Dali's Dreamscape


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South America » Colombia » Tolima
December 23rd 2011
Published: September 30th 2017
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Hobbit Land, Up in the Cloud Forest ...Hobbit Land, Up in the Cloud Forest ...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 ...Rough Trail ...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!


Additional photos below
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Break Time by the Stream ...Break Time by the Stream ...
Break Time by the Stream ...

... the bottom section was tiring, having to avoid the mud and taking care not to slip on loose rocks.
Me and Sam Roberts ...Me and Sam Roberts ...
Me and Sam Roberts ...

... er ... I mean, John the Hippie. Any Canadian he meets during his travels invariably says "You look EXACTLY like Sam Roberts!" I was at least the 200th to do so - to be original, I'm changing his name to Samuel Roberto.
Overrated Hummingbird Reserve ...Overrated Hummingbird Reserve ...
Overrated Hummingbird Reserve ...

... it's just a few bird feeders and a handful of birds. The "reserve" seems more like something somebody set up to make a few bucks off passing tourists. But still, the 3000 peso entrance includes a coffee, hot chocolate and cheese (weird combo, eh?), soda, or aguapanela, a hot sugar cane drink. A nice old lady works up there, so hopefully the money at least goes to locals who could use it.
Summiting La Montana, Staring Into the Abyss ...Summiting La Montana, Staring Into the Abyss ...
Summiting La Montana, Staring Into the Abyss ...

... at points, you couldn't see anything more than a few feet down below.
Hippie Sharing ...Hippie Sharing ...
Hippie Sharing ...

... John passed around a cucumber and next thing you know, we'd all taken a bite and all that was left was a stub.
Too Funny ...Too Funny ...
Too Funny ...

... a Dutch girl loved my broken camera screen so much, with the ominous dark spot looking like an eclipse hanging over every photo I take, that she started taking pictures of my camera screen. So of course, I had to take a shot of her camera displaying a photo of mine!
Sopa de Avena ...Sopa de Avena ...
Sopa de Avena ...

... oat soup, who knew it was this damn good? Delicious ... though the inclusion of a banana was a tad odd to us.
Standard Colombian Set Meal ...Standard Colombian Set Meal ...
Standard Colombian Set Meal ...

... in addition to the token salad, rice, plantain, and arepa, this one included a fried piece of what I think was corn meal-based dough, a bit like a fritter. Crispy and moist, very tasty. Fish was good, as were the vegetables, cooked in a sauce with some eggs, I believe. The meal cost about $3 CAD - a true steal, and all washed down with an included cup of lulo juice. Though we finished eating at 6 PM, today's physical activity meant it didn't fuel me for long, as I was again hungry by 8.
Hippie Shoe Repair ...Hippie Shoe Repair ...
Hippie Shoe Repair ...

... I have no idea how you can hike in such cheap plastic slippers, and they eventually broke, necessitating repairs using some Zebra duct tape.
Beer + Gunpowder = Boom!  The Game of Tejo ...Beer + Gunpowder = Boom!  The Game of Tejo ...
Beer + Gunpowder = Boom! The Game of Tejo ...

... there's a clay target and you throw stones at it, gaining points depending where you land it - if it stays in the clay, you get 1 point, between the four triangles 12 (I think), and if you hit one of the paper triangles filled with gunpowder they explode with sparks and a bang, and you get 6 points. First one to 21 wins!
Super Private Urinal at the Tejo Range ...Super Private Urinal at the Tejo Range ...
Super Private Urinal at the Tejo Range ...

... behind the curtain, in a room that everybody heading to the range must pass through.
Not a Drinking Game, But Weird Science ...Not a Drinking Game, But Weird Science ...
Not a Drinking Game, But Weird Science ...

... if you bite the end of a ukulele and plug your ears, it sounds exactly like a guitar would. I have no idea how someone would come up with something like this ... probably after drinking too much aguardiente.


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