A Detour to Salento

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May 12th 2012
Published: May 12th 2012
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Bogota to Salento

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The Wax Palms
Day 208 Sunday 6th May

Woke up slightly seedy this morning, knowing that I may have hit it a bit too hard last night, but it was a Saturday night so that’s okay, although every night is Saturday night for us. We had planned on spending the morning at the park next door where there was supposed to be a flea market but discovered that they no longer happened so did the next best thing of trying to organise our laundry. We discovered a laundrymat a block away so we put together a bag of our smelliest and handed them over. According to the Lonely Planet there was another flea market about ten blocks away so we put on our hiking boots and headed off to check it out. On Sundays in Bogota they close off a lot of (but not all) streets so as to allow the locals to wheel out and ride their pushbikes. The streets from our hotel to the flea markets were filled with families, street stalls and buskers, the place had a great party feel about it. Even the police got into the act by walking along playing musical instruments and

Iglesia Del Carmen
singing, this isn’t the crime capital of the world anymore.

The flea market was small but amazing with some incredible pieces that had us both cursing Colombian post and the horrendous cost of mailing things home. Shelley wanted to buy a huge old wooden statue of Saint Barbara that must have once hung in a church, it looked incredible but I had this image of us carting it around the rest of South America and having to buy an extra bus ticket for it and an extra bed at hotels….it just wasn’t going to happen. I was keen on a classic 1950’s chrome Microphone and stand that you could just imagine Elvis singing into….again another piece too large to carry. This market had everything, Barbers chairs, gramophones, movie projectors, even false teeth, but sorry Dad no Indian motorcycle parts, and I thought this may have been the place we would have found them. On the way back I did manage to pick up a great T-shirt with a photo of Harleys on the streets of Bogota in 1946, but that is as close as we got to vintage motorcycles.

Across the road from the

View from our hotel roof
flea markets was Colombia’s tallest building, which is 46 storeys high and has an observation deck but for some unknown reason it was closed today. It was 1pm by the time we got back to our hotel so we decided to get a bite to eat across the road at a large Colombian franchise restaurant called Waffles and Crepes. We both chose a crepe and soon discovered that despite the name of the restaurant no one could actually make one. After 45 minutes of burning countless attempts we got a mangled oily mess that was barely edible…Bogota hasn’t been a great culinary destination for us.

At 3.30 we headed down to the Presidents home Casa de Narino where on Sundays there is a changing of the guard ceremony at 4pm. El Presidente lives in a modest sandstone place which has a large backyard that backs onto another large government building. We were not too sure where this event happens but sort of figured it would be in the back yard that can be viewed through the tall iron fences from the side streets, which are closed to traffic. To walk along the side streets you must first

View of roof tops of Bogota
pass through a bag inspection by soldiers and once past this you can not walk on the footpath closest to the fence. We got there about 15 minutes early and hung around trying to figure out if this was the place and was it going to happen. A family were sitting on steps nearby so it seemed right till a tour guide went past and spoke to them in Spanish and although we couldn’t fully understand he seemed to say “hey what are you doing sitting here, there is no show today, you’re wasting your time, go home”. And sure enough they got up and went, we waited till 4.05 just to make sure and then went off to get a beer. The streets of Bogota were filled with families, buskers, hawkers and food vendors, it was an amazing vibe.

We ended up wandering back down to Calle 19 to a bar we had been at yesterday, which reminds me that I haven’t mentioned how clever the street numbering is in Bogota and throughout Colombia. All towns have Carrera’s (roads) running north-south and Calles (streets) running east-west and they are numbered not named so it is really

Police band
easy to work out how far you are away from somewhere. To help with an actual address, all buildings/houses start with the number of the nearest cross street so for example an address like Calle 26 No.15-32 would mean it is on Calle 26, near Carrera 15 and the house number is 32. Once you get your head around it you realise how brilliant it is and it is super easy to work out how many blocks you need to walk. Would love to see it back in Sydney although I am unsure how it would work in the squiggly road network of a housing estate. Anyway back at the bar they had run out of Smirnoff Ice as apparently Shelley had drank them dry last night so after one beer we changed to the bar next door where she started on her campaign to drink the town dry. Of course I couldn’t be a silent observer and felt obliged to help her in her task. The bar was a great spot once again to watch the Bogotoans returning home after a Sunday of fun and to count the endless varieties of buses and bus companies.


