I thought I’d use this post as a recap of what we’ve been up to since we left Medellin about a week and a half ago and onto our next stop in Colombia, Salento. The internet access was not working well the entire time we were there making it impossible to publish a blog post!
Getting to Salento from Medellin was an interesting trip. There is apparently is a direct bus (which we were unaware of at the time) and ended up going to the Terminal Sur and taking a bus run by Flota Occidental. We told the bus driver that we were going to Salento via Armenia and he told us that there was a stop closer than Armenia that we could get off at and then wave down a bus to Salento. We were a little apprehensive but had read about this other route in a few other blogs so we just decided to go with the flow.
The bus ride was really rough for me. Zigzagging down through the mountains was beginning to give me some hardcore motion sickness despite taking Dramamine. We stopped for a little break halfway which really seemed to help. After letting off a bunch of passengers in a town called Pereira, we continued on towards Armenia. About 20 minutes later, the bus driver tells us that our stop is across the street (we are the only gringos on the bus and the only ones going to Salento apparently). I wish I would have taken a picture because the stop is basically just a little hut on the side of the road that leads to Salento. So we get off the bus with our giant packs and forge our way across the highway. In the rain, we wait at this make shift bus stop for 30 minutes only seeing one completely packed bus go by that wouldn’t stop for us. I personally was starting to feel somewhat desperate as I was starving and had to pee. Needless to say I was not feeling optimistic about this bus situation.
As I’m beginning to lose hope, a black car with tinted windows rolls up and in Spanish a man shouts “Do you want a ride?” Dan and I look at each other not really knowing if we should hitchhike or not after all of those lessons as a kid to never take rides from strangers. But he seemed nice enough and we figured what the hell. We jumped in his car and found that he was the nicest man and owns one of the local hostels in Salento called La Floresta. Before I move on, I’d like to give a shout out to Ernesto as he restored my faith in humanity! These situations can end up one of two ways and fortunately for us, our first hitchhiking experience was a positive one. He dropped us off at the Plaza in the center of town and from there we caught a “Willy” (which is a Jeep from the 1950’s and the only taxi service in Salento) to our hostel La Serrana.
La Serrana is about a 20ish minute walk from town along a dirt road which provides some pretty breathtaking views of the landscape and the mountains. Upon arrival, I couldn’t believe that we were only paying $25 a night for a private room and shared bathroom here. During the day La Serrana feels like a mystical, serene place. There are hummingbirds flying around, you can see horses and cows grazing in the distance, flowers everywhere, and you cannot beat the view.
The hostel is quite popular and hosts a lot of backpackers which is positive because it is very easy to meet some nice people to hang out with but on the other hand, there have been a few nights where partying and drinking has gone into the late hours of the night making it difficult to sleep. Which is kind of disappointing in such a beautiful, otherwise quiet place. As I mentioned the Wifi didn’t work very well and also the water was turned off at multiple times for hours throughout our stay – making going to the bathroom, getting drinking water, and showering a chore and pretty disgusting. Other than that, the staff is helpful with planning excursions, laundry, extending your stay and anything else that might come up. La Serrana also provides dinner Monday-Friday that is amazing and affordable – even better they have a vegetarian option!
Most people we’ve met haven’t hung around in Salento as long as we did but we found it pretty easy to keep busy in a small town. There is actually quite a lot to do and the vibe here is great. Waking up to a view of the mountains every single day isn’t anything to complain about and I really enjoyed the nature and small town charm. So here’s what we did while we were there…
Walking around Salento
We basically spent the first day experiencing the town. There is a main plaza that splits off into a few roads so it is fun to just kind of wander around and see what you can find – including Calle 6 which is a busy, touristy street with a ton of shops to buy souvenirs, coffee shops, small pubs, restaurants, etc. This street leads up to the Mirador which is a giant hill that overlooks the city. I’d recommend it for a good sweat up the 200 some stairs and for a quick view. On the same street, there is a great, local pub called Bar Danubio that is consistently full of older Colombian men playing pool and drinking. We felt somewhat out of place at first but it was actually quite entertaining to enjoy a couple of beers and people watch.
Visiting Coffee Fincas
Salento is located in Quindio, the department very well known for its organic coffee and is better known in Colombia as the Zona Cafetera (Coffee Zone). This is one of the big reasons people come from near and far – to experience the coffee. Being a huge coffee lover, I knew we’d have to make this place a stop on our trip.
The dirt road from town that leads to La Serrana continues on and taking it for another hour or so leads to two different Artesanal Coffee Fincas – El Ocaso and Don Elias. We only had time to check out El Ocaso but it was well worth the one hour long walk. The views were gorgeous and the road was really quiet except for the occasional stray dog that would follow us for awhile.
