantain plantations – all part of Colombian’s staple diet. But mushrooms? You hardly see them anywhere, either in Colombia or in other South American countries; they are not a part of the local diet. So to learn more about this food was a new experience.

Peter likes to receive visitors and we met a couple of couchsurfers, among whom Ramon from Poland. So here we were staying at a Dutch mushroom cultivator in Colombia, eating a Polish dish prepared by Ramon. A small world indeed.

Meeting more couchsurfers.

Meeting more couchsurfers, this couple were cyclists from Argentina and Colombia.

Peter checking his mushrooms.

Peter checking his mushrooms.

We got a tour of the farm. Peter explained how he had been an engineer who had lived in South America for a number of years but that he had been looking for a new challenge. We learned how he got into cultivating mushrooms, learned the business in the Netherlands and then, with his Colombian wife, emigrated to Pereira to start a new phase in his life.

Off-the-beaten-track Roads in Colombia’s Highlands

We not just learned about mushrooms. Peter likes to explore Colombia and had some exciting off-roads to share with us. After having studied the map we picked one of them for our return trip to Bogotá. This trip brought us yet new contacts, showing us new elements of Colombian life.

Meeting farmers delivering milk.

Meeting farmers delivering milk thanks to Peter’s road tip.

In Líbano we met a local who invited us to camp at his farm that night.

Peter’s suggestion brought us to Líbano, where we met a local who invited us to camp at his farm that night.

Weeks later we got in touch with Peter again as we wanted to explore another region nearby Pereira so we emailed Peter with the question if he had ideas/contacts. He had. More meetings, new friends, fantastic adventures, more stories.

This time we got to explore a different coffee culture than in Pijao, which lies around Ciudad de Bolívar (read about it here). Here we met Jaime, and thanks to Jaime we ended up driving to a truly off-the-beaten-track destination called Quibdó, in Colombia’s Chocó Region (which you can read about here).

Meeting Jaime and touring his coffee plantation.

Meeting Jaime and touring his coffee plantation.

Meeting a cotton candy vendor in Quibdó.

Meeting a cotton candy vendor in Quibdó.

There Is More

We returned to Pereira and, of course, stopped at Peter’s place. This time we had the company of an American work-away’er, Chelsea. Peter has plans for the future an Chelsea is helping in the first steps of this process. He is going to turn part of his terrain into an organic farm, involving the local school and workers of the mushroom farm.

Of course we discussed whether he would know yet another interesting route eastwards. Two of the road trips recommended to us by Peter ended up in our Top 5 Road Trips of Colombia (read about it here).

The unexpected… We love it. Do you?

On our last road trip departing from Pereira we met these courageous French cyclists on a very tough, steep, unpaved pass.

On our last road trip departing from Pereira we met these courageous French cyclists on a very tough, steep, unpaved pass. They knew about a thermal bath farther down the road, which is where we camped with the four of us that night.

Additional Reading

All photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow him on Instagram here and here.

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