The bus journey from Pereira to Salento took about 45 minutes with Alcala on some of the best roads in Colombia; the entire road was lined in the middle with beautiful flowers – this is definitely where the Colombian government is sending their infrastructure funds. We were dropped off right in the middle of Salento’s main square, Plaza Bolivar, and found a lovely Dutch-owned hostel just around the corner called ‘Hostel Tralala‘ ($55,000COP). Amazingly hot showers and a hairdryer – haven’t seen one of those in a while! (side note: need to purchase hairdryer…it’s bloody cold here). We ended up staying in Salento for 5 nights – there’s just so much to do. The children run about the place chasing each other in their PJs whilst the men wander about with their wellington boots and machetés in fringed hoists clinging to the sides of their trousers.
Salento’s Main Street is called Calle Real (just to the left of the church) and is flanked by a huge clock. There are a whole pile of tourist shops and restaurants running the length of the street and up at the top there are some steps which lead up to the towns’ sunset lookout point, Alto de la Cruz. We frequented a couple of spots up this street; La Postre was a cute little stop for dessert and if you say please you get your cake a little cheaper! We had pizza at the Italian owned ‘Piccola Italia’ but it wasn’t great to be honest. We had some beers one evening at ‘El Tejadito de Salento Cafe Arte’ and there were a few chaps playing some Colombian tunes – pretty cool. Best people watching spot has to go to a bar on the main square called ‘Donde Mi Apa’ – full of paraletic locals getting their drink on (just next to the Supercocora supermarket). Café Jesus Martin is a lovely spot just off the main square for a coffee/tea and some cake. John bought some more coffee to cart around 🙂 La Eliana is another food spot and although it’s a little trek out of town it has fantastic pizza (yep, another pizza). They had ‘Coffee Appreciation’ classes too although you’d have a job getting me to appreciate coffee I’m afraid…We went to the American-owned ‘Brunch‘ on numerous occasions and I cannot even describe how fabulous their peanut-butter brownies are; and I don’t even like peanut butter! The owner, Geoff Bailey, is a lovely chatty chap with plenty of advice on the area. They have a projector in the back room with something like 2,000 movies so obviously we took advantage one rainy afternoon. The weather is pretty predictable here – perfectly clear in the mornings and then the clouds and rain roll on in for the afternoon. We played the local game of Tejo one evening with some locals in the Los Amigos bar a couple of blocks back from the main plaza. It was a pretty slow game but basically for the price of a beer you get to throw weights at little triangular shaped pieces of paper filled with gunpowder which explode if you hit them. I did not hit one piece of pesky paper. Obviously John bloody got some to explode. He’s not crap at anything.
One morning we decided to do the Valle de Cocora trek to see the famous wax palm trees. We caught one of the WWII Willy Jeeps in the main plaza at 7.30am for the 20 minute or so trip to the valley ($3,200COP per person) – it was wedged so we had to stand/death-grip on the back with the local kids taking their trip to school. We obviously decided to take the route less travelled so instead of going through the recommended little blue gate to see the palms we hiked up the mountain and down around the Valle de Cocora, which took about 5 hours including a trip to the hummingbird sanctuary (essentially somebody’s house with a few trees which draw an insane amount of beautiful hummingbirds). Entrance fee to see the hummingbirds was $5,000COP each and included a drink. Not sure how much of a good idea the mountain was – why are we doing SO much climbing on this trip? It was tough enough but didn’t take too long to ascend – at one point however I did think I saw a unicorn! I think word got around Salento that coming this direction was the thing to do at the moment; I don’t really know why – the best view of the palms is definitely just after the aforementioned little blue gate. We didn’t get to see too much from the top of the mountain as you’re literally up in the clouds but I suppose we’re getting our exercise!
One afternoon saw us take the 45 minute stroll out of town to the organic coffee farm, Don Elias (tour costs $6,000COP per person). Here they use pineapple plants, banana trees and a huge old avocado tree to keep the insects at bay (and as natural fertiliser). Pretty small set-up, they dry their beans in a little polytunnel and roast them over a tiny old range in a saucepan at the side of the house/building site. On the walk back (uphill so takes much longer) we popped into a little community called ‘Aldea de Artesanas’. This is supposedly where the local artisans practice their crafts and sell their wares at the Saturday market in the main plaza – there was just one house open when we were there – this chap making tiny little cribs. We stayed around Salento for the weekend too – it’s quite sleepy during the week and a lot of Colombian holidaymakers do pop in for the Saturday market but as it’s off-season at the moment the place wasn’t overwhelmed in the slightest. The market isn’t really anything major though – basically the main square becomes food central – little marquees pop up around the perimeter with a few handicraft stalls thrown in for good measure.
You could easily while away a few months in Salento but since we only have a few months full stop we’d to potter on…
Next stop: Popayan.