(May 1 – written by Nancy)
We took another rest day here in Salento – it’s that kind of place. The hostel we are staying at (Plantation House) is comfortable and on the edge of the village area so it is very quiet at night – something we haven’t had in what seems like ages. It’s cool up here as well, so the comfy bed with a warm blanket and the quiet makes for a very nice night’s sleep.
Salento doors of the day – they paint everything here – cheery.
Salento appears to be mainly a tourist town, with lots of little shops selling trinkets and souvenirs, and lots of restaurants and cafes. There are quite a few outdoor things to do here – hikes up into the mountains, coffee tours, horseback riding, etc, all of which seem popular with both foreigners and with Colombians that visit this town. Dave provided all the info you could ever want about coffee yesterday from the coffee tour we took yesterday. Today we took a hike up into the Valle de Cocora, a protected park about 20 minutes jeep ride from the center of Salento.
The transport jeeps here are mainly Willy jeeps, with the story being that the jeeps were sold to the locals by departing American forces many years ago. I don’t know that many of the jeeps in use are still from that era, as many of them appear to be relatively new. While they are supposed to depart on a half-hourly schedule, most of them don’t leave until they are full. And full means that there are at least two passengers in the front seat next to the driver, the bench seats in the back (which face each other) are full (3-4 passengers each) and there are 4 people standing on the back running board hanging on to the bar that runs across the top (which holds on the vinyl top and sides).
We were up at the square at 7:30 to catch the first scheduled transport up to the start of the hike. We (and a couple of other Brits waiting for a ride) declined to stand on the running bar of the first jeep that they were trying to fill, and while the transport organiser said we would have to an hour for the next jeep, within 10 minutes we were sitting inside the back of another jeep that was filling fast. There isn’t much signage for the walk but the path is pretty well defined so it would be hard to get lost, as long as you take the right trail to start with. The weather was sunny (yeah!) so the path wasn’t too muddy, though there were some rough spots from the recent days’ rain.
It is a nice walk, with lots of stunning scenery though interestingly it is surrounded by land where cattle graze so it doesn’t quite feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere. The area is mostly famous for being the home of Colombia’s national tree, the Quindío wax palm. The palms were almost made extinct as a result of farmers using them for making wax candles and building materials, and being used to obtain fronds for Palm Sunday. The park is apparently one of the few places in the world that these trees can be found. They are quite tall and look very majestic standing out from the other foliage. Our coffee tour guide yesterday said that the trees are under threat in this valley, however, due to the grass planted for the cattle and horse pastures crowding out other native species, with the resulting negative effects on new baby palms that try to grow. It was a worthwhile walk, even with the muddy shoes that we ended up with.
Given its tourist-town status Salento has lots of restaurants, many with their touts standing near the doors trying to convince passerbys to come in for a meal. We ended up back at Brunch, the place we stopped in at on the first day we arrived, both yesterday and today. While it’s nice to eat local food, after a few weeks (months!) food from ‘home’ tastes great. Brunch has all of the old favourites, including hamburgers, hand-cut fries, and blueberry pancakes! I expect it will be awhile before we see that kind of food again so we made sure to get our fill.
On the recommendation of our hostel owner (who is also the coffee farm owner) we stopped in at Cafe Jesus Martin up in the village a couple of times, where we had some very nice cups of coffee. As Dave mentioned yesterday, that’s not easy to find here in Colombia as most of the best coffee is exported. Today we bought some ground coffee to take with us, sold with details of the farm, the altitude, the flavours and lots of other info that we are not quite sophisticated enough to fully comprehend. The main thing it is tasty (we tried it at the cafe) and it should see us through for another couple of weeks.
Tomorrow we head off again to continue our route south. We figure we have about 14 days of riding to get us to Quito, though the terrain may require some shorter days than we have planned as there are quite a few hills (mountains) between here and there! And of course, there is the always uncertain weather that has to be taken into account. Yesterday and today there was only a few rain showers during the morning and afternoon – it would be great for us if we could get that kind of weather pattern for the next little while! Tomorrow we have to make a pretty early departure to avoid getting caught in the road construction between Salento and Highway 25 so we aim to be on the road shortly after 6, hopefully not in the rain.