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Colombia - Salento (Zona Cafetera (Coffee Zone))

Written on: Sunday November 29th, 2009

Double the amount of time you're told the bus journey will take, and you've got it about right. This one had untold stops for pick-ups, drop-offs, the obligatory food and drink pedlars, and police checks, one taking over half an hour because a woman had brought "explosives" onto the bus. It turned out they were fireworks, but they are illegal anyway, so were confiscated. When we eventually arrived, the temperature was substantially cooler up in the Andes again.

On our first day in Salento we went trekking for six hours through the nearby Cocora valley and cloud forests, home of the wax palm, the national symbol of Colombia. Once we'd passed through the forest, the landscape opened up to beautiful hills with Cowboy farmers on horseback, and hundreds and hundreds of palms, some of them up to 60 metres tall.

The owners of the hostel we stayed in were an English man and his Colombian wife. They also had a cafe finca (small coffee plantation farm) just down a dusty path into the valley. He spent a morning showing us around the farm and explaining the farming process. The following morning, we made our way to a local coffee shop for 8am, but had forgotten about Colombian time. The cafe was still closed, so the man opposite invited us into his house for a glass of hot aguapanela with lemongrass, a drink by which many Colombians start their day. Local farmers boil and reduce juice from sugarcane producing a kind of unrefined sugar fudge which is then moulded into large blocks. A small chunk of this is melted in boiling water to make the tasty, but very sweet, morning drink. Eventually, an hour late, Jesus, the owner of the coffee shop, showed us his grading and roasting techniques.

This town was the friendliest place we have been in our entire trip so far, adults, children, teenagers, all wanted to chat, whether we understood what they said or not!

N.

(Plantation House - lovely garden and surroundings, but too expensive for the very basic rooms)