CITY LIFE AND COFFEE PLANTS


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South America » Colombia » Quindío » Salento
November 1st 2007
Published: December 25th 2007
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Our very informative and friendly guide, Carlos
After taking off from the Leticia airport we were bound for Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Sharyn and I had both wanted window seats that would allow us some good views from the air over the jungle region but as we took off the area was covered in cloud and our view lasted for all of 4 seconds. As we got further from Leticia the sky began to clear and we did get some awesome views of the jungle mountains and the rivers twisting through them. Not long after taking off we started our descent into Bogota. I had mixed feelings about going to Bogota after being in remote areas for a while I was not sure if I was ready to be thrust into the middle of another large Sth American city where you have to watch yourself more, but was also looking forward to being back in the city. In the taxi on the way into town it seemed that Bogota wasn't going to be as daunting as I first thought and that the pace of life was a little more chilled than I had seen before in cities. We made it to the hostel and was pleasantly suprised
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Wax palms in the Valle de Cocora
to find a very hot and powerful shower, free internet, free coffee and a tv room that had loads of DVD's along with cable tv.......small luxuries that you can live without but when you finally get them again it is always a treat. We had planned on only a quick stop in Bogota as both of us were returning to the city and we were eager to get to other parts of the country, so our couple of days there consisted of being lazy, organising buses, drinking coffee, eating and doing other mundane boring things. Two days later we were off again and heading to the coffee region of Colombia which lies to the west of Bogota. Driving into the region involved going through lots of beautifully lush green hills with spectacular scenery, something that was becoming the norm in Colombia. As usual the bus took longer than expected and after feeling worn out from driving around windy roads we arrived in a small town near our final destination, Salento. Due to being a little slow in the morning we had arrived too late to catch a bus up the road, so we had to take a local bus to
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Wax palms in the Valle de Cocora
the outskirts of town and then jump in a taxi to the town of Salento. The bus ride was some what difficult as it was a local bus and not made for people with all their bags. As usual the Colombian people were lovely to us and even though it was a little awkward being on the bus with all our stuff they never complained once. It was also Halloween on this night so as we drove along we saw lots of children dressed up in all sorts of costumes........it is definately big business over here. They had apparantly changed the meaning of Halloween to make it the day of children, so no doubt all the kids were having a blast. We managed to find ourselves a taxi easily and we were finally on the last stretch to what had turned out to be another long day on buses. Our taxi driver was lovely and as we made our way towards Salento he changed the music in his car to some classic rock and roll songs sung in english. Bon Jovi was a feature and because Sharyn is a major fan she knew all the words to his songs, I
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Valle de Cocora
just filled in the blanks, but we managed to have a bit of a sing-a-long in the back bringing back many memories of high-school and places like the Blue Light Disco. Arriving in Salento we found a beautiful hilly town lined with stoned streets and nice looking houses. The hostel we stayed in was a house that was a plantation house over 100 years old which had a balcony around most of the house. We were pretty glad to finally arrive but since we were so late we had limited options to fill our stomachs. We headed up to the plaza to check out the town and in hope of finding some food, instantly I could feel a definate calmness in the town. There was one car driving around the town and it happened to come past us. As it got closer it slowed down and we realised that the occupants were wearing face masks..........yes grown men in a jeep with Halloween masks on. Not only that but they were loaded up with sweets which they liberally handed out to us before hitting the acelarator and screaming off. We only had to walk another 5 minutes to the square where
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One of the surrounding valleys near Salento
we bumped into the car again........it was a small town! While walking around I was thinking that Salento was definately a place where you could stop for a few days and be sure that most things would also slow down with you. After a good feed and meeting some people staying in the hostel we hit bed in preparation for getting up early the next day to head to a valley nearby.

