Salento and the Cocora Valley
Located in the Central Cordillera of the Andean mountains, an area famous for producing Colombia’s finest coffee, Salento is also the ideal base to go explore the amazing Cocora Valley, which boasts the tallest palm trees in the world.
For such a tiny and remote town, Salento offers a surprising number of great little restaurants and while having a few decent drinking holes, Los Amigos (aka the tejo bar) is where it’s at. Tejo, a very popular and traditional Colombian “sport”, consists of throwing a metal puck (disc for non-Canadians) across a long alley and onto a board of clay, set at a 45 degree angle. Sounds extremely boring right? I agree, but that’s only because I left the best part out… Gunpowder. That’s right, gunpowder is the special ingredient that turns this apparently lame game into the second most popular sport in Colombia. The good stuff comes wrapped in triangular-shaped paper envelopes placed around a metal ring at the center of the clay. Now there are normally four of these babies on the clay but the number can increase significantly when played by drunken tourists, often associated with ecstatic high-fives after every successful hit. And, as if blowing shit up wasn’t enough, playing tejo doesn’t cost a thing! With alcohol and gunpowder being a match made in heaven, these clever bastards just leave you with a large self-serve case of beer, knowing all too well that it’s real easy to down a few when having such a blast (sorry, couldn’t resist…).
So after a great night of tejo it was now time for the main event. The 6 hour trek to the Cocora Valley begins at the entrance of a nearby village on the other side of the valley. The path first brings you through vast green pastures before entering a lush forest, where following a river and a series of waterfalls leads you up in to the mountains. After crossing the many beautiful waterfalls and a few sketchy bridges, a rest can be taken at a little finca where they serve a weird-tasting hot chocolate beverage and cheese. This is actually a popular thing in Colombia, where they either dunk or drop the cheese into the hot chocolate… The real reason why one would want to take a little break here is the insane amount of hummingbirds that come and slurp the sugar water left in the many bird feeders. Though I really wished I had my SLR camera with me, I did manage to get some decent pictures of the twitchy birds with my bridge camera, which of course required quite a bit of patience.
The climb after the finca is the steepest of the trek, and also where you might start gasping for air due to the altitude, which is now above 2000 meters. Thankfully there’s another beautiful finca at the end of the tedious climb, this one offering stunning views, colorful gardens and quite possibly the best coffee I had in Colombia. After lunch and a little R&R it’s back on the trail, slowly heading down the other side of the mountain. It doesn’t take too long for the dense forest to suddenly dissipate and unveil an immense and vivid green valley with the incredible wax palms – which can grow up to 60 meters – sprouting out of the mountainside… truly a spectacular sight.
I must have taken a hundred pictures making my way down, frequently stopping to sit on the greenest of grasses, gazing at the jaw-dropping landscape that surrounded me. And though I took plenty, I find my photos simply don’t do it justice, so best to go see it with your own eyes!