Salento is a small town in the Quido region of Colombia in the Zona Cafeteria region. Come the weekends it gets flooded by local tourists who come in, park around the town, bring there own packed lunches, leave rubbish and head off. It seems the locals like the foreign tourist who is more environmentally aware, eats locally, uses the accomodation provided and generally spends money to see this beautiful part of the world.
We took a bus (that is Valentina, Andrew (from the Hacienda) and I) took two buses. Firstto Periera and changed to get the next one to Solento. It sits at an altitude of 6500 ft / 2200 metres and I’ve never experienced a town that was located within rolling hills, from one block to the next and boy were they steep.
Stroll up the town steps to look down the Valle de Cocora
When you arrive at the Salenta Parque (what we would called the main plaza or square) you will sport a set of yellow / blue / green steps going upwards to a vista point. At the top of these if you turn right you will be able to look down on the town. Of course, if its a clear day it will look great. On a grey one, like we got, not so good. If at the top of the steps you turn left, then you will walk down and spy a view point that looks down over the Cocora Valley; it was a grey day yet still looked like an awesome spot.
Mountain Biking down through the Pine Forest
I had been introduced to an english couple who had been travelling South America for two years in their yellow van that they had shipped over from the UK to Uruguay. Bruce was easily convinced to join me on a mountain biking tour with BetaXplor who would take us up to 3,200m and we would cycle down through the pine forests to 2,000m and up again into the town. We were start with an uphill 4km cycle to get us warmed up – but as me and altiude don’t go together, we reduced to 3km. I was bushed after 1km and turned into a bike walker instead!
We stopped into El Rocio, a ranch that is dedicated to conservation and forestation of the local area. They also cater for guests to come and stay. At night it is a great place for star watching and to see the 22 towns lit up in the valley. We were just in for a local sugar drink with tostadas before we re-started our journey.
Then the “out of the comfort zone” began. We had managed to pick up two dogs on the ways up who kept following up, or getting in the way I should say They would manage to walk along the narrow path as you were trying to gain momentum to get down it. Cycling down mud steps. Through the pine forest over uneven land, a thick floor of pine needles and lots of roots to get over. It was touch. Pedro kept coaching me and aiming to get me down in one piece. Though by the end I had ended up up the ground more times than I could count.
There was one section of mud slide where I handed my bike over to Pedro to watch him go down it instead of me…. no chance I was doing it! He pretty much slip-slides his way down.
Valle de Cocora – horseriding / hiking
This is where Colombia’s national symbol grows – wax palms up to 60m high. Restored WWII jeeps, known locally as Willys leave the Plaza early in the morning at set times, but as soon as they are full they leave. It cost 3,500 pesos (less than a £1) for the 10km and takes about 30 minutes to the altitude of 2860m. Once you arrive you can decide if you want to hike up or take a horse. We were limited on time, so we got horses for 25,000 pesos (£7) for a 2 hour trek up to the waterfall. We were on horseback and the guide walked with us.
It was an overcast day but the area is still stunning. We started off on a wide path which kept going upwards. The path became more narrow and you could feel the horse underneath you trying to figure out where it would step next… It lost its footing once or twice which scared me . I’m not an experienced horserider and being astride this animal with no helmet or protection suddenly my heart was pounding and I was sitting at the guide to get me off but he was having none of it. So I had to ride down on the horse. I found out the next day that a horse had taken a call on the exact same place that we had been, fortunately with no one on its back. The current in the river had been too strong!
Local hike to look down on Solento
We took the road up to the base of the steps and turned right and followed the road out. We walked for about 5km. It transpires that this was a key road for the FARC back in the day to transport all sorts of illegal goods. They kept contact with Solento to a minimum as they needed the road available to them to get their products to Armenia and Bogota. They attacked it once and the police were waiting for them. However, for 12 years they have had no control over the road and it is freely used by all with no problems. We walked about 5km along it, as far as the mountain biking trail. On a clear day the views are stunning from up there. On the way back down I named to get stung by the small bees with one of them getting stuck down the back of my t-shirt. Luckily Rebecca was able to pull two of the stings out.
Tejo – national sport
Its a game. Its called Tejo. You can usually find it being played by locals in a couple of the bars around the town. It includes throwing metal weights and gunpowder; think lawn bowls or petanque with a bang! If you stop into the Beta Bar & Restaurant, pick yourself up a beer on the way in and head out the back to the left of the astroturf and up the stairs.
Rules of the game are:
Throw a metal puck/disc, weighing approximately 680 grams, across an alley at a distance of approximately twenty metres, to a one metre by one metre board covered with clay and set at a forty-five degree angle. This metal puck is the “tejo” itself.
The tejo must be thrown from within the throwing area and the goal is to impact the inside of the target at the other extreme. A chief characteristic of the sport is its use of small exploding targets that contain gunpowder, commonly known as “mechas”. These usually triangle-shaped envelopes with explosive material inside are set on the edges of the pipe where on impact with the tejo explode loudly creating a sound similar to the one created by a small revolver upon firing.
You can also grab some great food there too. As well as staying at their hotel, I ate breakfast there a couple times – waffles and french toast. A girl needs energy when off out hiking and mountain biking!
Overnighting in Salento?
I stayed in two different places:
El Viajero Hostel – it was very well rated and we initially stayed there because we knew someone who used to work there. We stayed the first night in an 8-bed dorm. The bar was very close to our room and stayed open till midnight and we were cold. I moved to a single room the next day which was at the other end of the complex, had its own balcony and great views. However, I was still cold and could hear the drinking games going on. My sanity was more important so I moved. Also, all communal areas were open to the elements, so there was no where to get warm. I’m just getting old…
Beta Town Hotel – the rooms have no outside windows only windows onto the hallway (aside from the family room at the back). However, the beds and bedding were very comfortable. Great showers and small touches in the room that you get when the owners have lived abroad and know what the tourist is looking for. You can also go and hang out in the restaurant / bar / sofa area across the road if you want to escape your room. 20% discount off breakfast too across the road.
The town is all about the outdoors and boy did I find the outdoors! Between the horseriding and mountain biking, I am leaving this town with all sorts of muscle pain with two nights recovery back at Hacienda Venecia before going onto the bright lights of Medellin and spanish school…