Salento is enchanting. A world that runs parallel to ours, but has no desire or need to be bothered by the outside. Something has grabbed me by the heart and taken a piece I won’t soon forget. Reminding of other towns I’ve loved San Cristobal, Ushuaia, Antigua. There is an interesting juxtaposition here. Traditional farmers and artists alike stroll through the hilly hamlet. The style of the buildings are different here too. The ubiquitous central square is surrounded by colorful, almost European buildings. White washed walls with yellow, green, blue, wood trim. The bars in the center are raucous halls, seemed to me like roadhouses, places for cow hands, farmers, and intellectuals to drink, play pool and get rowdy. Other than that, at least the week we were there, Salento is quiet, slow. Moving at the pace of the clouds that drift in and out. The rooster is the early alarm clock and after dark a tranquil hush descends.
We stayed at La Serrana, a cow farm/hostel about 1.5 kilometers from the central plaza. Although it is “far” from “downtown”, I never got sick of that walk. Away from the plaza, down a few hills, over a quiet dirt road, usually under the stars. La Serrana is an oasis. Tucked away, cozy to the extreme. One of the expat, ecofriendly upstarts in the area. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I could see Salento being the next trendy place over run by eco-hipsters. For now it has the perfect balance of old and new. On a side note, I heard from one of the workers at La Serrana that Jon(the scarce New Yorker that owns the joint) is looking for a chef, so I plan to follow up on that and maybe hypocritically be part of that eco hipster wave.
Another side note….the woman of this area(Salento-Armenia) are beautiful. On the sidewalk, in the cafes, working the register at the grocery store. Everywhere I turn, natural beauty. It’s over whelming. Just saying.
Our first day we had lunch at Lucys(no need to write much more than best comida corriente I’ve had, it’s already well regarded by the lonely planet crowd) and walked the center a little. Salento is the heart of Colombia’s Eje Cafeteria(coffee axle), most houses on the outskirts of town had modest coffee farms for personal use and a little extra cash. So of course we took a coffee plantation tour. Tim is a British expat running the first and most popular hostel in town(the Plantation House) as well as a functioning coffee finca. He is an entertaining and informative guide, whose rudy cheeks and liberal use of foul language with strangers leads me to believe this is a man who enjoys life. And he doesn’t have a bad one. Smart as hell, innovative, away from the mundane British norm, living his dream in Colombia. An inspiration.
Next morning we rose at the ass crack of dawn again and set out for the Valle de Cocora trek. The hike was nice, a 20 kilometer monster through Palmas de Cera(Colombia’s towering national tree), spooky cloud forests, and waterfalls galore. During lunch, don’t known if it was altitude or exhaustion, but had a zen moment by the river(***random cheesy philosophical journal entry below…), and it was only heightened as the clouds literally swooped and danced all around us. My personal favorite part though was the 4×4 Jeep ride to and from the park. The drivers pack them chock full before leaving so if you are lucky/late enough you end up with the best “seat” in the house, standing on the back ledge as I did. Wish I could always commute that way, windy in your face, oncoming traffic inches away, hanging on for dear life around hairpin turns. Definitely don’t get that experience in Manhattan.
Today we had time to kill while we waited for a night bus from Armenia(closest big town to Salento) to Pitalito(San Agustin), which may or may not exist…stay tuned. Never tired of talking about, looking at, or drinking coffee, we toured another finca. Although Tim’s was more informative(mostly because it was in English), I preferred this second one at Finca Don Elias. Don Elias’ operation is also organic, with small yields, but feels more authentic. A family of 5 runs the day to day needs of the plantation where they grow arabic and colombiana strains of coffee plants(among plantains, bananas, pineapples, etc). Our guide, Jaime, walked us through the farm explaining the process in Spanish, and literally took us from picking the coffee cherries, to removing the hulls, to the original drying/roasting process and finally tasting a cup of coffee that was on a tree 8-10 days prior. As I bonus(if you can call a lot more work than I’m used to for a caffeine fix a bonus), I got to grind by hand my pound of coffee with a traditional grinder. After about 15 minutes & two sore arms, I’ll take my electric grinder for the best part of waking up.
Before saying goodbye to Salento I had to stop by my arepa lady. To me, best food in Salento and best arepa I’ve had. It’s plain, easy and as usual with these things delicious. If you’re ever in Salento, walk through the plaza away from the church, make a right at the corner, down the hill, make your first left and down the block(if you’re lucky) she’ll still be there. 6 inch arepas, charred over wood flame. Toasty, crispy/squishy, simple, plain, fantastic. Too good themselves to bother with any condiments. Think maize naan. I bought two for right there and then and 2 for the impending bus trip. I wish I had bought 10 more.
Alas we said adios to Salento and are in Armenia hoping the Internet doesn’t lie and indeed there is an overnight bus that will take is to Pitalito, just outside of our last stop together, the archeological site of San Agustin. (***the bus exists and we made it safe and sound)
Cheesy Zen moment at Estrella de Agua, Valle de Cocora
Nature is random, the epitome of random. No thought, just doing. The designs of these rocks are carved by thousands of years of water flowing on an arbitrary course. The pleasing aesthetics of the tree line created by accidental droppings of seeds over decades. Beauty by chance. Nothing a person could ever reproduce.