Sunny & warm again, the streak continues!
While Jean was preparing for the day, I sat outside in the courtyard trying to connect to the internet. I was only partially successful. Ron sat outside with me and was reminiscing about some places in New Jersey, such as Pal's Log Cabin, Newark Italian hot dogs, and other places.
After breakfast, we departed at 8:00 for our hiking day near Salento. The main roads in this region are in great shape and supply a smooth ride. The region itself is very middle/upper class. The houses and businesses look modern as we pass them along the road.
On the way, Alejandro talked about the Concora valley which we will visit later in the day. It is here where one finds the wax palm trees, which are the national tree of Colombia. He then discussed the region and how it was affected during the drug cartels.
The region did not have as many problems as Bogota and Medellin. No drugs were grown in the area. FARC was in the area in the 1960s, and was supported by the small farmers when it started with all its great philosophies. But, when they became more interested in power instead of ideology in the 1970s, the farmers started to have to pay an extortion fee. When the small farmers were unable to pay, lots of kidnappings started to force payment. No paramilitary people were in the area. Most paramilitary were hired by the large farmers for protection, and this region only had small farmers.
There was a drug lord from the Medellin cartel in the region, Carlos Enrique Lehder. He was captured in 1987, one of the first drug lords captured. He was sentenced in Florida for his crimes, and when approached by the DEA & FBI, he gave up information that helped bring down the other drug lords.
The region was used as a recreation area by the drug lords. They bought a lot of property in the area, and introduced cattle to the region. In 2014, the Colombian government seized all of the properties.
We made a quick WC stop at where they had a giant coffee mug. And a nice view of the valley. Along the way we kept seeing signs for Armenia. Well, Alejandro grew up in the area. It is actually named for the country to honor those killed in the 1890s during the Ottoman Empire.
We arrived in Salento at the square and walked down a side street to visit the Cafe Jesus Martin to taste the various products we learned about yesterday. As we walked in, we saw the State College ladies, Diego 2, Angela Martin and later Jesus Martin. Our choices for the tasting were espresso, cappuccino, regular coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. I had tea, and had a choice of 6 flavors, and Jean had the hot chocolate. The barista came out with the first espresso and showed us how she made the pig face on the top. Richard then had to make the pig face on the top on his espresso, as did others. Richard did a great job. Between his making the oblea in Bogota and doing the espresso, he should start a new business.
After we were finished, we walked back to the square to our bus. We needed to get what we needed for our local ride. The bus was going ahead to meet us at the new location. We then grabbed a local means of transportation. We piled 8 into an old Jeep for the ride to the valley. Two, Lily and Lenore, were in the front with the driver. Jean, Kippy and myself stood/sat in the back, and Ana, Ron and Alejandro stood on the back platform for the 20 minute ride. It was nice and cozy. The locals will fit up to twenty in the Jeep for the ride to their jobs. When we arrived at the campground in the Concora valley, we disembarked from the Jeep and grabbed what we needed for our 3 mile hike from the bus and did a WC break. Jean got her walking stick.
Before we started the trek, Alejandro talked about the wax palm tree standing next to one at the campground. It is the tallest of the palm trees and one of the tallest trees, second only to the redwoods. They usually grown in the Central Andes region between 6-12 thousand feet. We were currently at 8,000 feet. The natives would scrap off the wax and sell it or use it to make wax metal. (We had seen some examples of wax metal in the Museum of Gold back in Bogota.) It is a two-canopy forest, the first canopy is the tops of the regular trees, and the second is the wax palm canopy that towers over the first.
We then started our dusty hike. It was mainly uphill. After a short distance, Lily turned back to sit in the restaurant at the campground until our return. We had competition in the road with other hikers, people on horses, and a mule train. I did not get out of the way in time when the mules began to gallop. I got clipped and it broke the strap on the day backpack I was wearing. Luckily it broke instead of holding together and dragging me with it. A second sooner and I would've had some major damage.
We got to a point in the hike where we had to make a decision. We could either take the trail up to a viewpoint overlooking the valley or continue straight on the more level road down to a stream and then after spending some time, return to the campground. We all chose to go up to the viewpoint. Now the viewpoint and this trail were on private property, so OAT paid the entrance fee of $3,000 pesos per person (about $1.25 USD).
This trail was a somewhat steep uphill trail. It was slow going and about five of us would stop to catch our breath every so often. We finally made it to the viewpoint and it was super crowded with 40-50 students. Some of the students corralled some of the OAT travelers for an assignment interview to practice their English. They recorded the conservations. We will probably be on You Tube later.
