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South America » Colombia » Quindío » Salento
December 29th 2014
Published: April 4th 2015
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Salento is a cute little town. We got off the bus at the busy plaza with lots of outdoor restaurants. There's no question that tourism is the main industry here (mostly Colombian tourists) but this place has some draw cards. There's coffee plantations you can visit, and a beautiful hike through La Valle Cocora. That was our mission.

We wanted to stay at a place called the Plantation House right on the edge of town, and it was pretty darn quiet out there. They had space for us, so we found beds on the first try and didn't have to wander around much. And this place was going to be a nice quiet retreat, and a big change from the congestion of San Gil.

The hostel also has two rough collies that are really lovable and friendly. Man, I love their long hair. It's so nice to pet. They are outdoor dogs though, so they are also dirty like outside dogs, but I couldn't help myself.

We were hungry after not eating much yesterday, so we went for a nice meal in one of the restaurants on the plaza. We had trucha fish, and it came with a big fried plantain. It was very tasty and satisfying. It was quite a bit of food, but not as big as our apetites at the time, so we stopped at Crepers for a delicious kiwi and Nutella crepe.

Satisfied for the moment, we went for a walk around town, stopped at the grocery store for water, and got some more chips with with Simpsons Tazos. The collection is growing!

We returned to hostel to do some figuring, and tried to decide where we might go. We were kind of re-writing the itinerary since we skipped the coast for the time being. We hadn't planned to make it to the Zona Cafetera until the end of the trip and hadn't looked into it in too much detail. We came up with some ideas, and then we got hungry again.

We had dinner at vegetarian stand and both had delicious veggie wraps. Finally some vegetables! And finally we'd eaten enough for the day and we went back to the hostel, tired and ready for showers and bed.

The next morning, we got up and ate some breakfast empanadas. We picked up some take out lunch bags from a place called Brunch, run by an American, and headed to the square to catch a Willy Jeep to the Valle Cocora.

This was a great hike. It took about 5 hours for the loop, and it was beautiful. We started out walking down through the valley, and looked up at the stunning wax palms and scenery. We got to a nature reserve with lots of hummingbirds. It costs 5000 pesos to get in it but included a hot chocolate or coffee and the money goes towards maintaining the bridges along the hike. We also took the time there to eat our tasty take out lunches. They were Filling.

Hiking through the valley was pretty hot a sweaty work, so it was nice when we finished the ascent to the top and then it was all downhill from there. The last part of the hike was right through the wax palm forest, and it was like walking through a Doctor Seuss forest. It was surreal.

After our hike, we returned to town to private dorm room! Nice! We had naps, and woke up to make some more firm plans. With New Year's fast approaching, we felt like we had to lock something down. We phoned some coffee fincas that sounded nice, and almost like villas in wine country, but they were mostly full. We found a place in Guatape, which isn't in the coffee zone but the place sounded lovely. So we called them and booked a room. Done.

We overheard a conversation about a good place for dinner that's only open Monday's, Tuesday's, and Wednesday's. But with New Year's eve on Wedneday, they decided to be open on Sunday instead. Perfect for us!

The place is called Sandra's, and it's owned and operated by a very friendly couple from New York and Scotland. The menu changes daily, and everything is made fresh and from scratch. They feature an assortment of international dishes, and pretty much whatever they feel like making that day. And they are very passionate about the food, but not pretentious in the least. They're very welcoming, and helpful. We pretty much just asked Tim “What do you recommend,” and he talked about all of the dishes, and helped us decide. Very charismatic and friendly guy. He had our trust from the beginning, and I think he enjoyed bringing us the food and wine as much as we did eating it. And I don't think you could go wrong with anything on the menu.

We ended up sharing a table with another couple staying at our hostel, Chris (from London) and Givi (from Slovenia but living in Paris). We were glad to have such good company, and had great conversazione about travel and work and food.

Following our hosts recommendations, we had the salmon mousse and eggplant caviar for appetizers and they were amazing! Vanessa and I had the Cantonese pork and the pasta bolognese, and also got convinced to have the tiramisu for dessert. It was awesome. And I think my favourite part was the wine. Tim personally loves having wine with dinner, and his pet peeve is when restaurants charge a huge markup for wine. He absolutely hates that. So he doesn't believe in charging a lot for the wine in their restaurant, and we had several glasses for about $2.50 a glass. It was awesome.