City Buses
7.30 we headed back to our hotel only to discover that all the restaurants had closed for the day and we were left with a choice of one; a pizza place next door. The pizza was expensive, but tasty and huge and we ended up only eating half of it and taking the rest home for lunch tomorrow.

Day 209 Monday 7th May

Both woke up a little worse for wear, but not too bad, but outside the sky was darkening. Soon after our breakfast it started to sprinkle and then pour. While we waited for the rain to ease I got on the internet and discovered two important facts. One was that the hotel had overcharged us and the second was that instead of booking out on Wednesday we had to be out of here tomorrow. For some stupid reason I had in my head that we were staying here Tuesday so that blew a small hole in our plans. We had planned on trying to get out to some nearby sites but to do it in a tour was incredibly expensive and to do it by public transport was a

Casa De Narino guard (Chuckles) trying to look serious
tad difficult. Now with the rain we just decided that maybe it would be best to just move on.

Eventually the rain eased a bit so we went to pick up our laundry and stopped down at reception first to figure out why they had overcharged us. On the day we had arrived they had charged our credit card for the 6 night we had been here and then for some unknown reason had slipped in a separate charge for an extra night. The guy couldn’t really explain why but let us know that on check out they would pay us back in cash. It is always the big flashy hotels that have tried to rip us off and you really do need to check everything.

We got up to the laundry just as the rain returned and were told that our clothes wouldn’t be ready till 1.00, so we ran back to the hotel to wait. At 1.30 we went back to the laundry once more to be told 2, so once again we sprinted back to the hotel in the rain. We had planned on doing a nice long walk around the

Casa De Narino
town centre today but there was no way we were going to do it in the rain so we sat in our fantastic room looking across the wet rooftops of Bogota. At 3 we returned once more to the laundry and thankfully this was our final time as our clothes were ready, so we got them home and started our packing. Because we were moving on tomorrow we decided to avoid any forms of alcohol and so for dinner we headed across the road to a shwarma (kebab) house for dinner. It is sort of odd to be eating a mixed plate of Lebanese food in Bogota Colombia but I guess it shouldn’t be any stranger than in Sydney Australia. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good as Sydney but it was good to get some hommus and tabouli regardless.

Day 210 Tuesday 8th May

Up at the crack of dawn, 5.30 to be precise, and quickly finished our last minute packing and then ran down to get some breakfast. The woman that ran the breakfast restaurant is so lovely and we will miss her cheerful smile but maybe not her horrible coffee. Breakfast

Our great room
took longer than expected and so did our final sort out in the room so we weren’t down in the foyer checking out till 6.45. Sorted our bill and got our cash back from where they overcharged us and then asked for a taxi to the boooos terminal. The hotel’s front door is located on the TransMileno bus line so no cars can park out the front so when the hotel concierge helped us out the back door with our bags we just figured he was taking us to the taxi rank out the back. Instead he took us to the hotel carpark and got us into the hotel car and then drove us to the bus terminal. It was a 30 minute drive through horrendous traffic and the whole way we kept thinking, “What is this going to cost us?” I half thought that maybe it might have been a courtesy shuttle, but oh no once we got to the terminal we got slogged 30,000 pesos ($16). A cheap fare for Sydney but a bloody rip off for Bogota, considering the taxi from the terminal to the hotel only cost 8,200 pesos. Should have really done my lolly over

Plaza shops at night
it but in the end figured it was half my fault for not checking the details before jumping in the car; we won’t let that happen again.

At the bus terminal we quickly found the ticket office and got our tickets to the town of Armenia. Whilst waiting for the bus we had a good chat to locals who were also catching the bus. Cannot get tired of saying how lovely the people of Colombia are, and just seem so happy to have tourists and want to help. The bus was running late so we weren’t underway till 8.30 and what a journey we got. The trip started out okay with us travelling through the extensive suburbs of Bogota and then we hit the mountains. The climb up was agony as there were endless hair pin bends and the road was completely congested with trucks. The journey came to a grinding halt often as trucks would have to stop at the hairpin bends to allow trucks heading in the other direction to get around. At 12.30 we stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch, which was a welcome break.