Another early rise and a with a quick look out the window we decided that we should head out to the Valle de Cocora, a valley that had been described as a lush version of Switzerland. The only issues was that if there is cloud cover than the valley will be covered and what we were going to see would not be visable. After a cold morning start we headed up to the plaza to catch a 4x4 to the entrance of the valley. After around 30 minutes driving in the hills, which were beautiful in themselves, we were dropped off on the side of the road near some small shops and told to walk down a certain path. We walked down into the valley and found
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Walking into the coffee plantation
a very green and wet environment, but it was something different to what we had already seen in Colombia. We soon realised why people wear gumboots here all the time but we persisted and headed off up a path to see where we would could get to. We weren't actually into the Valle de Cocora, but the valley leading into it, but it was a lovely place to walk. Green rolling hills with crazy rocky peaks and covered in these wax palm trees or palma de cera......apparantly the tallest palms in the world and they made a great back drop to this area. After walking for around an hour on a path that progressively got muddier and muddier with no sign of improvement and the fact that the clouds were rolling in and getting lower, we decided to turn around and cut our loses and head back to town. We hadn't actually made it right into the Valle de Cocora, but I had enjoyed getting out and having a look around because even in the grey fog it was kind of mystical. Back to the shops to wait for some transport back to town and hoping that we might be
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A dangerous looking tree in the coffee plantation
lucky and get a random car heading in rather than having to wait for the scheduled one 3 hours later. Not long after we made it to the shops it started to rain and not long after that our friends that we had taken the car with earlier that morning arrived back after experiencing similar difficulties. With numbers and a Colombian girl in our group we managed to organise a car and headed back into town........after getting up so early we were back in town and it was only 9.30am and we had a whole day ahead of us still. This would have been perfect except for the fact that the rain didn't stop but remained constant for the next 4 hours.......which to me was a perfect reason to sit down and read my book and do absolutely nothing. I was in the midst still of enjoying doing this when Sharyn and a few others were talking about going to the local coffee plantation and even though I was happy were I was I couldn't pass up on the opportunity.

Myself, Sharyn, Ben from New Zealand and Gautier (we think that was his name) an extremely funny French man
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Carlos showing us how the beans are shelled
headed off with a well drawn map and directions on how to find this family run business in the hills. We were extremely lucky with the rain which stopped as we left the hostel and stayed away for our walk through the back streets of town and out to a road that ran along the top of a ridge giving amazing views yet again. I spent my walk there laughing at the Gautier's stories of getting lost in the mountains for days and realising that this guy was worth hanging around as he was sure to provide lots to laugh at. After an hour of walking we arrived at the coffee farm and walked on in to be welcomed by a lovely smiling family. We were then led off by our guide, the grandson Carlos, into the fields where the plants were and given a great tour full of information about the plants and process of growing them. We learnt that their methods for harvesting, the methods for growing and maintaining the trees, about the two different beans they grow....the Colombian and the Arabian, what other plants and trees they use to assist with growth, their system for replanting and
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Everyone concentrating hard as Carlos explains about the drying process of the coffee
regrowing the plants and their techniques for using the whole environment to assist with the production of coffee. Their methods were basically very similar to permaculture practices and great to see people utilising everything organic to their advantage. After our tour we were stopped by our guide and asked questions about the information that we had just learnt. Our guide was quite impressed with us and our answers, except for Frenchy who couldn't think of his answer. Back up at the house we were shown how to shell and dry the beans and to finish off we had our own beans roasted over a log stove before they were grounded up and made into coffee......the freshest coffee I have ever had. The family were amazingly friendly and as interested in us and we were in them. After buying some of their produce we headed off back to the road to try and get another jeep back to town. Our guide Carlos came with us to the road and waved us goodbye and at this stage I was so happy that I had decided to leave the book behind and come to see the plantation. Back in Salento it started to
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Carlos´grandfather roasts the coffee beans for us
rain again so we had made the decision that we would head off the next day and go further north to Medellin, where hopefully the weather would be better. The last night there we met many great people from all over the world hanging out in the hostel, many of who we would spend more time with up the road and it was the start of a very social couple of weeks for us.



Additional photos below
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Our funny french friend, Gutierre, doing the hard work and grinding the beans
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One of the fire vehicles in Salento......for my fire fighting family members
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Come and get your arepas!!! This lady is on the side of the road every morning and is very popular with the gringos
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Views on the road as we leave Salento and head to Medellin
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A ranging river where we stopped for lunch on the way to Medellin....so much water in this country at the moment


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