Salento is in the heart of Colombia's coffee region. A small village that sits above the Valle de Còcora. The fertile rolling hills are filled with lush countryside and Colombia's national plant, wax palm, which grows up to 60m high.
After travelling through Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador for the last 3 months we have become accustomed to the similar snow capped highlands, the indigenous Quechua people and the inca empire history. The 3 countries have a similar continuity of culture, scenery and people. Colombia is different. The scenery is a welcoming change, the countryside is prettier and more inviting, full of colour and life. We have also noticed the change in people, more Latino faces with olive skin and long dark hair and Afro-Caribbean's with curvaceous bodies and big round bottoms!
After a friend gave us the recommendation we checked into La Serrana hostel. 1.5km out of town, down a dirt track road we arrived at the tranquil retreat. The hostel is a Colombian style hacienda with its own 20 hectare farm and 360 degree views of the stunning mountains and valleys. Possibly one of the nicest hostels we have stayed in, we enjoyed yoga classes in the morning, countryside walks in the afternoon and sitting around the campfire in the evening.
We arrived on a Friday evening and a lot of the hostel were heading into town to watch the friendly football match of Colombia v Brazil. Anyone would have thought it was the World Cup final with the amount of Colombians, the buzzing atmosphere and lively football chants. The whole main square was full of people wearing yellow Colombian T-shirts. It seems that Colombia really dislike Brazil after they were kicked out of the World Cup by them. After the game and sampling the countries national liquor of aniseed flavoured Aguardiente, a crowd of us headed to another bar to play a traditional Colombian game, predominantly played in the countryside, called Tejo. This game definitely would not be legal in Europe or America! The aim of the game is to throw a heavy led disc (the Tejo) and hit the target which is a metal circle lined with small triangular envelopes of gun powder in the middle of a clay pit. You get the most points if you make the gunpowder explode. If you get an explosion you get 3 points but if no one gets an explosion the nearest tejo to the circle gets 1 point. During the game the bar man keeps your glasses amply full of beer whilst we all slowly lose our inhibitions towards the craziness of the game and get competitive and excited by each loud explosion, similar to the noise created by a revolver upon firing.
Our first full day we headed out on a 5 hour hike through Valle de Còcora. We started the walk through farmland that lead us to a thick and humid cloud forest complete with Indiana Jones style wooden bridges over the fast flowing river. The hike got steeper and steeper as we climbed through the forest and reached amazing views over looking the valley. We stopped here for a picnic lunch surrounded by colourful orchids and tiny hummingbirds. Nick managed to catch some of the incredible birds flapping their wings on camera. After lunch we descended through the valley passing clusters of sky scraper wax palms. We headed back into town in one of the many 4WD "Willie" jeeps that taxi the gringos around the area.
After 5 long months of eating no Indian food we finally found a restaurant that evening that served a decent curry! The owner had lived in London for 14 years and learnt how to make proper curries from his fellow Indian and Pakistani colleagues. I was in food heaven and got a little bit hysterical over this spicy goodness.
The second day we walked 2 hours through more verdant countryside to reach the organic coffee reserve, Sacha Mama. Pedro runs the tour and lives self-sufficiently with his family in a basic but quaint wooden house that's tucked away from civilisation. We explored through the restored jungle, now his back garden, where the coffee beans grow amongst several other plants, vegetables and fruits. His wife cooked us a hearty and healthy lunch using all their home-grown ingredients and in the afternoon we went to his coffee production cabin. We learnt about the entire process from peeling the beans and letting them dry out for 2 or 3 days to roasting and grinding. Its a lengthy process and makes you appreciate the time and manual effort that goes into growing, harvesting and producing coffee. As the beans were roasted to the precise dark chocolate brown colour the pungent aromas started to fill the cabin. It was some of the best coffee I've ever tasted, silky smooth with an awakening kick.
Salento has definitely been one of my favourite places we have visited. It's a gorgeous and charming village surrounded by amazing scenery. Colombia just seems to be getting better and better and we haven't reached the coast yet! Next stop is Medellin, once known as the most dangerous city in the world.