Salento: Getting waxed and addicted to coffee in Salento
20 Aug 2007
|Next stop on my Colombian tour was in Salento in the heart of La Zona Cafetera (The Coffee Zone). I'm joined by Andy(UK), Kate(UK and also from Derby would you believe), Anja (The only Slovenian I've met on this trip), Eran (An Israeli doing Colombia on motorbike) and Cente (pronounced Chen-ty and is short for Vincent from the Philippines). Whether it's due to post-Cali-festival fatigue we don't manage to leave Cali til late afternoon meaning once again we end up arriving in the night and have to walk the gloomy streets with all our packs wondering of we'll ever find out hostel and whether it was safe, at least it was safety in numbers. Luck was on our side as we soon find the Plantation House owned by a very chirpy Brit Tim who just managed to allocate us the last 5 beds in the hostel...phew!
I'm feeling really depressed about my lack of culinary skills in the kitchen as over the next few days in Salento we set up a cooking rota where all the guys (except yours truly) starting whipping out gastronomic delights for the whole group to share. The first night was pasta with Eran cooking up a very nice tomato salsa. Although he did lose alot of cool points later that night when he whipped out his Ipod and speakers and we had to listen to his best of the 80's starting with 'We are the world' by Michael Jackson and chums quickly followed by 'Careless Whisper' by George Michael then the straw that ended up putting every one to sleep was 'More than words' by Extreme - a great song but at the right moment and this wasn't it! The following morning we had freshly squeezed orange juice (fruit was so cheap here from the local green grocers) and Israeli Shakshuka, a breakfast dish of a tomato based salsa with poached eggs eaten with bread. The following night we all had a taste of the Philippines as Cente treated us to Adobo chicken and rice which left us all salivating for more. Then finally Andy and Kate cooked up this really nice chickem casserol dish, yep we ate really well here :-)
When in Salento the main things to do are either sit around and do nothing, while admiring the fact that you're in a fabulously beautiful part of the world, do one of the many treks available in the area, go and visit countless coffee fincas and of course go and see the huge wax palm trees - and by huge I mean about 200 feet!! We opted to spend the first day trekking in the hot sun taking in the wonderful scenery with the aim of visiting a couple of the local fincas. The first, Finca Elias, a small organic operation where we were greeted by the very charming and enigmatic owner Don Elias who gave us a tour of the coffee fields and explained the whole process to us from the rotation of the crops to try and get the maximum harvest to demonstrating how the beans were roasted and ground down to make the coffee powder you and I are so familiar with. Typically me, even though I'm someone that hates coffee, I found myself drinking the freshly roasted organic coffee offered at the end of the short tour out of politeness as Don Elias watched with pride as every one sampled his coffee.
The next finca was much larger and more commercial but without an enigmatic owner like Don Elias running the show. Out of a feeling of obligation I ended up downing my second cup of coffee in the space of an hour - am I becoming and addict???
Waxing Lyrical in Parque Cocora
A bad pun I know but practically the whole hostel decided to head to Parque Cocora the following day to do the 5 hour hike to see the huge 200 foot wax palm trees that this region is famous for. We all get squeezed into 2 jeeps which were so jam-packed that we had 2 people riding outside on the tailgate in one and Cente riding on the roof of the other. 'we do this all the time in the Philippines' was his answer. Not only did he manage to ride up there comfortably and not fall off but he also was able to reach inside the moving jeep, get a cigarette, light it and smoke it!
First part of the hike is a visit to the Hummingbird sanctuary at Acaime about 8kms away. The hummingbirds were mesmerizing to watch as they darted in and out of the flowers at lighting speeds - damn things are so hard to photograph though because they are so quick.
The group gets separated and it turns out that one of the Israeli girls is missing so we all join Eran and Yair and become honorary members of the Israeli Special Forces on a search and rescue mission to find her. We split up into two groups Isreali super soldiers just out of the army and fit as a fiddle take the high road (running I might add) and unfit, spare tyre on the waist carrying, backpackers (me, Andy, Kate Anja and Cente) take what we thought was the low road but actually turned out to be the higher road heading to a mirador that was 1km straight up. We didn't find her and in a crazy turn of events it was now us that were lost! Finally an hour late we end up back where we started the search and find a makeshift sign from the Israelis made out of leaves. The sign had letters followed by an arrow pointing out the direction to follow but the letters seemed like Hebrew which had us in hysterics thinking they were having a joke with us. About and hour late now we were back in the correct trail which involved a lot more climbing on very muddy paths which was hard going, at least Cente had kept us entertained over the day firstly by starting this hilling muddy hike in his flip-flops saying 'In the Philippines we even play basketball in flip-flops!'. The classic though was when we split paths with the Israelis, to signal who got to the place where the paths cross again first his solution was he offered to leave a rubber (condom) as a sign that we'd been there. This was hilarious in itself but more so was the fact that he had brought one with him to hike through the national park, suppose always be prepared is his motto. Anyway at least he would have been telling the truth if he rescued her and said "don't worry you'll be safe with me.." (Miss you Cente man!!)
We make it up the hill and only have 5 km left to walk back to the pick up point but though now an hour and a half late we weren't worried as this turned out to be the most amazing part of the walk. We descended down through a huge collection of wax palms and just had to stop, jump the fence (naughty, naughty I know but couldn't help it) and just sit in next to these magnificent trees. And that's how Yair found us, sitting in the field of wax palms without a care in the world. He had managed to convince the jeep driver to come up the trail looking for us as they had found the girl safe and sound and now were trying to find us as we were missing for nearly 2 hours. But what an adventurous day!