15.07.2012 - 17.07.2012
Colombia is known for many things but one thing we were very interested in sampling was its coffee. After quite a lot of rubbish coffee throughout South America we had our hopes set on a decent cup once we arrived in Colombia and what a better place to go then where Colombian coffee beans are grown.
Zona Cafetera covers a region with quite a few towns but we had decided to visit Salento, somewhere that everyone we met raved about.
We caught a local bus from Cali to Armenia. From Armenia we had to catch a little collectivo to Salento an hour away. It turned out to be quite an interesting ride. Firstly it was quite a small bus so we had to cram in with our backpacks needing to sit with them on our laps. We then drove through the streets of Armenia mid afternoon where there were junkies sitting on the pavement shooting up on busy streets just meters away from cafes where people were sitting enjoying coffee. Then halfway up a hill there was a huge clunk and the bus lost all power. Turns out the rear axle had snapped so we had to wait on the side of the road for a new collectivo. But as soon as we left the highway and headed down the winding roads into the lush green hills we knew the journey was well worth it.
We arrived in Salento and headed to our accommodation at Plantation House. It is a 100 year old coffee farm located in Salento. It was bought 4.5 years ago by Tim an Australian guy and his wife. They now run it as a hostel and also a small coffee farm further down the valley.
We dumped our bags and went to explore the town. It is only a small town but was so beautiful with traditional houses and streets nestled in between amazingly lush hills. The town was quite busy with Colombians there on weekend trips. As always seems the case in South America there was a random parade which involved cowboys and cowgirls on their horses going through town. Sounds ok until you throw in that a lot of them were drunk and they were followed by a guy sitting in a back of a ute setting off fireworks with his cigarette! What could possibly go wrong with that situation?
After surviving not being kicked or trampled by a horse we went to what we had been told was the best coffee shop in town, Jesus Martin. It was indeed a very good strong, smooth coffee with silky, creamy milk. Definitely the best coffee we have had in South America. The long wait was worth it.
That night we went out to a restaurant and sampled some of the local specialties trout and patacones (fried corn sheets). It was quite tasty especially since my trout was covered in a creamy garlic sauce.
On Monday we headed to Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley) for some hiking. We we crammed into one of the jeeps in the main square for the 11km drive to the valley and the start of the walking trail. The first part of the trek was through trails that ran through green fields with cows. We soon made it to the forest where it was a bit of an uphill climb. We had to cross the river several times on very dodgy wooden bridges. I think it is a miracle I didn't end up in the water.
We walked for about 2.5 hours until we made it to Reserva Natural Acaime which houses a hummingbird reserve. Our $3000 peso entrance fee included agua de panela (hot sugar cane drink) and a chunk of local cheese. So we sat there and had great break enjoying watching the dozens of hummingbirds zipping around our heads.
It was then time to set off up to La Montana an hours walk up to the top of the hill. Once we reached the top we had amazing views as we walked back to town across the valley and over the hundreds of wax palms. The wax palms were amazing with some of them 60m high. It was a stunning walk through the valley and it definitely lived up to its reputation.
That night we went for dinner and drinks at the SpeakEasy bar. It is owned by a Australian guy from Perth, Dave. We had met Dave in Cali and with an Ozzie burger on his menu we had to stop by. Of course when we arrived there were a bunch of other people from the hostel in Cali that had decided to come to Salento too. So we had a couple of beers and a burger.
We then decided to head out to try the 'national sport' Tejo at Los Amigos. Now Tejo is played in a big warehouse and involves clay, metal weights and gunpowder. We started out on the beginners courts. The game basically involves throwing a metal weight at a packing crate full of clay. The aim is to get your weight in the centre of a metal ring which gives 9 points. However on the outside of the ring you position 2 pink triangles which are packed with gunpowder. If you hit one of these it explodes giving you 3 points. We played in teams and Alex and my team won all our matches (first to 21). We each got a few explosions and I got my weight into the centre twice. It takes a while to get use to the loud bangs that echo around the warehouse and it was really funny to see some peoples reactions when there was explosions. Coupled with a few drinks and a warehouse full of people playing, it made for a really fun evening out.
The next day was all about coffee. We started off with a detailed explanation about coffee from Tim, the owner of Plantation House. He really knows his stuff and over an hour was able to tell us all about the planting, growing, drying and roasting of coffee. We learnt lots of interesting facts which I won't bore you all with here. We then walked down into the valley to his Don Eduardo coffee farm. There we got to see the coffee plantation as well as plenty of other fruit and vegetables also growing there. We were then shown examples of the beans through different stages and got some coffee roasted fresh for us. Fresh roasted coffee beans are delicious! We were then brewed a cup of coffee and got to enjoy it overlooking the valley and coffee farm. A very enjoyable morning.
We had lunch and then headed to our second coffee activity of the day, our Coffee Preparation Course at La Eliana restaurant. We met Jesus and for the next few hours we did nothing but talk about coffee and sample different preparation methods. At the end we even tried some coffee wine which was like a delicious home made version of Kahlua. Jesus was extremely knowledgeable and we left with our brains filled with so much information about coffee.
Fueled up on about 6 cups of coffee we had a walk around town and then up to the mirador for a great view across the valley. Later that night we had dinner again of the local specialty trout and patacones.
Unfortunately on Tuesday it was time to move on. Salento is such a beautiful little town with so much to do and see. I can completely understand why there are so many expats living there.
Next stop the infamous Medellín.