We spent the majority of Tuesday on the winding, nauseating mountain road south from Medellín, trying not to notice the heavily armed military presence along our route. Arriving at dusk, we checked in to our basic but charming hostel, where we enjoyed hot drinks whilst sat amongst the roosters and dogs milling around the patio. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, we settled in for a poor night’s sleep on bedding seemingly made from plastic sheets.
Our rooster alarm clock woke us early the following morning; having ascertained it was dawn our feathery friend saw no reason to stop squawking until we had abandoned any lingering thoughts of sleeping in. After breakfast we climbed to a nearby promontory with spectacular views of the town on one side, and the luscious, green valley on the other.
Salento is a genteel and peaceful town, as well as something of a regional tourist hotspot. Built after Simón Bolívar rode along a nearby mountain road between Bogotá and Quito, it is now a centre for coffee production in Colombia.
After ambling around the shops, we visited a small restaurant to watch England bow out of the World Cup to Croatia. We took the opportunity to try Bandeja Paisa, a popular local dish composed of beans, white rice, chicharrón, fried egg, plantain, chorizo, arepa, black pudding, avocado and lemon – essentially a heart attack on a plate!
Bandeja Paisa (image courtesy of Colombia.com)
The following morning we headed to Plantation House a tour of Don Eduardo’s coffee farm. The Don, real name Tim Edwards, is an English expat who fell in love with Colombia during a flying tour of the continent. Taking advantage of a collapse in the value of coffee in 2004, he bought a large coffee plantation, moved his family over and began collecting an inordinate number of pet dogs. With his white beard, cane and jolly manner, he put us in mind of Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park. When he showed us the magnificent view of rolling green hills from his back garden, we couldn’t help but hum the film’s theme song…
Don Eduardo was full of excellent facts and anecdotes, reflecting a passion for both coffee and his adopted country. After a tour of his plantation, we walked along an old dirt road (the one Bolívar had ridden along before Salento was a place on the map) to the coffee processing. The Don wisely leaves day to day running of his plantation to the locals, instead demonstrating to us how coffee is produced and prepared before treating us to cups of the freshest, greatest coffee we had ever tasted. After the tour we couldn’t resist buying a couple of bags for the long road ahead.
In the afternoon we caught a jeep to the nearby Cocora Valley, famed for its towering wax palms. Although the walk was arduous and it threatened to rain throughout, the views were incredible and we were accompanied by two stray dogs for the duration of our hike. Before leaving we tried out an Andean favourite: hot chocolate with cheese. This horrific-sounding concoction is actually quite delicious, though it was incredibly fattening and undid all our good work from the walk. In the evening we watched a silent lightning storm which lit up the night sky, then settled in for several rounds of Uno (picked up in town, who says we’re boring!) before bed.