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#21 Salento – Eje Cafetero, Esoterics and the Odyssey to Ecuador

Now that Barbara flew to Brazil, I was on my own. I left Bogotá the same night. At around 4am the bus pulled into the terminal in Armenia. At 5am I sat in a smaller local bus which would take me to Salento within the next hour or so. After leaving the city the drive was quite enjoyable and after about half an hour I felt that I arrived in the Eje Cafetero, Colombia’s coffee region: the sun was rising above the green hills and valleys. The bus dropped the last bunch of people, including me, at the small town’s central square and I walked to what would turn out to be the nicest hostel so far. The Coffee Tree Hostel opened its doors just a couple of months ago at the far end of Salento. It was in great shape and offered beautiful views to the surrounding landscape.

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Although it wasn’t even 7am and I haven’t slept too much on the bus, I was determined to make the day count. For 3’600 COP (approx. $1.20 – 2016) a few old Jeeps would drive people up to Cocora Valley, part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and home to the Quindío wax palm, the insanely high palm trees towering over what could otherwise be a Swiss or Austrian postcard.

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I was told that, due to the rain, the hike is supposed to be a muddy one. As I just washed my trekking shoes I wasn’t keen on doing it again and therefore rented a pair of rubber boots for 5’000 COP. As the pictures will show, that was not such a bad idea. Together with a few Germans I met in the Jeep and an American with his Chinese girlfriend I started the trail which lead us mostly uphill for about two and a half hours, along a small river which we crossed several times either on plank bridges or just some tied up logs. We rested at the colibri house and then took on the steepest ascent to the top of the four hour loop which is marked by a countrystyle house called Finca la Montaña. That was quite an effort.

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Salento town centre
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Why those rubber boots paid off

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Coati
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Colibri
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Up at Finca la Montaña

Downhill was more enjoyable, also because the road offered staggering views of the beautiful valley scattered with wax palms.

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In the evening I went to play Tejo at a local bar together with my new German friend Manuel. Never heard of Tejo before? Neither did I, but it’s difficult to resist Colombia’s national sport’s appeal: In one hand you have a beer (although not mandatory it is highly encouraged) and with the other one you throw a cylinder shaped metal weight of about half a kilo into a clay pit which contains a metal ring. On top of the metal ring they place a few paper triangles filled with…wait for it…gunpowder! And the goal is to hit those in order for them to explode. I mean, how is that not a worldwide thing?!

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Tejo clay pit

The day after I wanted to visit one of several coffee farms in the area. I was told that Don Elias’ farm is particularly good to learn more about the farming and production of traditionally and organically grown coffee. Right at the beginning of the one hour walk there I bumped into the American from the day before and he decided to come along. The discussion quickly evolved from everyday smalltalk into an esoteric, racial-politic and search for the meaning of life monologue by the Trump voting American. Long story short: we didn’t have much in common. Still, I had fun discussing and the coffee farm tour was a success. The young guide walked us around a small part of the plantation, explained how they are organized to make the most of their land while using natural pesticides and fruit plants (banana trees for shadow and water reservoirs and sweet pineapple to attract bugs and keep them away from the coffee) to protect their crop. He also explained their harvesting policy aimed at quality instead of quantity (they produce a mere four tons a year) and showed us the process of cleaning and roasting the coffee. Last but not least he brewed up some fresh coffee for us to try; good stuff.

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Separating the beans from the pulp

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In the evening, I went to play some more Tejo because it was a lot of fun and also because there is not that much else to do in Salento when the sun is down.

Another night and it was time to pack bags again. My time in Colombia was coming to an end and once again I had a long trip in front of me: Salento to Quito, Ecuador…by bus and colectivos. The whole trip, consisting of three different buses (one of them overnight from Armenia to Ipiales close to the Ecuadorian border), four colectivos (shared taxis), a one hour queue at the pedestrian border and one taxi ride was interrupted by a little sightseeing I planned along the way. In Ipiales I caught a colectivo for COP 1’700 to Santuario de Las Lajas twenty minutes down the road. Not only is it a spectacular place, the story behind it is quite amusing, too.

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Santuario de las Lajas

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Crossing the border to Ecuador
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Just another five hours to go until Quito…

The border crossing was easy; get a stamp in Colombia to leave, march over the bridge and line up to get my stamp to enter Ecuador.

That took me around 45 minutes and I could also exchange my remaining Colombian Pesos for US Dollars at a good rate with one of the unofficial but apparently legal exchange guys in between borders. One more colectivo and a five hour bus ride left until Quito…

One thought on “#21 Salento – Eje Cafetero, Esoterics and the Odyssey to Ecuador

  1. Hey David, that bridge looks very safe. All the pictures are great. Well done!
    It was very interesting to read about the sustainable coffee grown in Don Elias’ farm and I can’t believe how tall those palm trees are.

    Coatis are very cute little animals, we saw loads when we went to Cataratas do Iguaçu.

    Like

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