Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Salento - The coffee zone, Colombia

My guide book, The Lonely Planet (my bible), describes Salento as a “must see” destination. As it's a bugger to get there I hoped it was going to be worth it.

An early start from the Casa Bellavista hostel, I had a one hour cab ride to the bus station in Bogota, 8 hours on the bus to Armenia and then a 1 hour bus to Salento, and I was finally here. Tired, slightly grumpy and ready for a good nights sleep at the Plantation House, the “only” place to be in Salento, according to my bible.

On arrival, finding a receptionist who didn't speak a word of English, my first hostel WITHOUT wi-fi, and also my very first hostel where breakfast is not included, I was ready to rip up my Lonely Planet and use it as toilet paper. A commodity I sorely needed as toilets in South America do not supply it. Thankfully, I refrained, and after a good night sleep, and one of my very own jam sandwiches for breakfast, the world felt a much better place.

Salento is in the coffee zone, (Zona Cafetera) in the hills of Colombia. There is only one road in and out. And where I was staying, The Plantation House, is a working coffee farm, with fresh Colombian coffee on the go all day in the kitchen. My kind of place. The town is picture postcard material. And you should see the bars, replete with Colombian men in their ponchos and big cowboy hats sat drinking beer. And not for the tourists. This is really how they live. A slice of real Colombia. Life slowed down by quite a few notches.

My first morning I took one of the jeeps from the Plaza in Salento to Cocora, a lush, palm tree filled valley some 30 minutes from Salento. There are a number of treks in Cocora, the longest being approx 7 hours, but I decided on a much shorter one, having a 3 hour stroll in the valley. And it was paradise. For much of the time the only people I passed were tourists on horseback, most of the time spent in solitude. Obviously something other people thought too. As I took a breather on a rock, soaking up the sun, I got the most pleasant surprise. Walking around the corner came a girl who was completely topless. I tried to divert my eyes, I did, but had to look again to make sure I wasn't dreaming. No. She definitely has no top on and was completely naked to the waist. It took her a few moments to realize that I was there and the look on her face was priceless! I certainly didn't expect that kind of scenery when I set out this morning.

Arriving back in town, I picked up a couple of beers and sat on the verandah of the Plantation House reading my book. The building is over 100 years old and sitting on the wooden deck, with views out over the coffee farm, would have been so relaxing. IF it wasn't for the annoying young fools behind me spending the last 2 hours talking about philosophy and the reason for being. You are young, away from home for the first time, just bloody enjoy yourself!

Saturday evening in Salento. Wow! What a spectacle. Even for me and I have spent many a night in Halifax. It seems that on weekends, locals from the neighbouring towns come to Salento to let their hair down and put on their dancing shoes. The women, and girls, spray paint on their tightest jeans and seem to get as much breast on show as physically possible. Little beer tents are erected around the main square, music is blasted out, and the Colombians have a ball. And when a song comes on that everybody seems to know, we have mass karaoke. Has to be seen to be believed.

And dinner was quite an experience. I sat down in a local joint and was asked if I wanted the menu. Si, senor, I replied. Trucha o Churrican? The menu consisted of only two items. Well, I knew trucha was trout, so I plumped for the other one, not knowing what it was. Macaroni senor? Hmm, this could be interesting. Si, I replied. Well, what a dish. Takes some describing but it was delicious. Grilled sausages, on a bed of macaroni, with rice, tomotoes, fried potato cake and a grilled banana. I kid you not. You would never put these together but it was tasty and filling. All for $6000 Colombian pesos, which was £2. Bargain!

As the music got louder, and the dancing raunchier, I took the sensible option. Picked up a couple of beers and joi...........had a slow walk home.

Buenos noches amigos.

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