After we had an opportunity to take some pictures and enjoy the view of the Concora valley, we gathered for a group shot. We then had another choice, take the short, steeper route back down, or follow the same trail on which we hiked to the viewpoint. To my surprise, everyone but Pam, Jean and myself walked back the same way. We took the shortcut. Alejandro walked us down. It wasn't too bad, except not only did you have to watch your step, but also had to make sure you did not step in any horse shit. I think I may have hurt my foot when I did a small jump down and landed incorrectly and fell to the ground when I lost my balance. We will see.
We got down to the main road before the others and walked back down the dusty road, avoiding the horses, and later on closer to the campground, cars and a chicken bus. Back at the campground we tried to brush off the dust unsuccessfully, and took some water to wash out the grit in our mouths. A quick WC allowed us to wash our face and hands. I will not be wearing any of these clothes until a thorough washing.
Before we left the campground, we had one more item to do. We walked over to a fenced section where we met Marino. He plants starter wax palms (OAT supports this project) so we became honorary protectors of the Colombian environment. We divided into three groups of four and then one member planted the tree in a pre-dug hole. After planting the tree the planter put their hands around the plant and lifted their hands into the air to show the tree where to grow. After all three trees were planted, Marino gave each of us a big hug. Viva Colombia!
Back on the bus for a short ride down the road to the Parqeadero restaurant where we had lunch. Our choices given earlier were grilled trout, grilled chicken, grilled beef tenderloins, grilled vegetables, pasta with grilled vegetables, or a salad. I chose the grilled trout and was happy with my choice, Jean had chosen the grilled beef tenderloins. Well, we started with two appetizers of empanada with beef and something else with pork. They were a meal unto itself. Then we were served our platters, all except Jean. Someone somewhere had miscalculated or misheard. We were short an order of beef tenderloins. If we had sat at the other end of the table it would have been someone else's problem, but we didn't, so it was ours. When they finally brought out the platter, it was too rare. The second attempt was better but not perfect, but Jean ate it anyway. Dessert had some chocolate, so they made one for me without the chocolate item. We did WC before leaving the restaurant.
Back on the bus to return to Salento for free time. We were dropped in front of the church on the square, and we had to meet there at 4:00 for the ride back to the hacienda. It was only 2:40! Too much time for Jean and myself. So, Jean and I visited the church, then walked a side street that was four blocks long with souvenir shops and little cafes/restaurants. If we hadn't just ate, we would've maybe had something to eat.
We looked in the souvenir shops. After a few souvenir shops, they were all the same with the same stuff. Although, Jean did make a small purchase of a hat on a keychain with ribbon of the Colombian colors for our Christmas tree. After two blocks, we cut it short and went down the other side. We visited a branch of the same shop in which purchased Jean purchased her necklace in Guatape. She saw a couple of things of interest and did ask for prices, but ended up not making a purchase. We still had 30 minutes left, so we sat in the square on a bench. Jean read, and I people watched. Lily joined us a little later, and we talked with her until the bus arrived for the return trip to the hacienda. On the ride, Jean read and I napped. Upon our return, we said our goodbyes to our local guide, Alejandro.
Back at the hacienda, Jean lost no time taking a shower to get the dust and dirt off, and I followed as soon as she was done. We then just sat around feeling clean again. Do you know that feeling? Jean started to repack her suitcase as tomorrow is a travel day and laid out her clean clothes for tomorrow. I did my packing after dinner, I wore my clean travel clothes to dinner. We were watching a captioned version of the movie Chicago before we left for dinner.
At dinner, we sat at the table for three, and had Diego as our third. Dinner for me was a small salad and the entree was pork medallions with a coffee sauce. It was not an overpowering sauce. It was accompanied by mashed potatoes. Jean had the other choice, a salad platter. For dessert we had a small piece of blackberry cheesecake.
We talked with Diego about travel, and his job, and he discussed about buying a new apartment in a better, level 4 neighborhood which is safer and has more local amenities. Then he and his wife will travel again. He also told us about some highlights at our final city, Cartagena. It will be hot and muggy in Cartagena, but we will have a/c at the boutique hotel. (Hopefully hot showers as well.) We leave tomorrow at 10:00 for the airport, bags out at 9:30.
We returned to the room in time to watch the end of the Chicago movie, and then watched Jimmy Fallon. Afterwards Jean read (she does a lot of that) and I typed today's blog before turning in about 10:30.