The final stop in Colombia, only fitting that we should surround ourselves in one of the largest, legal, exports that the country grows. Zona Cafeteria is, as you’d imagine, where a good portion of Colombia’s coffee is grown. While the region itself is huge, we’d decided to visit a small town in the middle of it all, Salento. We even tried to get as close to the source as possible by staying at a hostel that had it’s own coffee finca (farm): Plantation House. It all worked out well, we checked into our room and checked out the view…
Salento – Food, Coffee and Gut Busting
Salento is pretty small in comparison to most of the other spots we visited in Colombia (aside from Villa de Leyva). It’s got a unique country feel with loads of hill country, rivers and even the locals do their bit by wearing poncho’s – I’m talking the hard-core old Colombian man poncho’s not the type warn in pastel colours on the high streets of London! It’s any easy place to get around, most of the towns restaurants and shops are on one street and of course there is the central square / plaza – the never fail attraction in any Colombian village, town, city. One of our food highlights was lunch at Lucy’s, a small restaurant serving up plates of local food to locals and tourists. Lucy’s serves what is known as either ‘Menu del Dia’ or ‘Almuerzo Corriente’ – menu of the day or regular lunch. These ‘regular lunches’ are the best value items on the market – for 6,000 COP (about $3.50 USD) you get a Sopa (soup) to start, which is followed up by the main plate, in Cel’s case it was a fillet of trout, beans, rice, salad and veges, at the end it’s capped off with a small postre (dessert). We’ve managed to go as cheap as $2.50 for one of these lunches which sure beats an overpriced mass produced sandwich from the big chains in the UK and NZ.
Salento is definitely an easy place to hang out, we made our way around a few other great restaurants, inhaled some strong coffee and even got a run in (first of the trip). A run, while sounding great, was made tough by the fact that Salento sits on top of a hill so no matter which way we wanted to go it was a nice easy downhill and a lung exploding uphill to finish! Ok so we didn’t exactly knock off 10km, but the intention was there and we definitely got our heart-rate ticking over.
Coffee Finca @ Plantation House
Plantation House, run by an English guy and his Colombian wife is without a doubt the place to stay in Salento. The accommodation is everything you need as a backpacker, the coffee is served daily for free and they’ll take you on a coffee farm tour for $6USD. We opted for the tour on our first full day there, strapping on gumboots – a great feeling – and wandering along with other guests listening to exactly how coffee goes from a red berry to a cup of liquid gold. An hour with the owner was enough for us to get the picture of what went on at Finca Don Eduardo – next up was to see it happening first hand. We stumbled down the hill into the farm where we were taken for a quick tour of the place before watching how coffee is truly made. Each of the steps is shown below in the photos, much better than me trying to explain it…
At the end we were gifted probably the freshest of freshly brewed coffee’s either of us have had – albeit in a plastic mud and without the flair of a fully operational coffee machine. After coffee e took walk through the farm itself and saw the coffee plants that produced the magic red berries we call coffee.
Hiking in the Valley of the 50ft Palm Trees
*WARNING* This piece is likely to sound hideously boring, because there are no photos. The reason we have no photos is that a couple of Ecuadorian *&^$% stole our camera in Quito – before we could transfer these photo’s over. Luckily insurance will cover it but we’re on the hunt for a new Canon SLR in Peru!
Another star attraction in the region surrounding Salento is a valley of Cocora. An NZ-like area that is covered in native bush with clear water rivers and streams running through it. The things that sets it apart from other places in the world are the wax palm trees that tower out of the ground. The best I can do for a photo’s is to point you in the direction of pictures on Flick: here. We spent around 4 hours walking up to a hummingbird sanctuary, looping back to a lookout of the valley then finally walking amongst the palms as we got down onto farmland. There really isn’t too much else to talk about here as the photo’s sold the place better than my words. Either way, if you ever get to Salento – take the trip across to Cocora on one of the jeeps the locals offer up in the square each morning.
Our last night in Salento was spent hanging up on the hill on the farm attempting to watch the sunset – it didn’t really happen. We did meet up with an NZ couple who we grabbed a beer and headed out for curry with. Jonny (the guy in the couple..) is having a crack at the NZ coffee market in Auckland, roasting his own brand of beans – interested? Check them out here
Following on from Salento we had some serious ground to cover to make it through into Ecuador (where we’d have the pleasure of our camera being stolen). It wasn’t going to be pretty sitting on buses for most of our daylight hours but that is life on the road (as I keep telling Cel!)