the caffeine way
15.02.2010 - 16.02.2010
Coffee is obviously one of the things Colombia is most famous for and our next stop was within the Zona Cafetera (the coffee growing area). We first caught a bus to Armenia and then from here caught a local bus to Salento a small town in the hills. Which was the perfect remedy to humid, busy, unattractive Cali. Salento is made up of a plaza and little cobbled streets lined with brightly painting buildings.
There is a hill overlooking the town and its surroundings which you can climb, the views are lovely but perhaps not the 'best in Colombia' as our guide book claimed. You can also take a jeep from here to the Corcora Valley where 80ft palm trees grow.
However our first objective as always was to find a room and we were initially disheartened when the first place we asked wanted 3.5 times what we'd paid in Cali. Luckily for us though someone pointed us towards Lily's Hostel which he said was 'mas economical' and it was, although still higher than Cali but it did come with Lily which made a difference. Once we'd dropped our bags we were given a cup of coffee each and we sat in the hostel's small garden with the owner Lily and she began to chat to us in Spanish. As per usual we could understand more than we could say but we have definitely improved and we communicated pretty effectively. Lily was a very vibrant person, laid back in a kind of hippy/alternative way but obviously intelligent and very kind. After our chat, Adam and I went off for some food and tried something new. In Colombia they eat a lot of Arepa which is a very small, round, kind of pancake made of corn. It is pretty tasteless and generally I can't see the appeal but in this case it was much bigger and full of a yummy chicken mixture.
We woofed these down while standing on a small bridge looking at the scenery, Adam also devoured a bbq-ed banana.
After lunch we had a little look round the numerous craft and coffee shops. Salento is definitely touristy but thankfully not over run, atleast not while we were there. Things were generally a little expensive for us and we were going to try to not buy things until closer to the end of the trip so we didn't have to carry them. Nevertheless it was nice to look and maybe get ideas for later, you do tend to see the same things everywhere you go. When we had had our fill of browsing we decided to climb the 200 steps to reach the top of the hill.
At the top there was a small playground set and a couple of guys doing chin ups on them. We walked over to a lone set of swings and ignoring the screeches they made in protest had a bit of childlike moment. I don't think I've ever swung in such lovely surroundings before though.
Just as we'd come to a stop a string of kids doing cross country passed by, their progress gradually slowly with each child until the ones at the back were walking, I could identify with them. We walked a little higher up to see things from a different perspective before heading back down to the hostel.
We were a little slow the following morning but were soon energised by a cup of Lily's seriously strong coffee. So much so that I was left with a headache and then shakes, even Adam felt the affects. Due to our lazy start we were a little bit stuck when it came to visiting Corcora Valley as we'd missed all of the morning jeeps. Still not sure what to do we went to get some lunch and were surprised by how nice the almuerzo (or Menu del Dia as they call in it in Colombia) we were served was. It even included mashed potato, which I then realised I had really missed. After lunch we came to the decision that we would start walking towards the valley and see how far we got.
The valley was 7 miles away and the walk was along a country road with steep hills covered in farmland and palm trees on either side.
We kept up a reasonable pace because if we did make it all the way then the last jeep back was at 5pm and we left Salento at 2pm. For about the first 4 miles it was pretty easy going, there was a general upwards gradient but nothing too strenuous and the scenery was lovely. As we'd now gone this far we thought we may as well go all the way. Things seemed to get tougher after we'd made this decision, the road began to rise ahead of us and soon enough it had gone from tarmac to rubble which my knees did not appreciate. Whereas the first few miles had gone quickly the last two seemed to go on forever, around every bend we presumed we must be there but were instead confronted with more road. A car that had passed on their way to the valley hooted their horn on the way back.
Finally though after about two and a half hours of walking we made it to the valley and saw the distant hills which were littered with giant palms, the national tree of Colombia.
We had little energy to walk anywhere else so we just bought a well deserved drink and gazed about us from a bench. Then just before 5pm we jumped into the back of the jeep and watched our afternoons walk flash by in reverse, all of it over in about 20 minutes. We bought a few snacks on the way back to Lilly's were we collapsed and didn't really move for the rest of the evening.
The following morning after another cup of caffeine we waved a fond farewell to Lily and returned to Armenia where we quickly jumped on a bus to Bogota.
Laura & Adam