Leaving friendly Bogota, we crossed two mountain ranges on our drive to the Zona Cafetera, or Coffee Zone. We were heading for the quiet village of Salento to relax for a few days before heading for the Colombia-Ecuador border. We drove past uniformed schoolchildren and farmers carrying machetes as the road wound slowly upwards towards the cloud covered mountain pass. An hour later, palm trees grew in patches along the edge of a deep valley that tightened into a narrow groove, making it impossible to see the bottom. Across the valley were deep green fields that appear too steep to work on without the help of a rope. When we got close to the top of the mountain pass, our car was engulfed by clouds pushing out the bright tropical sun and blanketing the ground with dew. We decided that this was the most spectacular drive we have taken on our trip so far.
We arrived in Salento in the late afternoon, when the slanted yellow sunlight illuminated the lush hillsides and brightly painted buildings of the town. For dinner we sampled a town specialty, trucha. We guessed correctly that trucha means trout, our main clue being the garbage cans around the square shaped like fish. Apparently the surrounding mountains are a perfect natural habitat for this freshwater fish, and served with tasty patacones (fried green plantain) it makes for a delicious meal.
Chatting with some fellow guests at our hostel while waiting out a thunderstorm that night, we came up with a plan for the next day. This area of Colombia is known for its palmas de cera, or wax palm trees. The national tree of Colombia, these huge palm trees grow up to 150 feet tall and live for over 100 years. This tree is an endangered species, so we decided to check out the nearby Valle de Corcora which has one of the few remaining large populations. We were joined by friendly Matan from Israel (whose name unfortunately means ‘they kill’ in Spanish) and took the bumpy road out of town through a breath-taking valley. We then hiked an additional couple of miles once the road became impassable (for our car at least) and were awed by the Valle de Corcora. Lime green hills and pastures dotted with stately palmas de cera climbed increasingly steep hills that were topped with vertical rocky cliffs disappearing into misty clouds. The sky was deep blue, we crossed idyllic babbling brooks on rustic log bridges, and the silence of the valley was broken only by the rustling of the breeze through the trees lining our dirt path. The only downside for this hike was the cleverly disguised ‘quick mud’ traps along the trail. The tropical sun had baked the top of foot deep pools of mud into a deceptively looking hard surface that would collapse under your weight. I quickly sank past my ankles into a thick watery mud that almost sucked off my shoes as Chris and Matan helped haul me out. Even after this warning, Chris managed to fall prey to some ‘quick-mud’ 10 minutes down the trail.
We returned to Salento to shower off the mud and change into some clean clothes before enjoying a leisurely afternoon eating lunch on the town square and browsing its craft shops for some trinkets. Since we were returning to the US in less than a week, we finally could do some shopping and not worry about how our purchases would fit into our over-filled car. Chris bought some traditional campesino (country person) clothes, including a poncho and hat, and we also filled up on some typical Colombia candies. We could have relaxed in Salento for a couple more days, but had to keep pushing for the border. Several months ago we scheduled a trip back to the states to visit family. We thought that it would be no problem to get to Quito, Ecuador on May 13th, mistakenly believing that one month would be more than enough time to see Colombia. As it turns out, we could have easily spent twice that time here.