It all worked out fine in the end! Diary of an older woman travelling solo in Colombia.

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South America » Colombia » Quindío » Salento
March 24th 2015
Published: May 9th 2015
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Salamina to Salento by bus via Manizales and Armenia

Left Salamina at the civilised time of 9.30 a.m. My 'friend' from the hostel dragged my case up the hill - he said it was far too near for a taxi but I wouldn't have wanted to do it with my dodgy neck (which hasn't really recovered from trying to put everything into hand luggage for the flight out). Just before we left I heard the driver say to a small boy sitting on the back seat with his mother 'no te marees' - 'Now don't get sick' and as soon as we started off I could see why. What with the hair pin bends, the climbing and descending and the dilapidated bus - my seat seemed to lurch forwards and then backwards every time we changed height - I began to feel a bit queasy too, not to mention worrying if I was going to end up with whiplash! The trip took three hours as against the scheduled time of two and a half but that was at least an improvement on the outward trip.

Catching the next bus, from Manizales to Armenia was straightforward although I had an anxious moment when a guy appeared, asked: 'Armenia?' and almost before I could answer disappeared with my case. Half expected never to see this again but he re-appeared a few minutes later with the numbered tag by way of a receipt. This time the vehicle was a luxurious minibus. The only down side was watching us sail past Salento, my destination, and knowing that I would need to repeat the 20 minutes plus journey back to that point to get there. According to Lonely Planet you should be able get the bus driver to let you off at the turn off to Salento and then pick up another bus for the final leg. I didn't dare - I had luggage stowed in the back and couldn't see him either stopping on the motorway or getting this out for me before the terminal. I think this only works with slower, less luxurious buses!

The bus from Armenia to Salento was certainly slow and I began to be a bit alarmed by the amount of traffic on this road once we had left the main dual carriageway. These fears were confirmed when the driver stopped at the foot of a very steep hill about four blocks before the main square where he was supposed to drop us off. He announced that the square was too busy to drive the bus into and we would need to get off there. I had to admit the roads were crammed with people but still! I had this heavy case, not helped by purchase of a 500g bag of coffee the previous night, an address and a map on my tablet which I couldn't immediately access. However, as always in Colombia, help was at hand, a young man who got off at the same stop asked if he could help. Without waiting for a reply he took charge of my case and looked at the address and name of the hotel. As we walked up the hill he asked several people where it was but nobody had heard of it (it's new). We got to the square and by now I had a good idea where it was although one man who we asked said it was where we had just come from. Decided to ignore him and for once I was right. I gave my knight in shining armour a tip which he obviously didn't expect as he was already moving off. No idea whether that was the right thing to do or not!

I thought I had come to Salento to get away from the cities but unfortunately it appears that the cities have come to Salento. The place is absolutely mobbed because it's a holiday weekend. The receptionist, who is very nice, asked if I had found my way to the top of the mirador (viewpoint). I said: "Yes, along with several hundred other people. She promises it will be quiet tomorrow, she was wrong. I followed her advice to eat at the vegetarian restaurant and copied what an American couple were having - falafels with something else - great! After they left a German couple appeared - we are right in backpacker country here- I feel so old. I think I prefer Salamina!

Did a bit of research on walking in the valley of Cocora on the web and decided that I particularly liked the route proposed in the Lazy Hiker's Guide to it. This was a much shorter route - I didn't think I could manage five hours but three would be OK. It would also avoid the mud - the approved footwear for the main walk is wellingtons because it rains a lot and the path has been cut up by horses. I had definitely decided to give these a miss after my Tayrona experience. Most important of all, on this route I would still get to see the ‘palmas de cera’ (wax palms), Colombia's national tree. These palms grow to several hundreds of feet with leaves at the top only looking microscopic way above the ground - and cows grazing beneath them. You get a jeep from the main square to take you to the starting point of the walks.

The route I had chosen is one of the approved routes down so although there was hardly anybody on it when I started there were sure to be lots of people later on who could rescue me if I broke an ankle! Had forgotten about the altitude - the point I was aiming for is about 2770 metres high so walking uphill tends to leave you short of breath. However the views were stunning and I got my breath back as a result of managing to spray a tiny bit of insect repellent of the lethal DEET variety on the lenses of my new glasses. I spent 15 minutes trying to make sure I had got it all off before it melted them.

Was so heartened to see that the route timings were very generous that I actually set off to walk back the way that people had set out, in other words to do the full route. Then, remembering the mud and warnings of dodgy bridges, I thought better of it. Was glad I did because when I remarked, whilst sitting in the jeep waiting for it to take us back, that I might do the main route tomorrow a Polish guy said ' Don't bother. It's muddy, very tiring and the views aren't as good as the route you did.' The main route goes along the valley floor, next to the river. Colombians seem to be in a minority on the trek and are outnumbered by the backpackers although I was assured that people as old as me had been doing the main trail!

By the time I got to the jeep it had really started to rain very heavily indeed and some unfortunates who we picked up on the way had to ride hanging on the back and got soaked. However they were at least dressed for the weather. I had risked coming out in just a thin blouse and trousers with no wet weather gear, sweater etc and actually once you stopped walking uphill it wasn't that warm. There was a very extrovert Slovenian girl in the jeep who sickened me by announcing that she spoke six languages. She had been travelling in South America for over a year and had picked up Spanish from living with families. When I asked her how she had managed this she told me she approached people to ask them for advice about hotels etc and when they suggested somewhere she would say it was too expensive and, if she liked the look of them, would ask if they had a room free in their house !! She assured me that she had had not had a single bad experience!

When I got back to the hospedaje, soaking wet as a result of a walk of probably less than 200 yards, I was not amused to be asked: ' Como esta?' by an older guy who I assumed to be the owner. ‘Wet’, I replied. Was the guy blind? I was even more un-amused when I discovered that my room had not been changed. Had been put in a quiet room (at my request) but with no view last night because the place was so busy. However had agreed with both of the female staff that I would move today into one with a mountain view and had deliberately left all my stuff packed up and ready to go to facilitate this. The owner muttered something about how he thought I would be better in my current room because of the possibility of noise but my guess is he just wanted a better room to offer passing trade. Either that or he was being very paternalistic. I was standing there dripping wet so not really in a position to argue except to say that I hoped the person who had had their TV on in the room next to mine at three in the morning wasn' t going to be there tonight.. (I had eventually got the night watchman to ask them to switch it off - whoever it was had fallen asleep.)

Was so cross that later on decided to make a nuisance of myself by asking the owner lots of questions about what to do here. After all, they do boast a tour desk and his much nicer receptionist (who turned out to be his wife!) had offered to come up with some ideas.

Bought a new hat as managed to lose mine this morning. Paid far too much for it- am a terrible haggler - and will be lucky to get it home in one piece but don't t feel I can manage without one for a day as the sun is so strong. Have now guaranteed that rain will follow me around for the next three days. Back to the veggie restaurant for some more not remotely Colombian food. They only have one table so it’s quite sociable.


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