Leaving my beloved house Bacoa for a few days to get a caffeine fix in the spectacular much talked about coffee region. I was heading to the mountainous department Quindío, the second smallest region in Colombia.
As ever with not much of a plan I got dropped off in Peñol and jumped on a mini bus to Medellin, fast comfy and only 10,000Cop as it rained and rained I enjoyed watching all the different characters we picked up along the way. There are no bus stops, smile put your hand out and jump on. One guy hopped on with two car wheels and another farmer with his hedge trimmer…People are beautiful. The bus dropped me off at the North bus terminal, I was so desperate for a pee I ran to the bathroom only to run back out because I’d entered the mans…oops! At least in all the embarrassment I didn’t pay the 500 pesos to pee.
From there I hopped on another bus to the South Terminal (super easy, it’s the 313 and costs 3000). It took a little longer than I thought to get to the other side of Medellin.
I went to the desk that says Flota Occidental and bought a direct ticket to Salento for 45,000Cop. It’s bargain really. You can get cheaper if you go via Armenia or with another company Flora Arauca, however it was the last direct bus and I’m a princess. Note the last direct bus leaves at 1pm, I got lucky and for some reason they had another leaving at 2pm.
The bus was a small luxury minibus with a choice of over 50movies! Between that and napping the 7hours passed very quickly. There were two stops, one for food and toilet break and another where the driver had to do a routine obligatory breathalyser test. Interesting!
I arrived around 10pm so everything was dark and I was rather disorientated. I asked if there were taxis but the response was a wide grin “no taxis this place is too small”. In the dark slightly nervous and with a slight sprint in my step I asked around for directions and found El Viajero hostel. A renovation of one of the first houses built in Salento, easy to get to and super friendly staff. It’s off season so a 6 bed dorm all to myself extra blankets and straight to bed.
An early rise and had the loooongest hot shower (for now it’s only cold showers in Bacoa) but had forgotten to ask for a towel beforehand so admittedly had to do a bit of a dance to get dry. I spent the morning with a spectacular view of the mountains having breakfast, reading in the hammocks and chatting to other guests. I then went for a stroll around the town to see what the fuss was about. It really is a vibrant colourful colonial town embedded in the mountains. Like Peñol there are far more locals and you can get more of a sense of day to day life here. Yes there are plenty tourists too but because it’s low season and midweek it was reasonably quiet. One very pleasant difference to other gringo hotspots is that people didnt constantly try to sell me things.
I walked around for ages enjoying the atmosphere until my stomach rumbled asking for lunch. There are many places to eat, so I decided to settle on the corner of the plaza Punto y Coma. Probably not the cheapest in town but it was buzzing and ideal people watching spot. I tucked in to a must try Trout and my loyal Club Colombia beer. It was absolutely delicious!
After that I headed towards Finca Ocasa for a coffee tour. I’d been told it’s an hours walk (or a jeep for 3000Cop but I was feeling up to it). I set off happily crossing a little bridge and out of the town. 5km later I was still strolling taking in the incredible scenery but realised I was getting pushed for time so I flagged down the only motorbike that ever passed and asked politely if he was going in the direction. I obviously knew he was it’s a one way road! I hopped on the bike (sorry parents) and Juan Diego dropped me of nearby. I could already smell coffee and could see the plantation. The tour is every hour the group before and after me were quite big however by complete chance I got myself a private tour. Just little Emma and two tour guides! I’m fairly new to drinking coffee, I loved the tour and learned a lot. I was going to write down all the facts but I figured you should come and experience it for yourselves. Ocasa is an average sized coffee plantation producing…each year. 50% of the best coffee beans are sold directly to the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (or Fedecafé). A non-profit business organisation that looks after the workers rights and helps with research and development. The other 50% they keep for themselves and create their own to sell.
One fun fact I particularly liked is where the Juan Valdez coffee chain came from. It’s like a good quality Starbucks. It was a fictional character developed by the Fedecafé, what they don’t export is used in these cafes (high quality). The name originated because Juan is a typical name and Valdez was the name of the first president of the at the time. The characteristic donkey in the picture is called Conchita but I’m not sure why.
After finishing up the tour drinking my own freshly ground coffee (so yummy), I bought a bag and jumped in a jeep to head back into town.
Back at the hostel I bumped into Klare and Linford (the only two souls in the hostel) we sat and had a drink and then Linford and I went into town to town square to celebrate his birthday!
Around the square various gazebos had been put up so we headed to the one with the flashing disco lights! We had a fun evening dancing and becoming best friends with the old guys at the bar called Donde Mi Apa. Behind the bar there are over 20000 vinyls, and he knows all of them. The town is filled with locals and elder people that come and ask for their favourite records. However we just hopped behind the bar and picked something on YouTube!
The following day I strolled around town, climbed up the colourful steps to the lookout point where there are swing sets. I bought myself some alfajores at the top (because yet again I got absorbed in conversation with a street vendor) and explored a little more.
I wondered around the food trucks in downtown and looked at arts and crafts in Aldeo de Los Artesanos.
After a rest in Cafe Jesus Martin for coffee and carrot cake (very tasty) I met up with Linford and Klare again and 3new Scouser friends for dinner. With full bellys we went to play Tejo! Ever since I first visited Colombia back in June I’d been dying to play this game.
Ideally we wanted to go play at Los Amigos because it’s where the locals play but it was shut and we went to BetaTown.
Tejo is not a just game…it’s a national sport! In a nutshell it’s throwing metal hockey puts at gun powder to try and make it explode whilst drinking beer!
It’s a team sport and the object of the game is for members of two teams throw metal discs called tejos 20metres across the room to a clay “cancha,” or field, with a metal ring in the center that serves as a target. On the target are little “mechas,” paper triangles filled with explosives that explode.
The first time somebody hit the target we got the biggest freight and left our ears ringing. You can score points by getting their tejos in the center of the ring, for igniting the mechas or for having the Tejo that landed closest to the ring.
We played girls against boys with the later taking the victory. I must confess I was absolutely hopeless and failed to make any explosions, so I made everybody wait for me after the game until I finally hit the target! I was victorious!
With our ears ringing the 6 of us headed back to the same little bar as the night before but this time it was full of people. All locals dancing in their cowboy hats salsa/champeta. We watched in awe of how well they moved! There was even a wedding party, the bride danced on the tables in her wedding dress and the groom stumbled around being twirled by other wedding guests. (I’m so sad I didn’t take photos!). We had a fabulous night with the best people watching and slightly too much Aguardiente.
A tip from the locals: in some places if you buy a bottle of Aguardiente you then get several beers free!
Valle de Cocora
With the sun finally shining Shalina, Dan, Glynn and I set off to Valle de Cocora. We jumped on a jeep from the main square, Dan and I grabbed on tightly and stood hanging on the back. It only takes around 20 minutes to get to where they drop you off and here are lots of people. The big question now was what kind of hike we wanted to do, a quick one straight to the famous palm trees or a 5hour round trip through the valleys. We’d heard so many stories of people getting lost. In fact I haven’t heard of anybody hat didn’t get lost! We opted to take an easy route straight to the palm trees (however even then we did walk too far and have to turn back). The wax palm trees are the national trees of Colombia and are protected in the park. The trees are enormous, hundreds of metres high, alien and slightly solemn looking.
We headed back to Salento, narrowly missing a torrential downpour of rain and went straight for some food. We went to a place called Brunch which I’d highly recommend. Big portions and very tasty…particularly the burgers! After this I said my goodbyes to my friends and set off on another little coffee adventure..