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Published: September 30th 2017
Hobbit Land, Up in the Cloud Forest ...
... you half expect midgets with hairy feet to come running down the trail, screaming about orcs.
Geo: 4.39778, -75.2867
Coffee farm or Valle de Cocora ... Valle de Cocora or coffee farm? The debate raged all last night - what to see, with only one day in Salento? The whole reason for coming to Salento was to see the valley, which was highly recommended by a couple of Colombian friends, describing the prevalence of palmas de cera (wax palms) in the area as being absolutely surreal. Parts of the Zona Cafetera have a strange location - at this elevation, the landscape really shouldn't be this lush and green, least of all featuring palm trees that are up to 60 m tall. But proximity to the equator blesses the area with plants that you'd expect to see on a tropical island, not at 2000 m elevation.
Speaking to a couple of Germans last night, they suggested that the coffee farm was a far more worthwhile experience, as you got to see mostly the same things as you would in the valley, but the coffee farm offered a far more intimate experience. Tours were conducted by the family who owned the farm, affording visitors the opportunity to not only have lunch with the family, but also to take part in the
steps required to process and roast the beans.
Their advice was taken with a grain of salt, as they complained that portions of the hike involved trudging through deep mud. It was raining fairly heavily in the region recently, which would have definitely made for a less-than-pleasant hike - but it's been sunny the past few days, so hopefully the trail had dried up substantially. So Valle de Cocora, it is!
The pictures speak for themselves - definitely an unforgettable experience filled with incredible sights. Hiking up through rain forest, crossing over bridges, walking alongside small waterfalls and through streams of icy water, up to a humming bird reserve and on to a cloud forest before finally descending through the valley itself, which is studded with wax palms like spikes on a massive dormant dragon's back. Positively surreal, the images seen today could only have been painted in the mind of Salvador Dali, during the most fantastic and whimsical of dreams.
As memorable as the hike was, the highlight of today was probably coming across a Canadian hippie on the trail - quite the character, with a travel style and way of life that really made you think long and hard
about what you wanted to get out of life. John has been on an eight year cycle of travel, with four months every year spent working as a mountain bike guide back home in Montreal, in order to save up enough money for the subsequent eight months of travel.
He redefines budget travel - he hasn't been able to do much of it in Colombia thus far since it's not a hitch hiking culture, but that's normally his preferred mode of transport. As far as accommodation goes, he's got his tent, but he doesn't go to campsites - he'll set up camp wherever and whenever, and has the craziest stories to show for it.
Camping out on a sidewalk in front of a police station, only to be awoken early in the morning and ... instead of being kicked out, being served some fresh coffee. Or finding a beautiful little island in the middle of a river, and climbing down from a bridge directly overhead to set up camp, only to be awoken in the middle of the night with the tent ready to float away, after heavy rains.
Apparently, camping illegally is quite the skill - not only finding a place sufficiently
hidden so as to avoid hassles from locals and the authorities, but also to be able to find your camp and backpack later on, especially at night, when things look completely different. John's been extra careful about leaving himself markers after once spending the worst night of his life wandering through the forest looking for his things.
Surprisingly, he's never once been robbed or had anything stolen, but that really comes down to one thing - he doesn't have anything to steal, which is a result of his minimalist style. All he needs to stay happy while traveling are a couple of shirts, a pair of shorts, a tooth brush, a backpack, a tent, and his ukulele ... of course, that still doesn't beat my minimalist style after Avianca lost my pack! Though I'm quite positive I couldn't have done that for more than a few days, let alone for eight months.
Minimalists subscribe to the school of thought that we don't own any of our possessions, that our possessions actually own us, with the stress that comes with paying for them and having to take care of them. You'd think John wouldn't have such worries, but in fact he does -
Rough Trail ...
... rocky and bumpy, full of holes due to horses and donkeys constantly trekking over the same trail. Ledges on either side can sometimes be used to avoid the muddy spots below, but are usually quite narrow and right up against a barbed wire fence, making it tricky to negotiate the ledge without getting caught on the barbs. As you slip, it's also a natural instinct to grab at the wire or post, needing to do so carefully to avoid grabbing a barb or worse, the odd loose post - a few times I almost tumbled into the quagmire below, a mix of mud and horse/donkey crap. This particular stretch of trail was one of the better sections, fairly dry with few pits of mud to avoid.
his tent was a gift, and is actually quite a fancy and expensive one. He even admitted that the tent does own him somewhat, since it's the only nice thing he has, and is essentially his security blanket. As long as he carries a tent on his back he feels secure, knowing that he'll always have shelter for the night, whether he's out in the jungle or stuck on the side of the highway, waiting for someone to pick him up. But if that were to be taken away ...
The idea of minimalism is an interesting one, since it makes you question what you really need to be happy in life. Quite often, the things we buy to enrich our lives wind up detracting from them, as they can become financial burdens and a huge source of stress. This is all very subjective of course, as there are varying degrees of minimalism - some need everything to be happy in life, but apparently, some only need a tent and a ukulele!
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