During the tour we learned how the El Ocaso Finca sustainably and responsibly creates their delicious coffee from planting the seed, to picking the beans, to roasting them and creating the coffee. The entire tour was in Spanish so there was definitely some information lost in translation but we still really enjoyed it. The cool part was we got to participate in every part of the process as well. We strapped on baskets and were asked dive deep into the coffee plants to pick ripe coffee beans. I think Dan and I found our new professional calling as coffee pickers but most importantly, coffee drinkers.
Seeing the Tallest Palm Trees in the World
This is a place I have been itching to see for the past two years. When we decided we’d be starting our South American adventure in Colombia this was one of those places that I just knew I would visit and would love. I can’t explain why exactly besides the fact that I thought the pictures just looked so unreal and how often in life do you get to experience the tallest palm trees in the world?
Getting to the Valle de Corcora was pretty simple – it includes taking a Willy with at least 7 other people to the starting point of the hike in Corcora. No one told us exactly how muddy or even how uphill this trek was going to be so it was somewhat of a surprise since we weren’t currently in the best hiking shape. I have to say, jumping onto rocks, trying to dodge the mud, and often falling into it, was actually fun and made it interesting. We took our time and enjoyed the scenery and the entire 5 hour hike is beautiful – it starts on a muddy path through which you can see some of the palms and then into a forest atmosphere with rivers and waterfalls and then up a steep hill with incredible views and then down into the valley.
Once we reached the valley, I was just in awe. It was a moment I’ve been waiting for and working for. It reminded me of the fact that I’m in Colombia, living my dream, and all of our hard work was worth it. I had to restrain myself from hugging each individual tree even though I did sneak one hug in. After walking around and taking a bunch of pictures, Dan and I just sat for about an hour basking in the beauty of the Valle de Corcora and had a nasty lunch of arepa and tuna (but I didn’t even care).
I heard about Tejo by reading my trusty Lonely Planet and thought it sounded like a lot of fun reminding me of the MidWestern game Cornhole or Bags. Los Amigos, place we picked to play Tejo (there are only 2 in Salento) was so cool – very rustic and very traditional. Since we went in the middle of the day there was no one else there! The owner told us that all of the foreigners come during the week nights and the locals play on the weekends. I think this was definitely to our advantage because we sucked.
Basically the game consists of a cancha (field, stall, lane) with a clay pit at the end. There is an iron circle in which you place little paper triangles full of gunpowder. The name of the game is to a) drink a lot of beer and b) try to hit the triangles with your “tejo” to create a small explosion. It was SO much fun and ended up staying for almost 3 hours.
Of course there is always eating when it comes to travel and we definitely found some gems in Salento. Trucha (trout) is huge here (which I’m not sure why since Salento isn’t on any water) and since it happens to be the only vegetarian option a lot of the time, I have eaten it twice. It is usually pretty tasty fried or grilled with garlic, mushrooms, or however you want it really with the head, tail and all the bones. In Salento, it famously comes with a huge, fried patacon.
We frequented (and by frequented I embarrassingly admit we went there 3 times) a place called Brunch owned by an American from Portland, Oregon that had a lot of the staples from home and breakfast all day. The interior is backpacker friendly as they let people write messages on the walls to fellow travelers.
Closing Thoughts on Salento
Each location and experience has brought something new and different. I continue to learn more about myself, what my limits are and what actually makes me happy. One thing I really learned during my time in Salento is to practice patience and LET THINGS GO. I am a notoriously impatient person and can get very irritable when things are not going as planned. I become unhappy and depending on the situation, it can effect my whole day and the people around me.
As I mentioned, the internet connection was slim to none making it virtually impossible to keep in touch with my important people back home, blog, book the details for our upcoming adventures, check bank balances, etc. The water also being turned off for hours on end was really bothering me and I was becoming very uncomfortable and impatient with the whole situation.
As I was looking through some pictures on my phone, I found this photo that I took at the top of the Mirador on our first day in Salento:
“Salento is a town suspended in time, live it!”
This struck me.
Salento is a slower, simpler place almost from a different time. Hence the fact that we were able to safely hitchhike and people actually say hello to you on the street and help you if you are lost. Sometimes the water may not work and it is actually pretty amazing that the internet even worked at all with how remote our hostel was. Once I was able to accept my situation that I wasn’t going to get a blog post up or talk to my friends and family until Bogota, a weight fell off of my shoulders. I was also able to not worry about the water situation and just make do with what we had – if I had to go to the bathroom with an already full toilet than so be it. Me getting all impatient about things I can’t change does no good to my happiness and a step further, my sanity.
I hope I can continue to live each day and experience as though it is suspended in time.