And he'd always recommend a wine pairing with our food, and we'd always take his advice, and it was always great, and again there was never any pretentiousness. Just warmth. And it was like he was a part of our dinner experience, and not just serving us. He was having just as good a time as we were, and also enjoyed some of his own wine recommendations.

After dinner we met Sandra, our wonderful Scottish chef, and thanked her for the awesome meal. It sounds like this couple are also world travellers, and just decided to live in Salento, and just decided to open a restaurant in their house just for the fun of it. They'd only been open for a few months, and had actually been visited by all of the guidebooks in there first few weeks, but turned their recommendations down because they weren't sure if they'd keep doing it long enough for the guidebooks to be published. I certainly hope they stay open, and we'll be coming back somedayThey were pretty great, and we had a good chat with them before saying goodbye and heading out for the night.

The four of us decided to go to the plaza and have a couple of drinks in one of the outdoor patios. Eventually, we went to bed happy and a little drunk.

We returned to our private dorm room, and slept well, except for being woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of rustling. In the garbage. In our room. Hmmm....

We'd put the empty paper bags from our bag lunches that we took on the hike in the garbage in our room, and in the night we definitely both heard something rustling the paper bags and working to open them. It was dark, we were alone in our room so it wasn't a person, and the window was also closed. I eventually reached for my headlamp thinking to myself, “I am about to see a rat.” And I wasn't sure how badly I wanted to.

So I was relieved when I turned on the light and saw nothing. But I was also confused, and I would have thought I was crazy if Vanessa hadn't heard it too. I even looked under the beds, and looked for holes where whatever it was might have gotten in. I really didn't have a clue. And there was no food left in the bags, but maybe just the smell of food...

Still, I put the garbage outside our room and closed the door. We still slept ok after, since we were tired. But I could have done without that. It may or may not have been a rat, or some other Colombian critter that's either better or worse than a rat to have around.

The next morning we got up to take the plantation tour. The hostel we are staying at is owned by an English/Colombian couple that also runs a small coffee plantation down the road. He had to take the van into Pereira to get it serviced, so he was not available to give the English tour. So he arranged for his daughter to translate for us instead.

It was really interesting. It's a small finca, and they plant fruit trees and other plants at specific intervals to provide shade and nutrients to the the soil which goes into the coffee plants. They had an example of the old style coffee plant, which is about ten feet tall with red coffee cherries. The newer plant, which was selectively bred many decades ago in a joint initiative between Colombia and Brazil is much shorter with yellow cherries. It's smaller size makes it easier to pick.

The property is stunning, with beautiful views, and they led us around on a walk. They have lemons that look like oranges and oranges that look like lemons. What is this strange place??? And they had lot's of banana and plantain trees also, so in addition to all the coffee they have tons of fresh fruit.

The walked us through the whole coffee growing process. They grow the new, younger plants next to tobacco plants. This is because the insects prefer the taste of the tobacco and they leave the coffee alone. Come to think of it, they were all grown in pots, so I wonder if that's to keep the tobacco and coffee from sharing soil with the tobacco. I'm not sure if tobacco would affect the soil or the taste and quality of the coffee. Just speculation on my part, and I didn't think to ask.

After they pick the coffee cherries, there's a series of steps that involve removing the cherries, fermenting, peeling the skin, and drying coffee. They start with 100kg of coffee and end up with 13kg by the time they're done this process, prior to roasting. Then they roast it, grind it and serve it, and that will be the freshest cup of coffee I'll ever have. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I've had a few cups, and I've upped my intake in Colombia, because, you know, that's just what you do. I (strangely for a non coffee drinker) like strong tasting dark coffee, black. This stuff was great. It had a nice strong flavour, but was buttery smooth. Not bad Colombia...

That was pretty much it for Salento, and we did everything we set out to do. We went to Brunch for lunch and ate huge burgers, and got way too full. We hung around to use WiFi and kill time. The American owner there is also super nice, which is the running theme in the town.

We loved Salento. It's one of the highlights of Colombia for us. The town itself was small and lively, and although touristy it had a lot of charm. It was easy to get away from the activity just by walking a block in any direction away form the square, and our hostel was super quiet on the edge of town. Everyone we met was very friendly, and this place seems to attract a lot of ex pats who are of the same mindset. The Valle Cocora is not to be missed, and you can easily do a coffee tour in our around town. And the food was great! Everything we ate at every restaurant was excellent. I'd come back just for the food. Specifically, Sandra's.

Definitely go to Salento, and definitely plan to come on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday when Sandra's is open.

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