WELCOME TO SALENTO
Salento is well-known coffee region in Colombia. Being tea drinkers, the biggest draw for us wasn’t the coffee, it was a game called Tejo. I first heard about it from my best friend who went to Colombia and thought “que!?!? This can’t be real!” Turns out it is. Okay, I won’t leave you hanging any longer. The heading probably gave you some idea – gunpowder. And whoa, before you start thinking that Daniel and I joined a Colombian drug cartel and got ourselves messed up in some nasty business, let me clear things up. The real basic of Tejo is this:
- Put some gunpowder in a piece of paper and fold a little triangle. Make a few of these.
- Place dangerous gunpowder filled pieces on a small metal ring target in the middle of a 1×1 metre clay filled pit set at a forty-five-degree angle.
- Throw a metal puck (approx 1kg) from a few metres away aiming to hit the firecrackers.
There is one place to play Tejo in Salento – Los Amigos. You play for free if you buy beers. Not sure if gunpowder and alcohol is the best combo but these guys at the front of the bar seemed fine.
Sounds easy enough, right? It isn’t. We played with our friends, Stef and Joe (over at Hiato) and between the 4 of us, only 2 managed to actually hit the target (yep, it was the boys). Here’s a 2-second clip of Joe nailing it.
VALLE DE COCORA (THE COCORA VALLEY)
Now, what Salento is actually famous for is the Cocora Valley – a natural cloud forest that is home to the tallest palm trees in the world. We decide to do the full loop hike of the Valley – an estimated 5-6 hours that will take us through diverse landscapes with plenty of photo ops. Stef and Joe come over to our hostel and we madly scramble looking for gumboots for 30 minutes. We know that this hike is going to be muddy and wet – not the best combo for regular sneakers.
We catch a jeep to the start of the valley. The air is cool and crisp, and I enjoy a moment of breathing before we start our hike. We traverse through muddy paths, waterfalls, rivers and hanging bridges (thank God my fear of heights and bridges is mostly gone). We all agree that the gumboots are life savers, especially when we see the other hikers slipping and sliding through the river. After a couple of hours, we arrive at a hummingbird house. The house is set up with feeding stations for…you guessed it, humming birds. I’ve never seen hummingbirds up close so this is a real treat for me.
We continue on until we are eventually among giants. Towering at over 60 m (200 ft) high, this gigantic wax palm tree is the national tree of Colombia. We watch the clouds roll over the sky and very quickly, we can’t see a thing. I guess this is why they call it a cloud forest!
HORSERIDING TO WATERFALLS IN SANTA RITA
With the gorgeous landscapes of the Cocora Valley exceeding our expectations, we decide to go horse-riding to the waterfalls in Santa Rita the next day (it was that or hike another few hours). We ride for about 2 hours through idyllic green fields that Stef tells me reminds her of Wales. We make plans for Stef and Joe to come to Perth and for us to travel to the UK. One of the things I love most about travelling is meeting people you would have never met – and these guys are sure to be some of our best mates for life. We arrive at the waterfalls and despite the water being freeeeeeezing, we grit our teeth and just jump in. I mean, we paid $20AUD for the 3.5 horse ride so we had better get our money’s worth!
CESAR & LILIANA
On our first night in Salento, we go to a bar to listen to live music. The bar is small, housing only 8 or so tables. The artists playing are extremely talented and we are loving the music so want to stay. There are no free tables and a couple invites us to share a table with them. We eventually get to chatting and between our broken Spanish and their patience, they invite us to have lunch with their family the next day.
Cesar and Liliana pick us up from Salento (they live in a nearby town, Armenia) and take us to a famous restaurant to try a traditional dish, bandeja de paisa. It is basically just a whole lotta meat with rice and beans. Afterwards, they drive us to Filandia, a colourful small town nearby, for coffee and photos. They tell us stories about Colombia and ask us what people back home think of their country – though they already know the answer. They taught us that Colombians love their country, they are proud of their country and just want people to see it for themselves and love it too. Drugs, cartels and violence only make up one chapter of Colombia’s story, there is still the entire book to read.
This day with Cesar and Liliana will stick with us forever and we have officially adopted them as our Colombian parents. We have never received so much kindness from strangers and it was very difficult saying goodbye to them. We hope to see them again one day.
Cesar y Liliana, gracias por todo lo que hiciste por nosotros. Gracias por su amabilidad y por pasar tiempo con nosotros. Los extrañamos mucho mucho mucho. Dios los bendiga.
We wrap up our time in Salento celebrating Stef’s birthday with delicious food and cake. Our time in Colombia is just beginning and we are already so smitten. Join us next week as we continue our Colombian adventures through Medellín, the hometown of Pablo Escobar.
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