Tall Trees, Chubby Knees @ Valle de Cocora
Stanley @ The Plantation House, Salento
Salento is an Andean town in the heart of the coffee region known for of course its coffee estates but also its beautiful scenery. Salento is surrounded by the Cocora Valley, famous for its ginormous wax palms to the east and the year round high snowy peaks of Los Nevados National Natural Park to the north-east. The town itself is small but very colourful.
We were dropped off in town and had a surprisingly short walk to The Plantation House where we were staying. The Plantation House is a coffee farm with two hostels owned by an English bloke called Tim and his Colombian wife. We wanted to stay somewhere a little different plus we had read that they had five dogs, so we splashed out. They did indeed have five dogs, and no rubbish little pugs or chihuahuas, five big, amazing dogs- Stanley this gigantic 65kg monster of a dog, Biscuit (my favourite), Bonnie- a big English sheep dog, Kira (looks like Lassy, Jess’ favourite), and Bongo, a puppy spaniel type. They also had two kittens, one of which, Queso, moved into our room, he was very sweet. Our room was pretty basic but the whole place was awesome.
Bean There, Done That @ The Plantation House, Salento
That evening after a quick look around the tiny town, we went out for trout (a local favourite dish) and got chatting to a nice Aussie couple, Lisa and Nick from Brisbane. We. Batted for ages and planned to meet the next day to roast some coffee.
The next morning we were about to head out to look around the town again when Jess literally bumped into Katherine from our San Blas tour in the kitchen. We had all been there two days and somehow hadn’t seen each other yet. Katherine had her arm in a cast. Unfortunately the day before they four of them (Katherine, Nick, Jess and Phil) had been mountain biking among the wax palms in the Cocora valley and Katherine had fallen off really early. After a visit to the hospital some hours later, they found out she had broken her arm. They had made the sad decision to go back to the UK to get the surgery she needed as their insurance wouldn’t cover any potential follow up surgery so they were flying home the following day. It was really sad as they had two months left on a four month trip. We said we would catch up with them later to say our goodbyes. We then got to talking about what injury would make you go home because if you think about it, if you can’t carry your own backpack then you would be pretty useless. For me, it’s not about the potential difference in quality of medical care here in Colombia vs the UK/AU it’s more that you just wouldn’t be able to move around with your stuff. I then had an idea of buying a suit case and using the other arm to pull it, so broken arm or broken leg, I’d work it out.
We were about to head out to have another nose around the town when a dog fight broke out between Stanley the giant black dog from the Plantation house (PH) and another big white bull dog who was passing with his owner who was a friend of the PH. The big white dog I would normally call an enormous dog but next to Stanley he looked so small. The fight was territorial and got really really aggressive, it looked like Stanley was going to kill the other dog. The PH worker, the owner of the white dog nor us could separate them. Getting between fighting dogs is not a smart thing to do especially when they are the same size as you! We tried everything- throwing water, putting huge sticks between them, kicking them, Jess even broke a bamboo branch over Stanley’s back but nothing was separating them. The other four PH dogs were going nuts and it was total chaos. We tried lassoing ropes around them and pulling them apart which worked but only temporarily. They were right back at each other’s throats in seconds. It was crazy! Both dogs were growing tired and the fight got a lot less vicious and was more about pinning the other by the throat. It was still pretty scary. Jess was in the heat of it, I spent most of the time trying to keep the other four dogs out of the way. Finally, after about 15 minutes of solid fighting, Stanley got so tired he just let go and ran off. It was bonkers, everyone was so relieved but we essentially did nothing they just fought it out then got tied. Dogs are pretty stupid sometimes.
After a very exciting, adrenaline filled 20 minutes we went for a quick wander around town before meeting back to do our coffee tour. We decided to do the one in Spanish to practice. We walked ten minutes down the road into a huge beautiful coffee farm. We went past some pineapple plants (Jess was so excited, she has always wanted to see them growing!) and were met at the bottom of the hill by a man, lets call him Don Julio (because I can’t remember his name). He showed us around the farm and taught us all about the coffee process. We learnt about 60% of what he was telling us. We ate fresh bananas off the trees and tasted six different types of coffee. Two types being traditional and bourbon and then within those two categories there was varying strength. It was really interesting and the coffee was delicious.
