Salento, Coffee Growing District, Colombia

Hiking and Caffeine Highs: Visiting Salento

Not long after stepping into Colombia, ¿tomamos un café? – the suggestion of a quick caffeine pick-me-up – started to feel completely normal.  Necessary even.  Served short, dark and strong (much like many of the men perching like hens on benches in local plazas), the kick in the guts provided by my first few coffees soon turned into a wee little addiction.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that I – and the great majority of those around me – were generally pretty buzzing, chattering around like old-fashioned wind-up toys.  But even more so in Salento, centre of the country’s Zona Cafetera, or coffee-growing region…

Palmas de Cocora, Valle de Cocora Colombia Zona Cafetera, Salento Colombia Don Elias, Salento ColombiaWe arrived cloudy-headed and badly slept in Salento at 7am after a night stuck at a bus station.  Without hostel reservations or any idea of what to expect, we slopped sluggishly around the sleepy town, letting our packs hang low and taking in expensive bed and breakfasts, smoke-laden gully hideouts and many closed doors before ending up at Fernando’s hostel.  Estrella de Agua was a large wooden house on stilts presiding over a lovely green backyard where travelers could pitch their tents for a discount on room rates.  It reminded me of the classic queenslanders from my home state, airy wooden houses generously surrounded by verandahs; a style now so popular and expensive to maintain that I no longer dream of owning one.

Hostal Estrella de Agua, Salento ColombiaFernando, owner of Estrella de Agua, bopped duckling-like around the gardens, his face never unsmiling and his head never without his woven paisa straw hat.  Jovial, jocular, hands always busy with a hostel renovation project, we instantly took a liking to him when he answered our call early in the morning, grinning despite the hour, shirtless and wiping sleep from his eyes.

We pitched the third tent we were offered after individual parts failed us on attempts one and two.  Each time Fernando bounced off to bring another tent, he returned looking more amused than the last.  Maybe the zip’ll work on this one, he’d say, handing us yet another clunky nylon bundle.  People usually come with their own tents, added as an after thought, chuckling at our lack thereof.

Campsite CookingOn our first day, Fernando showed us the outdoor barbecue he hoped we’d soon baptise in a flurry of roasted meat, and mentioned a greengrocer nearby named Pollo from whom we could buy any vegetable essentials.  We paid Pollo many visits over the next few days and were always bemused by his grumpiness…although surmised that any middle aged man nicknamed Chicken (and unable to tell you why) would probably view the world through the confused hue of similarly distrusting glasses.

Hostal Estrella de Agua, Salento ColombiaThere in this large backyard we lived for a week; cautiously avoiding the taut strings strung up ready for fly tarps come the rains, listening to the contented clucking of the hens in the neighbour’s yard, making smoothies from Chicken’s fruit and veggies, handwashing our travel-bashed clothes with a garden hose and barbecueing with other travellers…

It was one of those times when it was very hard indeed to leave the hostel.  But manage to explore we did, as the forests, fincas and buildings of Salento were waiting for another day…

Over to you…

Been to Salento? What was a highlight for you?

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