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Friday, February 6, 2015

Salento

This was my second visit to Salento. The primary reason I returned was to hike in the Corcora Valley. The valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park, incorporated into the existing national park by the Colombian government in 1985. It is the principal location of the national tree and symbol of Colombia, the Quindío wax palm.

 

On my previous visit, my hike got rained out and since it was reputed to be a "must do", I returned and did. It's a nice enough little town in a lovely setting but otherwise Salento didn't merit returning to in my opinion.

 

It's very touristy and, while that meant that there were opportunities for socializing, it also meant that there were too many of us, prices were high and the locals are somewhat jaded. My visit there was also the apex of travel burn out for me. For some time I'd been feeling disconnected and discontent, never being fully in the moment, not appreciating where I was, waiting for something better. This played out with my accommodations. My first choice in Salento was unavailable so I stayed in a place that was ok but just not quite right; too expensive and a sort of generic corporate hostal vibe. And then the hot water stopped working, a deal breaker. So I got a room at a place where I'd stayed last time (after moving from another place as well). I agreed on a room and a price with the landlady and, yes, there was wifi throughout, no problem. There was a balcony with a nice view and I it was much cheaper so I was feeling better accommodation wise.

 

So, when I arrived next day to move in and found that the room I'd agreed on was not available and the wifi didn't work and the woman I'd spoken to was nowhere to be found, I was not happy. And the woman who received me and delivered this news was surley and rude and now I remembered her from last time. I don't know how this place continues to operate with her working there. And so, out of general disgruntlement, I made another unwise decision: I decided to leave Salento a day early for Popáyan. But, I digress. More about that on the next post.

On my first day I did the Corcora Valley hike. The hike starts a few kilometres out of town so one hires a Willeys jeep for transportation to the trailhead.

 

Both Colombia and Ecuador have long embraced these old jeeps for rural transportation and they're invariably beautifully maintained and often tricked out with fancy paint jobs and shiny chrome.

 

The first part of the hike leads through rolling hills amidst the towering palm trees, then ascends pretty steeply several kilometres to a mirador, an overlook point.

 

But soon there wasn't much to see unfortunately as the mountains were engulfed in clouds.

 

It was nice to be out hiking in relative solitude in this lush forest anyway and there was a lot of bird life.

 

At the mirador, the flower gardens attracted swarms of hummingbirds. There was a little station there where a man served a te de canela (cane suger tea) and queso, a mild, fresh cheese, both pretty unappetizing. But this is standard fare and ya gotta try it. Once. After this refreshment and a few photos, I walked back down the mountain and caught another jeep for home.

I had some uncharacteristically (for Colombia) positive food experiences in Salento. I knew about Lucy's from my previous visit, a no frills set menu place on the main drag, very cheap and pretty good. They must farm a tremendous amount of trout in Salento (as well as many parts of South America), it's on every menu in town prepared in a variety of ways so it was the best of the three meat choices available. As always, you get a soup to start, a flovoured water drink, an entre with the trout, a piece of fried plantain, veggies, a little salad, a mound of rice and usually a little custard sort of dessert. Way too much to finish for about $3. At the other end of the spectrum was El Eliana, not cheap but imaginative and international. Owned by a Spanish guy, there was a range of Thai and Indian curries, things like tandoori chicken pizza. Good stuff. It was also a good place to meet other travellers. The first time I ate there, I noticed a couple playing cribbage and was surprised to discover that they were German. Crib is not known in Germany but they learned from Canadian friends and were hooked. They invited me to play but, as my meal was arriving, I declined. They were there the next day though and we played a game. Fun to play again. After they left, I got into a spirited conversation with two Frenchmen. They weren't associated, just happened to both be from France, one maybe in his 50s, the other in his twenties, both inveterate travellers. The younger one loved to go off on his own on improbable hikes. He hiked to Machu Pichu cross country, camping rough or staying with locals. Wild kid. And there was a not so positive social contact, emblematic, to a degree, of these kinds of places that attract a variety of backpacker types. I initiated a conversation with two youngish guys while walking around. One was German, the other Peruvian/Dutch. Initially it was ok but then we encountered another of their acquaintances, went into a bar for beers and the conversation devolved to drugs, their impending ayhuasca trip (a psychedelic drug taken by indigenous groups in South America and currently in vogue in the States and Canada) and all the drugs they'd taken and I took my leave.

 

 

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