Zona Cafetera was my most favorite region in Colombia, and that is a difficult thing to declare, as so many other departments are close seconds in this race. It ultimately boils down to my love of the roasted bean and infatuation with the cowboy farmers that saunter through the open plazas sipping hot coffee or chugging aguardiente. Each colorful plaza filled with the lilting sounds of Latin love songs, and the staccato stomps of a well-worn boot heel on cobble-stones, reverberates like a wave through my solar plexus. High mountains and intensely emerald-green jungles encroach on the barely defined borders of each small village and hard-earned plantation. I am heady with the scents of wet, nutrient-rich, Pachamama earth and all of the appetizing aromas man cooks with her gifts – simmering chicken stock wafting from a sidewalk cafe, coffee grounds and cinnamon-vanilla baked goods. I could easily while away a day indulging my taste buds, spying on young love and old flirtation, and widening my appreciation of the wackiest color combinations for building exteriors.
Jardin, not yet inundated with foreign tourists, is the go-to escape for Medellin city dwellers. This small town is considered to be a quintessential example of the pueblo life of Colombia. Technically, still a part of Antioquia, our visit represented an introduction to the colonial plazas and agriculture of a wider region, dominated by coffee, plantains, sugarcane and beans. Dan was immediately drawn to the slower pace, and pleased to have found a city free of throngs of gringos. At barely 11AM, and we had spied a drunken caballero, sobbing over his tipple and the shoulders of bleary-eyed, male companions, who were commiserating with him in their mutual stupor. It was their collective masculinity, in cowboy boots, hats and ponchos, coupled with raw emotion, stripped naked and laid-bare in the sunlight, that tickled us into a private chuckle. I later learned the Colombian word ‘guayabo’ which means both hangover and nostalgia…perfect.
With plans to meet up again with Julie and Doug, we endured an 8 hour travel day, followed by a forced overnight in Pereira, before joining them in lovely Salento. The bus journey out of Jardin felt like a scene reenactment of ‘Romancing the Stones’, as our small bus traversed a rocky gravel road, clinging to jungle walls along a windy, narrow path, replete with potholes and waterfall rivers to cross. We were surrounded by dark green soaring mountains, covered with deep forests, grasslands for grazing cows, and plantations for coffee, bananas, tomatoes, sugarcane, maize and fruit trees.
In Salento, more than weary of epic bus journeys, we decided it was time to slow down our travel pace, and were happy to do so in the comfort of the well-styled Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe. Although Salento is firmly established on the backpacker trail, it manages to retain its charms just as well as smaller Jardin. It has a long list of pros that make it a highlight of any Colombian itinerary, including gourmet culinary options, a festive nightlife, informative coffee-making tours and proximity to fiercely beautiful hikes.
Here are some photos of our bus journey, the hostal and the photogenic streets and ambiance of Salento.:
On our coffee plantation tour, we got to impose an agriculture and processing lesson on our children. They liked picking ripe coffee beans the best, while we preferred the final sampling of a fresh cup.
In my opinion, our best day was spent hiking 6 hours deep into the Valle de Cocora. This trek is famous for its rare, giant and slender, Colombian national, wax palm trees, which create a striking and surreal landscape (especially in silhouette upon the ridge of a hill). Situated in a natural cloud forest, which makes for perfect pasture grounds, we passed by many a happy cow, and even an aggressive bull, who charged at several male hikers (including Doug) who tried to cross a steep trail in his vicinity.
It was a wet hike of light drizzle, with sections of mud and river rock traversing, but the mild temperature was comfortable, and the sun shone through when we wanted it to. The trail was also challenging, rewarding us with pretty places to picnic, pause, admire a variety of hummingbirds, and appreciate the stunning views. It was another day to bask in the beauty of our world.