Today we all woke up at different times with the knowledge that we should be ready to leave our house at 9:00. For breakfast we had amazing local coffee, some of us also elected to dig into one of the countless perfectly ripe avocados or tropical fruits that we had picked up the previous day.
Soon thereafter, we headed down to the main square where we waited for one of the town’s restored Jeep Willys to take us into the Cocora Valley. The jeep ride was roughly 20 minutes long, and several students were excited for the option of riding in the vehicle while standing up and taking in the breathtaking scenery. Upon arrival in the valley, we followed a gravel road with massive mountains on all sides. Scattered wax palms were like skyscrapers, reaching hundreds of feet up into the air. Later on, we learned that there was a time when these trees were considered the tallest on earth (at least until people started finding and measuring redwoods). We also saw dozens of people on horseback.
As we approached the trailhead we saw fewer and fewer tourists. We began our journey and were quickly surrounded by thousands of plants that none of us had seen before. In addition, we saw small waterfalls and streams. We also saw a few snakes, hundreds of butterflies, and some truly extraordinary hummingbirds. While many of us were excited by the possibility of seeing larger animals such as spectacled bears, tapirs, or deer, we did not encounter any of these species, but it was interesting to learn about their ecosystem nonetheless.
We hiked up and up until we were at 3000 meters (about the height of Mount Baker). At that point we saw lots of people with massive backpacks and mule teams. One hiker was obviously concerned about our group being at that elevation with such minimal gear. We realized hiking culture was very different here, as this was all less than 2 hours from the trailhead.
One interesting observation that I experienced during this and other hikes in Colombia is that guides always listed distances in the time needed to cover the distance rather than the distance itself or the elevation. And seeing as how their time estimates were never correct, I was forced to try to convert their estimates to the more objective measurements offered by my watch.
Shortly after running into that concerned hiker, we made it to a beautiful viewpoint, where we soaked up the verdant greens and marveled over the miles that we had covered. On the way back to our pickup point Bacchus noticed a small hut selling something that he thought we should try. It was a smoothie made out of Soursop. It was unlike anything that I had tried before. The texture was still a little lumpy with white flesh. It tasted a little bit like a custardy mango mixed with banana. We learned that there is a similar fruit native to North America called a paw-paw, but none of us had tried that either, so there was no frame of reference.
When we got back to the pick-up point there was a long line, so Quinn decided that we should try some other specialties of the region. He got us an oblea, basically two flattened waffle cones filled with caramel, jam, and several other sweet things along with a very strange drink. It did not taste like anything that we expected. Most of us did not like it. It was sort of like just the fizz from the top of a kombucha, very vinegary, sweet, and clearly filled with strange microbes.
While we were waiting in line we saw that the clouds were gathering in a most dramatic fashion, so we decided to delay our coffee plantation tour and return home. While we were entering town, a giant ice ball hit one of us. At first we were confused, given that it was 80 degrees out. Then another hit, and another. We soon realized that it was actually hail. Unfortunately, our Jeep did not have a roof, so we screamed as each piece of ice struck exposed flesh
Luckily we were just pulling up to the town square when the sky opened up. Like everyone else, we hurried to cover inside of the main church and marveled at the downpour. Finally, the rain/hail slowed down long enough for us to get to what was on all of our minds: food! We found a small corner restaurant that offered the region’s specialty, pan fried trout. We all devoured the massive meal, but many of us still wanted more, so we also added a stop at the bakery on the way home. Lucky for us, that would not be the last pastry of the day as it was Noah’s birthday. After discussing the day’s events, a few people quietly left the house to obtain a cake to celebrate. We finished the magical day with a sugar rush, singing happy birthday in three different versions, and already anticipating the coffee tour that would wrap up our time in Salento.
Marilyn Jacobson says
I really enjoyed reading your post, James! It brought back memories of my visit to Salento three years ago. I’m wondering if you guys happened to play tejo while you were there? It’s a game where you toss a stone aiming for a little packed of gun powder that pops if you hit it.