Salento (and a stop in Cali)

I thought I would start by talking about the bus rides in Colombia since we’ve had to take many of them here. The bus rides in Colombia are quite an experience. The roads are windy and the drivers have no problem passing people at any point and at any speed. I try to fall asleep on the bus rides as much as possible as to avoid the craziness that is considered Colombian driving. Taking buses has probably been the scariest part of Colombia even more so than the crime. Not only is the bus driving crazy, but the locals use the buses to get a few sales for the day. They hop on, usually while in traffic, to sell various food and products then get off and hop on a bus going the other direction to get back to where they started. It is quite  hysterical but seeing as how they do make a few sale, I guess their system works.

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We caught a bus at 6:25 am to a little place called La Felicia, then transferred to another bus to Armenia, where we would catch yet another bus to Salento. It was a long day of bus traveling, something we have gotten used to here in Colombia. We checked in to our hostel La Serrena, which was surrounded by incredible views of the Cocora Mountains and valleys. Farima and I took a stroll through the town and signed up for dinner at the hostel. They served burgers, but it was actually a quite nice set up. All the tables were set like a big family dinner, something I have come to miss while away from home. We sat around a bonfire after dinner, with fellow hostel goers and admired the stars while listening to someone play the guitar. It was a perfect peaceful night.

The next morning, we woke up to go on a trek in Valle de Cocora with a few people from the same hostel (Matt, Erik, Brandon, and Garreth). The Valle de Cocora is full of wax palms, Colombia’s national plant, palm trees that are as high as 60m. It was a 5 hour hike through the picturesque forest, crossing make shift bridges along the way, and partly alongside a gorgeous river. One part was fairly steep uphill and I was struggling a bit (I better get used to this altitude!). After our hike, we went into town for a well-deserved lunch and coffee.

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We took a coffee tour the next day as Salento is the heart of the coffee country. Don Elias was a family-owned coffee plantation and although small, the income from the production of coffee beans is enough to support the family. The tour was given to us by the 21 year old grandson of the owner of the plantation. Coffee beans look very similar to berries. They also grow plantains, pineapple, and lulo, although not for production, but to shade the coffee beans and help retain water in the ground. After the collection of the beans, they are taken out of the shell and let to ferment for the night. The beans are harvested twice a year for 3 months each time. They are then cleaned with water, all the coffee beans that float are considered the bad beans and sold to coffee chains around the world including Starbucks. So unfortunately, while we pay big bucks for Starbucks thinking it is good coffee, in actuality we are getting the bad end of the stick. Coffee from Colombia is exported all over the world, except for Italy — because we all know how the Italians think their coffee is of course, superior to that of the rest of the world. After the coffee beans are cleaned, they are set in the sun to dry and are then roasted, which gives them their dark brown color. Another interesting fact we learned was that the top consumer of coffee is Finland, with US falling as the 6th in the world. Colombia also happens to be the 5th top producer of coffee. After the tour was over, we were given a cup of coffee made from the same beans that were picked at the plantation. I will admit… it was quite delicious.

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On the go again.. we boarded another bus, this time around 4 hours to Cali, the self-proclaimed salsa capital of the world. A big group of us from the hostel headed out for a night of salsa, or at least in my case trying to salsa!

The food in Colombia is nothing to write home about. It’s quite bland and everything is fried!  It is mostly rice and beans, chicken, steak, or pork, and some type of bread (usually an arepa, which has no real flavor, it just taste like dough). Empanadas and panaderias (bakeries that mostly serve cheese breads) are on every street corner in Colombia, which make it easy for a quick snack but not always satisfying on the taste buds.

Up next…Ecuador!

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