Sneaking past Guard Cows into the depths of the Cloud Forrest
Vern: On our first full day in Salento, we prepared and ate our granola in the outdoor kitchen, then donned some rubber Wellington boots and hiked into town.
A row of colourfully painted vintage jeeps were lined up on one side of the town square and in the centre of the square stood a life-size bronze statue of South America's great liberator, Simon Bolivar. Andrea roughy translated the plaque beneath the statue to read "Simon Bolivar marched into Salento on 12 May 18-something-or-other. And left the next day." Given that we went on to spend four days there, I expect that if you follow in our footsteps you'll find a larger than life statue of the Haumant Hughes expeditioneers. In gold.
I presume that El Liberator over-threw the Spanish in less than 24 hours before moving on. If he was only on a casual trip, then it seems he wasn't quite as enamoured with Salento as we were.
We bundled into a turquoise Jeep Wrangler and rattled 11 kilometres east of town to the starting point of the trail into Valle de Cocora. The trail is supposed to comprise two sections: a walk along the river and then up into the cloud forest. However, as we began the trail, a handful of hikers who had set off early that morning informed us that the previous night's rain had washed a bridge away making it impossible to do a loop. So we turned around and in start-stop rain we started the trail in reverse; ascending into the mountains. Almost immediately the beauty of the landscapes struck us dumb. 60 meter (180 feet) high wax palms dot the rolling hills and appear and disappear in the mist. We walked a lonely path into the hillside lined with palms and the occasional cow, and snapped too many photos. An hour in, a horse-mounted park ranger (or guerilla perhaps, who's to know what was under that poncho) assured us that we were on a bona fide trail (despite being the only hikers about) and that the path was open. Two minutes after his reassuring words, the path came to an abrupt end. A huge tree had fallen along with other debris and completely blocked the trail. Some determined scrambling would have taken us over the blockage but we had the shots we wanted and the weather showed no signs of improving so we accepted this as the end of our trail. We returned to the jeep drop-off point and were driven back to Salento. We watched a Champions League semi-final in a Carom Billiards hall (a cue-sport played with two white balls and a black ball on a table without pockets). The hall must have had 30 tables, in a town with twice as many people. Kind of a mainstream pastime.
After another night on the farm and a long lazy morning in a hammock drinking coffee we packed up our bags, left the Penthouse (they had another booking) and moved into the town centre to homely new hostel we'd found: The previous afternoon we'd wondered into the hostel to enquire about prices. The front desk was empty and when we asked about where reception was, a guest pointed to a door which led off the kitchen. Andrea knocked, a voice ushered her in and so she poked her head round the door. "Is this reception?" she asked the two woman lying in bed in their night shirts. And this is how we came to move in with a friendly incense-burning lesbian extrovert who didn't speak a lick of English. We spent two more sleepy days in the sleepy town - drinking strong coffee and a few more beers with Simon and Diane; eating coffee-flavoured nougat, warm cornbread and cheese, a local version of rice pudding and cheap fruit; and watching foreign language films. The last activity was sort of obligatory because our host caught me looking at her pile of DVDs and for forty minutes gave us a précis of each and every film in Spanish. Every one was 'bueno' or 'linda' so it would have been rude not to watch a few.
The day before we left Salento, we climbed the steps up the mountain behind town and then descended a rough path into a ravine which led through a very strange clearing: Ice Age and Spiderman kites were tied into the trees and tiki-torches fashioned out of half coke bottles on sticks were stuck in the ground forming a circle. It was half kiddie hideout, half sacrificial alter and altogether very odd. The path continued on down to the Quindio River and we walked along the raging water and then back into town.
On the sixth of May we reluctantly boarded a nine hour bus to Bogota and with very fond memories we rolled out of lovely Salento.