Do You Like Piña Coladas? @ the Plantation House, Salento
Straight after our coffee tour we went back up to the PH to roast our own coffee beans with Tim a.k.a Don Eduardo (because his name is Tim Edwards…). We were joined by Aussie Lisa, some Deutsch girls and of course all the amazing dogs. Tim was so passionate about good coffee, the right beans and not having too many variations. We weighed, ground, and roasted up our own green beans to exactly how we wanted them and packaged them up and put our own label on them, it was really fun! The sad thing about coffee in Colombia is that the coffee the locals drink “tinto” (which is just a black filter coffee) and all the coffee that is available in most cafés is a really low grade and tastes awful. All the good stuff is exported so we really haven’t experienced good proper Colombian coffee until these farm tours.
Roasting Beans @ the Plantation House, Salento
Biscuit ❤️ @ the Plantation House, Salento
The next morning we walked into the main square and took a jeep to the Vocora valley where we wanted to do a long hike through to see the wax palms. We opted for the longer option as it was only five hours and looked beautiful. The jeeps were a really cool system. The jeeps are actually known as “Willys” and were brought to Colombia by the Americans carrying supplies just after the Second World War. The Americans left them there along with some very good drivers to really show them off and apparently the Colombians fell in love with them and ended up buying them. You can now see them everywhere in the coffee region. They do carry a lot and I know that from personal experience as Jess, myself and 14 others (including three blokes standing on the back step clinging on for dear life) bounded along From Salento main square to the start of the trials.
We started our long beautiful walk in reverse (as advised by Adam and Bec) through the muddy but beautiful jungle. We had to pay two small entrances as we were travelling over private land (I guess). We took a detour up to the “Hummingbird House” which was nice but no where near as great as the range of humming birds we had just seen in Río Blanco. It was a steep stint up hill before we reached the top of a big hill where we could see for miles. We had some lunch and carried on over the other side of the hill down a much less step but far longer decline. At that point we were very glad we did it this way around, a short and very steep walk was far better than a slow relentless gradual incline. We had reached the wax palms and they were amazing! According to the trusted and never at all incorrect Wikipedia, “Cocora” was the name of a Quimbayan princess, who was the daughter of the local chief Acaime, and means “star of water”. The valley is part of Los Nevados National Natural Park and the wax palm is apparently the National tree and symbol of Colombia, although we did not know that until we read a bit about it afterwards as it was not really obvious.
Wax Palms @ Valle de Cocora
We have learnt after just a few short weeks in Colombia that Colombians, much like all other Central and South American’s do not like walking. Hiking as an activity seems a bit ridiculous to them and so all the people that were renting horses to come up the big hill were locals, or at least domestic tourists. Fair enough, it was quite hot and steep.
After our amazing hike we hopped in a crowded jeep back to the main square and the town had gone off! It was the weekend of Colombia’s Declaration of Independence Day and the whole town was lined with stalls, music was playing in every direction and there were so many people! We walked through the market street and decided to walk up to the viewpoint which was hundreds of stairs. The locals were dying walking up to the top, some of them were quite old and were still giving it a good go. Colombians (assume because of their diet that is made up of fried foods and cheese) are a lot fatter than the stereotypes of Colombians that may spring to mind. The viewpoint was nice and we could see the whole town was alive with celebration.
Beans Beans, Good For Your Heart @ the Plantation House, Salento
We got back to the PH cooked some dinner, played with Queso the kitten and packed up for our early morning bus to Popayán the next day.
Salento you have been beautiful and we are really sad to be leaving the coffee region but we have our newly roasted beans and will never forget you. You have been “exselento”, that was Jess’ idea for the title which I rejected but wanted to slot it in somewhere, perfect ending right?!
Emerald Toucanet @ Valle de Cocora