After lunch the traffic got

Us crammed into the back of a jeep
worse and the trip even slower, and the problems were compounded by the extensive roadworks. The winding single lane road is being replaced by a single lane freeway, with massive bridges and tunnels. Some of the work looks at least 10 years old with these huge bridges spanning across gullies with no interconnecting roads, just sitting there till they chisel a link. Our bus driver was rather radical and would take the most absurd risks overtaking semi’s on hair pin bends and then brake suddenly to avoid running up the back of another, so it was no wonder that poor Shelley started getting motion sickness. It ended up being probably the worst bus journey so far for risks and being flung around. Once we got to the top of the mountain range we then had the long dangerous descent down into the town of Armenia, where we arrived at 4.

There was a Danish couple on the bus and they too were heading on to the town of Salento so we managed to find our way through the Armenia bus terminal to where we could get the minibus to Salento. We just missed one so had to

Road to Cocora
wait twenty minutes to the next one and then had a very slow 1 hour journey to the nearby town. We had emailed a hotel yesterday in town for a room and they said they would hold it for us till 6pm. By the time we got to town and walked the two blocks it was 5.50, so we sort of just made it. The Danish couple were staying at the same place and got the last double room after us and another group followed us in so we were lucky we got there just in time. The room is basic, but we have great hot water and it is only costing us 53,000 pesos ($29) so you can’t complain. The room we had last night had timber floors was huge and the bed was two double beds joined together and was as so soft.

We were both dying to have a shower but it was getting dark and we figured food and a beer were more important so we headed down into town to seek them out. Salento is a small town of 3,000 people in the centre of the coffee growing area of Colombia. It
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Wax Palms against the coming storm
is south of the Los Nevados National Park which is a magnificent, large volcanic park we were going to visit till one of the volcanos decided to awaken from its slumber. The original plan was for us to go to the town of Manizales in the North and do a day trip to the parks many volcanoes, that was till the Nevado Del Ruiz volcano started rumbling to life and they closed the park. The last time this volcano came to life in 1985 it killed 20,000 people so you can understand why this monster is best avoided when it starts acting up. Thankfully being a nerd and having a computer on this trip we can keep an eye on the volcano websites along with the current news of the country. Salento isn’t as picturesque as some of the other colonial towns in Colombia but the surrounding mountains are beautiful and it does have its own unique character.

After a short walk around town we stopped at a café for a quick beer and then moved on to a nearby restaurant where Shelley had the specialty of this area, Trout. On top of the volcanos and coffee
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Grooves in the path
this area is filled with heaps of trout farms, so as would be expected Shelley’s meal was fresh and fabulous. We didn’t trot home till 9 through the darkened streets to our new home for three nights.

Day 211 Wednesday 9th May

Despite our bed being as hard we both slept well and both felt refreshed and ready to face a new day in a new town when we got up at 7.30. The Plantation House Hostel doesn’t supply breakfast but there was a great café around the corner where for one of the few times on this trip I got bacon and eggs for breakfast. We wandered back to the hotel where we thought we would check out what to do today and we had two options, one was a trek in a national park and the other was a tour of a coffee plantation. We had thought we would do the coffee plantation today but unfortunately half the tour was going to be in Spanish, but tomorrow it would all be in English so that made our decision easy. That left us with a trek in the nearby National park,
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The muddy path
but to get there we had to get a jeep and the next one wasn’t leaving till 11.30. It was a bit of a pain as it meant we had to wait around for a while and then didn’t leave us much time at the other end, but we thought we would just give it a go. At 11.00 we wandered up to the main square and tracked down where we needed to catch the jeep and waited till the appointed time. Whilst we waited a very small protest wound around the plaza shouting slogans. Unsure what they were upset about but the watchful police almost outnumbered them. The Danish couple we met yesterday and that were staying at the hotel turned up while we waited and had decided to do the trek as well.

