Fresh Air

Salento: more Wales than Italy!

Summary

  • Days: 6–10
  • Where: Salento, Colombia
  • Geography: lower and slighly warmer than Bogota. (1895m above sea level, 21°c in the day and 14°c at night.)
  • Mosquito bites: just one!

Bogota to Salento by bus

Flights within the country between cities are incredibly cheap — sometimes as little as £10— but the flights to the coffee region were way above my budget. As time was on my side, I opted for the 9 hour bus ride instead for only £15.

I wasn’t sure why the 180 mile trip would take so long but it soon became clear… we had to cross the beautiful Andes! When the incredible views were obstructed by the clouds, there was super-fast wifi for entertainment— unbelievable! Time to up your game, National Express!

Taken through the bus window

Caffeine highs

Given the amount of coffee I’ve been drinking here, I felt it’d be remiss of me not to find out how the coffee ended up in my cup. And as Colombia is the third highest producer of coffee in the world (behind Brazil and Vietnam), there were no shortage of farms to visit.

I took a tour of the finca to learn about planting, harvesting, drying, milling and grading, and tried my hand at picking coffee cherries. After only picking a couple of grams, I found out the workers are only paid 500COP (0.13 pence) per kilo! Looks like I won’t be making a living here.

L — a very empty basket; R — beans drying in the sun

Turns out all of their best coffee is exported, so you’re probably drinking a finer mug back home! If you need me, you can find me here sobbing into my second grade coffee…

Giant palms

The main attraction in Salento is the Valle de Cocora, which is famous for the world’s tallest wax palm trees — growing up to 60 metres! I still haven’t worked out why they need to be so tall — they’re sparsely populated so hardly battling for light — but they look incredible.

The area has a “cloud forest” climate so, without fail, the valley gets foggy in the afternoon — and usually there’s a crazy storm! With this in mind, we set off at 7am for the 6 hour hike to catch some clear skies. So good to finally use my walking boots which I’d been lugging around!

View at the start of the walk
Crossing the wobbly bridges!

After 3 hours we arrived at the hummingbird house, where I was saved from starvation by aguapanela (a drink made using sugar cane) and arepas (essentially cheese on toast!). The birds were everywhere and really cute, plus we were treated to a visit by some racoon-like animals!

L — thirsty hummingbird; R — feeding time for the unknown animal
View at the end of the walk, as expected!

The spirit of football

Whilst I was here, Colombia were playing Chile in a World Cup qualifying match. A little disappointed that I couldn’t make it to the stadium (on the north coast in Barranquilla) with some friends from my last hostel, I set out to watch it with some locals.

Wandering the quiet streets looking for a decent bar

The whole town shutdown before the match; streets totally empty and shops closed as the yellow shirts gathered around TVs in homes and bars. I poked my head into a bar and was instantly dragged in — “tequila, amiga, tequila!”. I was finally given some respite from the local spirits as several of the guys passed out before the match started!!

Sadly it ended 0–0 but it was great to experience their passion for the game. I must go to a live match in South America.

Taking it easy

I had plenty of time in this town so I didn’t need to rush about. Many hours were spent sat by the roaring fire in the hostel, wandering around the shops and looks for new places to eat or drink. I eventually discovered a local restaurant which served the typical Colombian set meal — soup then fish or chorizo — for 7000COP (£1.80). Unreal!

Plenty of Harry Potter time!

Back to the city

Now to head north to Medellin…

GB

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