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No Worries 'Mas o Menos' 2 years on the road, travelling South East Asia, China, South & Central America and who knows where after that... Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/

Sleepless in Salento

COLOMBIA | Thursday, 16 September 2010 | Views [3111] | Comments [1]

Ecuador sent us out with a huge party in our honour, well actually they were celebrating something completely different, keeping us awake with music blaring until 3.30 in the morning in the towns main square. Unable to sleep we set off early for our last country in South America, Colombia.

Sanctuario de Las Lajas

After crossing the border we made a slight detour to visit Sanctuario de Las Lajas, a cathedral financed by local churchgoers built in the spectacular setting of a bridge over the Guaitara river. We were lucky to attend the cathedral on a Sunday and witness all the well wishers paying their respects, so many that they were spilling out of the auditorium onto the bridge.

The journey to Popayan is considered to be unsafe to travel at night due to bandits, so we got a bus that allowed us plenty of time to arrive safely and received added security when our bus seemed to be some kind of bus tank hybrid. An hour into the journey we came across our first military check point where everybody's identification was checked and every nook and cranny both inside and outside the bus was searched. After checking the date of our visas the soldier offered us a friendly ‘Welcome to Colombia’ and allowed the bus to continue. We encountered many more security checks along the way, so much so that our plenty of time to reach Popayan turned out to be about 3 hours later than told! But we arrived safely without encountering any bandits.

Popayan

is known as Colombia’s ‘White City’ due to the number of white buildings built during Spanish colonial times, rather than as a reference to Colombia’s best known narcotic. It was another quaint colonial town to add to our list of many we have visited, although we did feel a strong sense of deja vu here, the Colombian culture shone through to give it its own identity.

Popayan is also famous for its food and is the only city in Latin America to be awarded a UNESCO City of Gastronomy title, so we spent a day trying as many foods as we could along with the local speciality, Bandeja Paisa.

San Agustin

The road to San Agustin is billed as one of the worst in Colombia, and taking 5 1/2 hours to cover 125 kilometres was pretty slow going. The scenery along the route is meant to be spectacular and make up for the bumpy journey, and we weren't disappointed, passing through National Parks and seeing Volcan Purace looming overhead.

Not a great deal is known about the two ancient cultures who lived around present day San Agustin other than that they lived over 5 thousand years ago, they had no written language and vanished without a trace many years before Europeans arrived. What they did leave behind from their existence was around 500 life sized statues or Mesitas, which scatter the hills around San Agustin.

Along with one that looked a little like Ben Stiller

The setting was spectacular, with colourful flora and rolling hills along with the convergence of two rivers where both the cultures would meet to trade and barter goods and worship their gods, but then again the scenery from our hostel wasn’t too shabby either.

In the afternoon we went to the local market and ended up practicing our Spanish with a fruit & veg seller who asked us lots of questions about what we thought of Colombia and its people, whether we were enjoying our time and if we had encountered any problems, which we told him we hadn’t and that we had loved what we had seen of Colombia so far and the friendly people.

Cali

On the way to Cali we encountered another search but this time we were asked to leave the bus and had our bags searched. The males on the bus were also frisked. I’m not sure if the soldier took a liking to me or not, but lets just say his hands wandered further than they should have!

Cali is a hot and steamy party town which is famous for its Salsa dancing. It’s a city that feels a little out of place for South America, where everybody dresses to impress in designer gear, the women seem to have had plenty of plastic surgery and Porsches can be seen on the streets driven by teenagers.

In Cali the disparity between the haves and the have nots reminded us of the major cities we visited in Brazil. Although we felt completely safe, the high cost of accommodation and eating out, along with not being very good dancers at the best of times meant that we soon decided to leave Cali, but not before adding to the beer collection with a strange beer and cola combo!

Salento

Salento is one of the three points that make up the Zona Cafeteria or Coffee Axle region in which almost all of Columbia’s coffee is produced and there certainly wasn’t a problem finding good coffee in Salento. In fact the main problem was finding a way to say, no. Coffee comes with every meal and the main instigator in my new coffee addiction was the owner of Hostel Casona de Lili. Lili is one of the nicest hostel owners you’ll ever meet, genuinely friendly and interested in the day you’ve had. Her converted home is one of our favourite accommodations on the trip, but it was just so hard to say no when she offered you a ‘cafecito’, which she did every time she saw us, leading to a few nights of coffee induced insomnia.

Despite the sleepless nights we couldn’t come to the region and not visit a coffee plantation. Opting for a small family run business offering Spanish only tours, we were treated to a tour by ourselves. Don Elias runs an organic farm which also grows a variety of fruits. Our tour guide, Don’s grandson Jose, walked us around the plantation picking coffee beans, showing us how the beans were processed and dried, before grinding some beans to treat us to the freshest cup of coffee straight from the source. When we asked how much coffee Jose drank each day he could only offer us a ‘Mucho’ with a big smile - translation ‘a lot’!

But Salento is so much more than just coffee and at the weekend the town took on a different feel when the farm workers came down from the hills and Colombians came for a weekend getaway. As well as drinking some came to play the traditional game of Tejo which involves throwing a 2kg weighted metal disc at mechas (packets of gun powder) placed on a metal ring set in a clay mud target. When the weight strikes the gunpowder and metal ring together it creates an explosion.

We decided to give it a go, but as the distance involved is 18 metres we decided it would be safer for all if we played the childrens version of the game, Mini Tejo, which is played over half the distance with a 1kg weight. We managed to set off the gun powder 4 times, but none of the explosions were as satisfying or as loud as the bangs produced by the pros along side us playing the full sized version, although the loudest noise of the day was possibly Jo’s scream the first time the pros connected with the gunpowder.

If Colombians can handle their coffee they certainly can’t handle their drink. On a Sunday morning we saw someone passed out asleep on a bar table before 11am and could only hope for his sake that he had been out on an all night session!

But that was nothing compared to the carnage that evening when drunk cowboys and farm workers dropped like flies in the main square. When Colombians drink they drink to get drunk, very, very drunk but unlike elsewhere there wasn’t a hint of aggression and everyone just seemed to be having fun, creating a great atmosphere in such a small town.

Valle de Cocora

Close to Salento is the Valle de Cocora, which is home to the worlds tallest palm tree and Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm.

We started in our trek in the valley between the hills on which these huge trees sit, before entering a cloud forest and ascending to a traditional farm that’s surrounded by hummingbirds, where the owner treated us to a local drink, chocolate and cheese!

After climbing further up into the hills, we descended out of the clouds, where the view of the wax palms was spectacular and we could get up close to the giants. If you don’t believe how tall they are, try to spot me in this picture!

We really loved Salento and the region and stayed for longer than we had planned, it was a great place to relax and experience Colombian life. However, as well as a coffee addiction I noticed that Jo had picked up another more colourful habit, the full extent of which can be seen here, so I decided that it was time to leave Salento before things got really out of hand.

Until next time

Ryan y Jo

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/

 

Tags: cali, coffee, las lajas, popayan, salento, san agustin, tejo, valle de cocora

 

Comments

1

Greta blog as usual. we really loved Salento, although we missed that crazy church on a bridge. I don't remember even reading about it. Tejo is cool! Only in Colombia...

  Len Sep 29, 2010 8:03 PM

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