Just before we took off at 11.30 a whole pile of other people turned up and started clambering onto the jeep. There was seating for two at the front with the driver and four in the open rear and two others could stand on the back standing on a platform and holding onto the roof, and that is where I ended up.
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Mud patch with extra from the horses
Was sort of exhilarating clinging to the back of a jeep while it tore down the road, catching bugs in my teeth, but you have to remind yourself that this is what the locals do every day, and at one point we had a jeep in front of us with a woman casually standing on one foot whilst using her mobile phone. The drive only took 30 minutes and we were dropped at the tiny town of Cocora where we started our walk. The trail started by winding downhill past one of the many trout farms before heading across cleared pastureland. The walk would have been very easy except that it is wet season also it is also used by horses and it has become one huge mud trail. Because of the heavy traffic the trail had dug a path at some points 2 metres lower than the ground level and was nothing but a huge mud soup. Whilst the horses could wade through it, us silly humans had to try and make pathways along the high ground either die of it. This was made more complicated by the fact that the high ground paths were very narrow and bordered
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One of the suspension bridges
by barbed wire. Shortly after starting the Danish guy bailed as he wasn’t feeling the best so us other three battled and about ten minutes later we nearly lost the Danish woman. She lost her footing (thankfully on one of the more lower sections) grabbed the barbed wire but the fence posts just broke and in she went. Thankfully she was wearing gum boots and she got out just before the mud lipped over the top. Poor Shelley almost followed her though as she was right behind and the whole barb wire fence was pushing against her legs trying to topple her in. I have no idea how either of the girls were not seriously hurt, it was probably the worst track we have been on.

Despite this being a crap trail we did get to see the main reason we were doing it and that was the wax palms. These are native palms to Colombia and are in fact the national tree and are the world’s tallest palms and grow to a staggering height of 60 metres. Their height no doubt is as a result of competition whilst growing in rain and cloud forests, these days
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Quality bridge on the walk
they are seen easily growing in the middle of pasture land. They are a magnificent palm and rightfully are protected, unlike all the other trees in the forest and that is why today they are so clearly seen. We later found out that within 50 to 60 years they probably won’t exist as although the adult plants are protected, the young plants don’t have a chance of survival whilst dairy cows that roam around the base trample and eat the seedlings. The palms only have a life span of 60 years and there are very few new growth palms so they will soon disappear.

After slowly making our way along the trail for over an hour we reached the Los Nacional Park where at least some of the remaining cloud forest is preserved. By this stage the Danish woman had had enough and headed back but we pushed on. The park was really beautiful and the trail followed alongside and then criss-crossed over a fast moving river several times. The suspension bridges we used were really dodgy and most had a plank or two missing. We walked for a further hour before the mud finally got to
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Shelley crossing one of the bridges
me and we started back. Unfortunately I didn’t do enough research on this trail and if we had kept going the trail would have got easier and looped back to the starting point. I was worried about missing the last jeep back to Salento and so stupidly decided we should head back the way we came. So once again we had to pick our way back through the muddy slop of a trail. The scenery was great but nothing overly spectacular and for the effort really wasn’t worth it, but you don’t know these things when you head off.

We finally got back to the start at Cocora at 3.50 with our boots and pants a muddy mess. While we waited for the 4.00 jeep departure we both sat and scrapped the mud off ourselves. For the return ride I got a seat inside the jeep making sure Shelley was near the back of the jeep but we had another girl in the jeep that had a claustrophobia attack and had to shuffle around before she calmed down. Got back to Salento and we shuffled back to our room and shed ourselves of all our muddy clothes and had
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More Wax Palms
a well deserved hot shower. For dinner we went downtown and got a feed at the same place as last night, which again was great.

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


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The log to help us through a mud patch
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Wax Palms on the hill
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Wax palms again
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You guessed it more Wax Palms
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Wax Palms in the mist

18th May 2012

Sounds like.....
Dangerous fun! The photo's of the trek were very nice, I love the quality bridge hahaha...and those wax palms like WOW! xx

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