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Colombia

March 6, 2011

Life is beautiful and unpredictable, like all great adventures. So often I find that the most rewarding experiences I’ve had and decisions I’ve made have been the result of complete surprises. I never thought about going to Colombia, but when my boyfriend, whom we’ll call Mr. L, mentioned the destination, I started researching and planning. […]

ColombiaEdit20110023

Life is beautiful and unpredictable, like all great adventures. So often I find that the most rewarding experiences I’ve had and decisions I’ve made have been the result of complete surprises.

I never thought about going to Colombia, but when my boyfriend, whom we’ll call Mr. L, mentioned the destination, I started researching and planning. That’s when I completely fell in love with the idea.  Our friend Ana is from Colombia and also got us super excited about traveling to her native country.

After reading about the many amazing national parks and natural wonders in Colombia, and after scouring countless travel blogs and New York Times travel articles, we narrowed our destination down to the town of Salento. Located in the “coffee triangle” of Colombia, this idyllic town of 10,000 was our resting place for 5 days. My top priority on the trip was seeing the Valle de Cocora, just a 20 minute jeep ride from Salento,  and Mr. L’s one request was that we visit a coffee farm.  To our surprise, we got a lot more than we bargained for with this little town. To us, it was like heaven on earth.

We began our 8 day adventure bright and early on February 14th.  Three flights and over twelve hours later we were greeted at the Pereira airport by Oscar, the inn keeper of the Casa Alto del Coronel in Salento. Oscar and his friend Gilberto drove us an hour over twisting mountain roads to Salento. When we arrived, Orphelia, Oscar’s wife, welcomed us with coffee.  In the Colombian night, we settled into rocking chairs on the veranda to relax and listen to the chirping of night insects.

Besides the beauty of our surroundings, one of the things that I found most striking about Salento were it’s many sounds. On our first morning, before the sun rose and the sky was still a pale grey blue, we were awakened by the Kakadoodledoooooooo of roosters.  Throughout the day we would hear the clanging of workers and their machinery, the shouts of ice cream vendors, the chiming of bells from the towns church in the main square, the barking of dogs, the sounds of children playing in the streets, and the banging of drums from the nearby high school marching band.

We loved Salento’s brightly colored buildings and gardens and all of the friendly inhabitants.  All in all the city had us charmed.

flower girl dresses

The beautiful backdrops from katebackop

Oscar and Orphelia

Orphelia made us a delicious breakfast each morning consisting of eggs, fresh fruit, juice, hot chocolate, and an assortment of bread.

On our first morning we set out to the town square before hiking to the highest point in the city. From our perch we saw the Quindo River and decided to make our way to its banks.

Our impromptu hike got a bit muddy and my converse will never be the same.

We enjoyed the peacefulness of our surroundings and soaked our feet in the cool water.

Our little room had lots of character.

On day three of our trip we hired a jeep in Salento’s town square that drove us to the Valle De Cocora. The valley is famous for its high concentration of wax palms, Colombia’s national tree. The palms are the worlds tallest, growing up to 60 meters.  The lush valley and surrounding mountains are exquisitely magical with the unique trees.

Loved this muddy little dog at the entrance to the valley.

Upon arriving at the Valle de Cocora we hired a guide, Jesus, and horses that took us through green pastures and up into the mountains.

After the first part of our day, during which my horse decided to go for a run and I was saved by Jesus and Mr. L, we came to a farm in the mountains where I could collect my nerves. The farm is a nice resting point and serves hikers chocolate con queso. It also attracts hundreds of beautiful hummingbirds.

hot chocolate and cheese… yummy!

After our mid day rest we decided to send our horses back with the guide and hiked the remaining 5km back to our starting point in the valley.

During our drizzly hike the clouds began to dissipate, revealing the wax palms and valley below.

Chicken flavored chips anyone? No thanks.

Every rock and surface seems to have some living green thing clinging to it. I love the lush environment.

Back at the entrance to the valley my horse from earlier in the day stares me down. Next time I’ll stick to getting around on foot.

On day 4 of our trip we hired the town tuk tuk to a nearby organic coffee farm.

Our guide at the farm gave the tour in Spanish and Mr. L translated. These are the ripe fruit, called cherries or berries. Inside are the coffee beans which are actually seeds.

After the fruit is picked the seeds are separated from the flesh of the berries. The seeds, or beans, are then soaked in water and dried in the sun before being sorted and roasted.

After our tour we are served fresh cups of coffee.

And Mr. L makes friends.

After our tour of the coffee farm we decide to walk about Salento.

In the square we see our tuk tuk driver from earlier (image above). And the women below walks to mass.

In the evening we decided to play pool at one of the two pool halls in Salento. These locals were kind enough to let me take a few pictures.

There is a certain amusing irony for me in the dainty coffee cups and the atmosphere of the pool hall.

After playing pool we stop at the local pizzeria.

Pepsi doesn’t taste good in any country! I prefer a coca cola any day, anywhere.

On day 5 we decide to gather a picnic, including fried chicken. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and by the time we settled into our spot by the river from day two of our adventure it began steadily raining. And we found ourselves running, with picnic in tow, to the cover of a nearby bridge. Trying to be optimistic we thought we’d wait it out but ended up accepting a ride from a very nice local woman back to town.

During our last day in Salento the rain continued until lunch so we enjoyed our books on the veranda before heading to our favorite restaurant.

At El Rincon de Lucy, a no nonsense eatery, with two to three three daily specials we enjoyed trout one last time before making our journey to the airport and on to Bogota. Trout is the local specialty and I’m fairly sure I enjoyed it at least once daily while in Salento. (Below photos are from my iphone)

Mr. L signs the guest book at Casa Alto del Coronel before our taxi ride to the airport. I highly recommend staying here if you’re planning a visit to Salento.

In Bogota we spend our first day, a Sunday, enjoying the festival like atmosphere of Ciclovia in the Candelaria district. Each Sunday, many of the roads are shut down, allowing residents and visitors to ride bikes and walk through the streets. The streets are also lined with vendors selling everything from fresh squeezed juice and grilled meat on a stick to hats and jewelry.

Dogs, wether stray or pets, are everywhere in the city. We even saw black miniature schnauzers for sale.

Student’s protesting bull fighting marched in the streets.

One of my favorite images from the trip taken while walking through a local flea market.

Everyone seems to love their ice cream in Bogota. When trying to inquire about the flavor of the blue scoop on the right we thought we heard the seller say chicken but luckily she was saying chicklet, a bubble gum flavor.

On our last day in Bogota we first visited the Boltero museum before heading to Cerro de Monserrate. This mountain peek which we reached by funicular has a large white church at the summit and panoramic views of the city.

On our return to the Candelaria district we stopped at a local sweet shop before sitting on the steps of the Cathedral Primada in the Plaza de Bolivar. As always I love people watching.

One last snack before our taxi ride to the airport and our flight home.

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