Clouds and Coffee

Sunday, April 13, 2014
Salento, Quindio Department, Colombia
My two biggest things I wanted to check out while in Salento were the Cocora Valley and a coffee finca (farm). Yesterday, I accomplished both in a tiring but satisfying and fun day. 

Wikipedia explains this better that I could about Cocora Valley:   It is located in theCentral Cordillera of the Andean mountains . "Cocora" was the name of aQuimbayan princess, daughter of the local chief Acaime, and means "star of water" (Spanishestrella de agua). The valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, incorporated into the existing national park by the Colombian government in 1985. It is the principal location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), as well as a wide variety of other flora and fauna (some endangered), all of which are protected under the Park's national status. The valley and the nearby town of Salento are among the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia.

The valley and cloud forest were stunning. Part of the loop was closed due to reasons I still don't understand, but the track to the hummingbird farm, "Acaime," was open. I hired a local guide for the day to hike with me as it wasn't something I wanted to do alone, and after doing this, it was definitely the right decision. There is no way I would've known which path to take or where to find the small path or know that yes, you really are supposed to cross this water with logs as a bridge . My guide was Diego, and he is used to leading very experienced hikers, but claimed he enjoyed taking his time more with me. Gee, thanks. Actually, he was very sweet and I did see some sweat on him. 

I met up with Diego at 7:15, and we walked to the town square where the willys (jeeps) gather to take people to the entrance to the park. People actually hang on the backs of these, which is pretty nuts, but I sat inside. We got to the park and started out trek. The path to Acaime was 4.8 km long, and we climbed 500 meters. Some parts were pretty steep, and not being used to this altitude, it was a struggle at times. But we'd stop for a drink of water and continue to press on. After we were on a path in the valley, we reached the Andean cloud forest area, and Diego pointed off birds and different fauna to me, which was nice. There were also 7 "bridges" we had to cross. Most had wooden planks, but one of them was a set of logs that happened to have a large rock on the side to hold onto . That was pretty nuts, and actually, I got used to the bridges after awhile.  

 It took us just over two hours to reach Acaime, and by this time I was a sweaty mess. Diego probably could've ran a marathon at this point. We had a drink up at the farm and I took some pictures of the hummingbirds. Luckily, the trek back was mostly going down and climbing back down the 500 meters, so breathing was easier. It only took us 1.5 hours on the way down. We made our way back to Salento in the willy and I grabbed lunch at a restaurant that served trucha (trout). Salento is known for this. I went back to my room and took a quick shower and changed into other clothes before meeting Diego outside to take another willy to the coffee farm. Apparently walking to the coffee farm is very nice and "only" about 40 minutes. Yeah, I was having none of that after hiking almost a 10K that morning and having blisters on my feet the size of Alaska. And as the willy drove us the long way there, I clearly made the right decision . I have no idea how that walk is "only" 40 minutes, but I'm learning that when Colombians say how long it takes to walk somewhere, I need to add minutes to that number. 

We got our tour at El Ocasa Finca, a local coffee farm. It was nice to have Diego interpret what the guide was saying, even though some things I could actually understand. We got to actually pick some beans and see how the skin is removed and how they are dried. At the end, we got to try a cup of fresh coffee.  

Last night was pretty chill as I strolled the streets a bit and had dinner at a cute Italian place called Piccolo Italia. There was only one other group of people there, so it was nice and peaceful. The pasta was homemade and really delicious. 

This morning I made my way to Manizales, a city of about 300,000 people, also in the coffee region. I will be taking a bus to Pereira and another to Manizales. Both should be only about an hour and relatively painless . I'm staying with an older couple through airbnb.  

I enjoyed Salento, but it is a bit busy and touristy for being a small town. The people at Ciudad el Segorbe were SO nice and helpful. I can't say enough about them. Christina and Enrique could not be better hosts.  

That is all for now. Hasta luego!